Executive head chef Lisa Goodwin Allen is top of the class in the kitchens of Northcote
How do you take the simple yet humble apple pie and turn it from great tasting to something quite spectacular?
From the comfortable surroundings of the kitchens at the Ribble Valley-based hotel and restaurant where she made her name, the prized dish, she says, is still very much a firm favourite on the menu.
Backed by a 28-strong brigade of dedicated kitchen staff, turning quintessential dishes into a fine-dining experience, worthy of their Michelin star, is all in a day’s work.
Being able to bake a pie for three hours to give it the ‘perfect crisp’ would be for many a feat enough itself but it’s the drive and passion behind their unique offerings which has helped Lisa rise to the top in her field.
She says: “It really has always been my passion – I love the classic dishes.
“It’s all about process – we start with something like an apple pie, bake it and then break it down – ‘that’s a good pie but now how do we put the Northcote stamp, a personal twist on it?’
“That’s what drives me – with food they’re is always something new, it’s emotional, it’s powerful, even now I’m still learning – I love the challenge and for people to love what we do.”
Lisa, 36, is now in her 15th year at the restaurant in Langho, nearClitheroe, which has held its Michelin star for more than 20 years.
It was in October 2017 she took over the reins after celebrity chef Nigel Haworth stepped down as chef patron and joint managing director after 33 years at the helm. He now acts in an ambassador role.
Haworth will be contracted to do 50 days a year for the four-AA-red-star property and will continue to oversee the internationally recognised Obsession festival, now in its 18th year.
Lisa, who lives in Clitheroe with partner Steve and son Teddy-Ray, adds: “We worked together a long time and I learnt so much of my craft through Nigel – he was the perfect mentor.
“It came as a bit of a shock when he made his decision to step back but it also brought about a great platform for me and one I felt I was ready for.
“It’s opened a new door of opportunity to take my drive and put a new stamp on things, making more of the food I love to produce and develop but also to help us continue to grow.
“It’s an exciting time”.
Lisa looks little flustered or fazed taking time out of the very busy service to talk –it is obvious this career was made for her and she is just as passionate about her younger
counterparts now entering the kitchen doors.
While shouldering the responsibility of the kitchen and Northcote’s reputation, Lisa is also working hard to inspire the next generation of those looking to make paths in the profession.
“Mentoring and investing in our staff is a huge part of what we do –we work our kitchen staff hard but they’re always learning from produce testing to master classes.
“I was very privileged to have been mentored myself and it’s really important to me to give something back.
“We have some fantastic young chefs, who have taken part in competitions, doing amazing things and having fantastic experiences.
“It encourages and gives them great confidence to get their creative juices flowing and bring them back to the kitchen – that’s what we want to nurture.”
Lisa is modest and humble about her own talents, having taken on her head chef role at the tender age of 23. She has been invited to cook at famed food festivals and restaurants worldwide, was the first woman to win Great British Menu and has regularly appeared as a judge on Masterchef and last year worked with FutureChef, inspiring young people aged 12-16 into the industry
While she is proud of her successes, she adds she is just as happy enjoying food in the company of her nearest and dearest.
“Food can be enjoyed whether it’s a fine dining experience or shared round the table at home – that’s why it is so special. Food literally does make the world go around and that is what is important to me.
“And it’s not just about me, it’s the team and what we do and create together – we’re all very passionate and creative. The accolades are great but when you receive a word back to the kitchen from a customer just to say they have really enjoyed the food, the experience – that’s what makes your day.”
Born and bred in Morecambe, Lisa readily admits she wasn’t the most academic at school but found her niche when it came to more practical subjects.
“Home economics, art, woodwork I found I was good at and that helped my confidence but it was food where I really learnt how to express myself – it was good for me and made me determined that’s what I would go on to do.”
She studied hard at Lancaster and Morecambe College, putting in many free hours working in kitchens to perfect her craft.
“Working in the kitchens was a real eye-opener – there is no better place to get the creative juices flowing, with a team of people batting off their ideas – that’s where the real enjoyment is for me.”
After completing her studies, Lisa worked as a commis chef at Holbeck Ghyll in the Lake District and the renowned two Michelin starred Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham.
It was a desire to head back to Lancashire which led her to Northcote in 2001, where she says she planned to work for a year.
She became chef de partie after a year, junior sous chef the following year then, at at the age of 23, was named executive chef, one of the youngest chefs to take on the role in a Michelin starred kitchen at the time, and one of the youngest women to run a Michelin star kitchen.
“It was really just a natural evolution– there has always been something new to strive for, new challenges.
“When I started it was a tiny kitchen, with six staff and five bedrooms – now, since the refurbishment, we’re operating a much larger kitchen with 28 chefs, 23 bedrooms; it’s amazing to have been part of that.
“It also gives us a lot more flexibility on the rota, it’s much better for me as a full-time working mum.”
Lisa’s son Teddy is now no stranger to the Northcote kitchen and is quite at home when he visits.
“He loves the kitchen, he makes a beeline for the biscuits every time – he figured that out quite quickly!”
Lisa admits she feels privileged to hold a top job in an industry that is still very male dominated but says it is through sheer graft and hard work, she has earned her credentials
“I wanted this and I worked hard for it and that is the same for anyone, regardless if you’re female or not, but it is good to see across the board more women in head chef roles and some great young female talent coming through the ranks –it is only a positive thing.”
And above everything she champions good food: “That starts with the suppliers and we are very fortunate here in the Ribble Valley surrounded by amazing sources of produce.
“Ultimately what I do and have always strived for is to make amazing food for our customers and we can’t create that without the fantastic local produce or the new talent coming into the kitchen or the front of house staff serving it the Northcote way – we are a unit.”