Andrew Pern was just eight when he took over responsibility for the family cooking. “My mum was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and the rest of my family were farmers and so the cooking seemed to fall to me,” says Pern, who grew up near Whitby. “I was really interested in cooking and I used to love going through all the cookery books such as Robert Carrier’s and experimenting with recipes and learning about wine and great produce. I was obsessed with great food and cooking for adults from a really young age.”
This interest has never left him and has helped make him one of Yorkshire’s top chefs. Pern is now celebrating 25 years since he bought his first establishment, the Star Inn at Harome, which he turned into a Michelin-starred restaurant that is constantly rated as one of the UK’s best.
Like many successful Yorkshire chefs of his generation, he went to the then Scarborough Catering College alongside the likes of James Martin and James Mackenzie.
After working in a number of local hotels and restaurants, he was appointed head chef at the Milburn Arms at Rosedale at the age of 21. It was there that he met his first wife, Jackie, who worked behind the bar.
As much as he loved working at the Milburn Arms, Pern always wanted to have his own business. “I’d always known of the Star. I used to come here when I was little – it was always the go-to place for a special occasion. It catered for all walks of life and that’s what we wanted to carry on.
“It used to have a very good reputation but when we looked at it, it had been up for sale for a number of years. The previous owners had just walked out and locked up. There was still food in the freezers that had gone off because they’d been switched off and cigarettes in the ashtrays.”
But this did not put off an ambitious young Pern, who, at the age of 25 and with a loan from the bank, set about creating his vision at the Star which soon became one the original “gastropubs”, winning a host of awards and accolades.
It took a lot of hard work to get the Star cleaned up and ready to reopen, serving more “comfort food with a modern spin” than the type of menu you will see today under Pern and head chef Steve Smith. “I think we spend more time together than we do with our families,” he says of Smith, who has been with him for 13 years.
Pern was greatly influenced by the Roux brothers, having been a recipient of the Roux scholarship and he says he still misses them. Michel Roux died last year and his older brother, Albert, in January this year.
The hard work paid off and in 1998 the Star Inn was awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin. “We thought that was amazing,” says Pern. In 2001 he was on holiday when the Michelin Guide came out and he rang to see if the Star was still in it. “They said that they were sorry but they’d taken the Bib Gourmand award. My heart sank, but then they said they’d replaced it with a Michelin star. It was so emotional and I rang my parents straightaway.”
The Star Inn was only the second pub in the UK to be awarded a Michelin star and it spurred Pern on to become even more ambitious, admitting he had a second star in his sights.
But they say pride comes before a fall and in 2011 Pern was told the devastating news that he had lost the coveted star. “I was travelling to London to film The Great British Menu in 2011 when I got a call from somebody saying that it was a travesty we had lost the star. I knew nothing about it. I had to go through filming the programme. It wasn’t a great time. We’d invested a lot.”
Pern estimates that losing the star cost him £300,000 but the emotional toll was greater. “I had to break it to the staff. Then you stop getting invited to things as you are no longer part of the ‘club’. Then you have to decide what to do next. We needed to win it back – I am Yorkshireman, after all.” Pern was also going through a difficult time personally after his marriage with Jackie broke down. The couple had opened other businesses in Harome, including the nearby Pheasant which is still owned by Jackie.
Pern spent four years fighting to get the star back, going back to basics and doing what he does well. And in 2015 his determination paid off. “Regaining the Michelin star was more rewarding than getting it in the first place,” he admits. Pern’s secret to success is the delicate balance he achieves between welcoming the locals into the cosy bar with roaring fire to play dominoes and have a pint, with the fine-dining restaurant. But it is something he seems to do with ease.
He gives all his guests – whatever their status – a warm Yorkshire welcome. It is also clear that even 25 years after opening his first restaurant he still loves what he does, despite the stresses to the hospitality industry caused by the pandemic. “I suppose I am a positive person,” he says. “I think you need to enjoy what you do or else what’s the point? Don’t get me wrong, there have been tough times, but there is no point moaning about it, you just have to get on with it and make the best of it.” His high-rent York restaurant, Mr P’s Curious Tavern, was a casualty of Covid, being too small to make social distancing viable. And like many in hospitality, recruiting staff remains a problem.
But the Star Inn and his other two restaurants, the Star in the City, in York, and Star in the Harbour in his home town of Whitby, have all reopened and are doing well. “People have been so supportive, especially our regulars,” says Pern, who, along with some of his seven children, cooked meals for NHS workers during the first lockdown.
The Star Inn is a very different place from the one Pern bought 25 years ago. The cosy bar remains but the modern restaurant, kitchen extension and addition of luxury bedrooms across the road keep things fresh. His second wife, Fran, runs the hotel side of the business. “I get bored quite easily,” he admits. “I need to keep moving and while there are still things to be done here, I am happy to stay.”
He splits his time between HQ, as he calls the Star Inn, and his other ventures. He is also a regular on the food festival circuit and is a familiar face at mate Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park events. “Tom had his 40th at the Star Inn and we are good mates,” says Pern. “I love doing things like Pub in the Park, it is about what food should be about, enjoying time with friends and having fun.”
As he celebrates a quarter of a century at the 14th century thatched inn where he says he thought he would stay for ten years only, Pern says he has no regrets. He would like the Star Inn to stay in the family, although none of his seven children are showing much interest in taking over the business. “I will keep doing it for as long as I enjoy it,” he says.