Chef profile: Will Webster, from the Shibden Mill Inn

Will Webster conjures up a mix of fine dining and his own take on pub classics.Will Webster conjures up a mix of fine dining and his own take on pub classics.
Will Webster conjures up a mix of fine dining and his own take on pub classics.
Rattling down the dizzying, ever-narrowing cobbled lane as it drops to the valley bottom, it’s easy to imagine the satnav is taking you nowhere near your dinner.

But hold on tight; take a hard left and the handsome 17th century Shibden Mill Inn heaves into view. Gloriously wisteria-ed and smartly whitewashed, it hunkers by Red Beck; in the summer there’s no finer place for a pint of Shibden Special Bitter and a sarnie in the handsome flagged garden.

Down the years, this great pub has won a slew of food awards and after the long-standing chef moved on, owner Max Heaton and manager Glen Pearson cast around for the right fit to take the kitchen to the next level. Then, as luck would have it, a talented young sous chef fetched up and changed the landscape.

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Will Webster is one of those gifted, instinctive chefs who “never really wanted to cook but sort of fell into it”. He began his career pot washing at Coopers Brasserie in Guiseley and then went on to an apprenticeship at Craven College in Skipton before returning to Coopers where he thrived. Various jobs with Market Town Taverns followed and then he left Yorkshire to work at Hipping Hall in Lancashire under the tutelage of Oli Martin.

Shibden Mill Inn.Shibden Mill Inn.
Shibden Mill Inn.

In June 2018 he joined the team at the Shibden Mill as sous chef but jumped ranks to become head chef just three months later. His style is sophisticated, with fine dining at its heart – but he deploys all the solid lessons he’s learned and adds his own, very original take on pub classics.

He’s a keen forager, and wild garlic, elderflower, flowering currant and bilberries all land on the plate, and the pub’s allotment provides leaves and herbs, ensuring the ever-changing menus are seasonal.

What’s the first thing you cooked – and did it work? I was around 12 and it was a cheese and bacon pasta bake using a bechamel sauce. The smell of smoked bacon and onion slowly sweating down in a pan always takes me back to that dish. I made it with my mum – and, yes, it was a success and I still cook it now exactly the same way.

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Who is your culinary inspiration? My late mum. I used to enjoy cooking with her using recipes out of her many old faded cookery books, most of which were Gary Rhodes, so I suppose you could say he is a big inspiration to me, by default. My last supper would be my mum’s lasagne – nothing can beat it.

Which cookery books do you use the most? I have a boatload of cookery books which I keep in my office at the pub, mainly because I like to let the less experienced chefs read them to help build their knowledge and inspire them. It’s hard to pick a favourite but would say I use these quite often – The Noma Guide to Fermentation, Tartine Bakery, Ferrandi French Patisserie and Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social.

Who would be at your dream dinner party? I would have Grant Achatz from Chicago’s Alinea (three Michelin Stars) cooking the meal, Sir David Attenborough, Jeremy Clarkson, Morgan Freeman and Marco Pierre White. Not sure I’d get a word in edgeways, but it would be a good night.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without? The one thing I couldn’t live without doing the food we do is the Thermomix. It’s probably on more than it’s off.

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What are the plans for the pub post-lockdown? We’ve been cooking for local care home workers and for the Overgate Hospice staff, which has been a really rewarding thing to do. Now we’re open again we’ve had to change the way we do everything – keeping social distance in the bar is tricky but we can seat a smaller number of guests in the dining rooms. And we’ve invested in a wood-fired pizza oven so, as long as the weather stays dry, we’re serving our sourdough pizzas in the garden. On the menu at present are short rib ragu, mozzarella with Marmite butter crust and truffle salami, wild mushroom and Tunworth cheese.

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