Chef profile - Paul Cunliffe of Alexander's in Skipton

Chef Paul Cunliffe and I have crossed paths many times over the years, starting as head chef at Harvey Nichols in Leeds.

Paul Cunliffe prepares a dish at Alexander’s in Skipton.
Paul Cunliffe prepares a dish at Alexander’s in Skipton.

When he subsequently opened the lovely country inn The Dunsforth at Lower Dunsforth, just a couple of villages away from where I live, that was where I started to see the true breadth of his work. As Chef Patron, he was able to cook the food he and his customers wanted, so I was not surprised with his Michelin Bib Gourmand award.

You need to head over to Skipton and the award-winning Alexander’s, where he is the executive head chef, to find him now. The exuberant restaurant and bar took Skipton by storm since opening and is very busy, helped by its abundance of outdoor space, which is definitely a bonus just now.

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What is the first thing you remember cooking? I worked in a Chinese takeaway from 14 and remember being let loose on the woks to cook some fried rice. I can admit now there was more food out of the wok than left in it. But I found my technique eventually.

Paul's food looks impressive and tastes as good as it looks.

Who is your culinary inspiration? Firstly, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in the Napa Valley, California, his vision and precision in his books has always blown me away. Then there is Massimo Bottura, chef patron of Osteria Francescana; I admire his passion, drive, deep understanding of food, and his unrivalled personal sacrifice of opening bread kitchens in Italy to feed the homeless in a formal setting.

Which is the first cookbook you owned? I think this was a Ready Steady Cook one my mum bought for me; I learnt very quickly it wasn’t “cool” to bring that into work for inspiration.

Who would be your three dream dinner guests? Well, my absolute idol, the late Anthony Bourdain, would be head of the table. Next, Tom Hanks, my favourite actor, and Marco Pierre White to talk about controversial gastronomy.

What is your favourite piece of kit in the kitchen? Without a shadow of a doubt it is the Thermomix; I couldn’t live without it.

What ingredient could you not live without? Salt or butter, they make the world a better place.

What are your guilty food pleasures? It’s a bit of a concoction, but Oxtail cup-a-soup with an Oxo cube for me is a hug in a cup. Or it would have to be fried Spam with a fried egg and chop sauce (the only brown sauce in my life).

With the reopening of hospitality hopefully coming, what plans do you have for Alexander’s? We have launched our new Spring/Summer food and cocktail menus, with a big emphasis on relaxed, delicious food, as always, taking inspiration from around the globe.

We have some fantastic seafood platters, steak sharing boards, and we are proud of our relaxed weekend Brunch as what could be better than sitting on a terrace watching the boats turn in the canal with great food.

Also new for the spring, we’ve added a couple of local names to our craft beer range, from Black Sheep and Ilkley Brewery. Our mixologists have made some fab new cocktails. In addition to our Gelateria range launched after the last lockdown and Little Explorers Menu, subject to the weather, we will be launching a BBQ on Sunday afternoon.

There’s our Sunday Roasts, and our private dining room is hosting weddings and celebrations, all within the restrictions.

For me, it’s all about the enjoyment for both diner and the kitchen brigade; no food tastes better than delivered by a chef who is enjoying cooking. Happy food means happy guests.