Interview: Lisa Goodwin-Allen, executive head chef at Northcote

Lisa Goodwin-Allen was promoted to the position of executive head chef at Northcote in 2015 after serving almost a decade as Northcote’s only female head chef. Northcote has maintained a Michelin Star for the past 20 years. Like chef patron Nigel Haworth, Lisa’s culinary sensibility centres on the use of seasonal and locally sourced ingredients to create exciting and fresh dishes.

Boutique Hotel News caught up with Lisa to find out about her time at Northcote, her plans for the hotel’s upcoming culinary festival Obsession, and her experiences in the industry…

• How did it feel to be appointed executive head chef at Northcote after almost a decade as Northcote’s only female head chef?

“I see it as a progression of my career so I am proud of myself. I’m still passionate and hungry and dedicated, and I always like to see myself moving forward and progressing as a chef, as a manager and as a mentor. As I am an ambitious character, moving into this position is an honour to move the kitchen forward. I’ve worked with Nigel a long time and he has been a mentor for me, so hopefully we can take the kitchen and restaurant somewhere new!”

• Was there a learning curb to the role?

“There’s so much more responsibility – I am the ‘go-to’ person, it’s all on my shoulders now, which is good because it’s a challenge. I think it’s what I was ready for. I have the responsibility of the whole kitchen now, all the staff, suppliers etc, which is massive as our operation is so big.”
How is Northcote’s Obsession food festival shaping up this year?

“Very well, it’s manic for us at Northcote, straight out of Christmas and straight into it with a bang! My role is quite massive really, I look after all the ordering, liaising day-to-day with all the guest chefs and making sure they’ve got everything they need. For me it’s really interesting as we get so many chefs who come through the door and want ingredients I might never have heard of, so I’m learning and find that really exciting! You know, we might have to get online or ring suppliers and really search for things but then I have more knowledge to bring back into our kitchen. The people you get to meet is phenomenal. I always say to our chefs they’re very lucky because they would have to spend thousands of pounds to do stagiers in other chefs kitchens around the world, but during Obsession they come to us, so it’s a great opportunity for not only our young apprentices but for the whole kitchen team. I feel privileged to have been a part of it for so many years and in 2018 I have my own night so there’s a bit more pressure this year too!”

• You began your culinary career at Lancaster & Morecambe College. What did that experience teach you and would you advise other young hopefuls to take the same path?

“First and foremost it teaches you the basics, which of course are really important. College gives you an insight into the industry and the theory. The biggest thing for me, as an individual, you have to show your passion and dedication to it so other people will teach you more. I did as many stagiers as I could do, tried to work alongside as many different chefs to get that experience in the industry and I think that’s where my passion for the Michelin-level kitchen started.”

“Of course I would encourage young ones to get education, but times have changed. There weren’t the same opportunities for apprenticeships when I was learning, and at the time Lancaster & Morecombe was one of the best in the country for culinary interests, so that’s why I went there but I would probably say that apprenticeship offer a slight advantage because you’re in the kitchen, you get a real sense of the day-to-day operation but you still get assessed and learn the basics through college. Our apprenticeship scheme at Northcote has been running for around 9 years, the progression that some of them have made is phenomenal – my Sous Chef Danny Young started as an apprentice aged 16 and last month won National Young Chef of the Year!”

• What did your work in restaurants such as Le Champignon Sauvage prior to Northcote teach you?

“Working at Le Champignon was probably one of the best experiences in my culinary career because it is such a small kitchen. Working one-to-one with David Everitt-Matthias was amazing, his philosophy on food, his love of ‘nature to plate’, the way he uses ingredients, he uses everything, butchered his own animals, showed you all the different ways to break things down and insights into every ingredients because it was such a small kitchen you got to learn so much more. He’s incredible and it shows – look where he is today, 2 Michelin stars very well-known and very respected. The same philosophy at Northcote is very similar, we use local produce, looking at detail into the ingredient, he taught me a lot about food.”
• What are you biggest culinary influences?

“Other female chefs – look at Angela Hartnett, look what she’s become, one of the top female chefs in the country, at the very top of her game, well-known and very well-respected in the industry and has worked incredibly hard to get there. I’d say her influence has given me a stronger drive in my career, and she’s a great friend as well as an inspiration. Locally, I’m influenced by the produce – my food is very Modern British, so I like to see what amazing produce our local suppliers can bring that I can use and adapt to my menus.”
• You are a judge for Springboard’s FutureChef, a competition for young chefs. Why did you get involved?

“To be honest, it’s a great competition to be in. It really opened my eyes up to the culinary talent amongst young people. I judged the north-west region’s final, which was great, really young competitors, you know, 14, 15 years of age – it’s amazing!-  and I look back and I think “could I have done that at their age?” but there’s much more opportunity these days than there was when I was learning, to take in these sorts of things. To be able to be a part of that is something quite special, to be able to give an experience and guidance to these young ones as they come into the industry. The final was phenomenal, and I got involved because I love being a mentor and I think it’s really important to support the next generations as they come into the industry, and to be a female mentor is quite important too!”

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