In their own words: Yorkshire’s Michelin chefs

Pork Belly  from the Black Swan at Oldstead, where Tommy Banks is head chef.
Pork Belly from the Black Swan at Oldstead, where Tommy Banks is head chef.
  • With the new Michelin Guide out, Sarah Freeman catches up with the creative kitchen devils putting the county on the culinary map.
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This year, the release of the Michelin Guide was shrouded in the usual secrecy. Despite calls to the head office, those behind the guide were adamant – the winners and losers wouldn’t be announced until Thursday, September 17. Not even under embargo. However, come lunchtime on the Wednesday, Twitter was alive with who had and hadn’t made it the cut. The guide had been leaked and one Yorkshire chef already had an advance copy.

“I was in York that day and thought I’d pop into Waterstones and chance my arm,” says Andrew Pern, who regained his Michelin star last year. “I told them I was from out of town and wondered whether I could possibly get hold of a guide. I felt sure they would tell me where to go, but they didn’t even bat an eyelid.”

It was Andrew who called The Man Behind the Curtain’s Michael O’Hare, Yorkshire’s newest recipient of a star, to tell him the good news. “I think Andrew pulled off a bit of a coup there,” says Michael. “I was glad though, it stopped me from having a sleepless night.”

While Tessa Bramley, from the Old Vicarage, lost her star, Yorkshire still boasts the most Michelin star restaurants of any county outside London and more than justifies its reputation as the foodie capital of the North.

MICHAEL O’HARE: THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN, LEEDS

Who is your inspiration in the kitchen? Ok, here goes, it’s an eclectic mix – Bjork, Bryan Ferry, Damien Hirst, Angel Leon, Tracey Emin, Frank Gehry, Nuno Mendes, Dali, Phil Lynott, my mouth, my stomach, my eyes, my nose.

What was the first recipe book you ever owned? The Postman Pat recipe book. My favourite recipe was Jess’s favourite sandwiches made from tuna and ketchup. Worth a try.

What’s the best thing about running your own restaurant? Full creative freedom and the fact I have to answer to nobody.

And the worst? Having to recognise your own faults.

Stranded on a desert island, what three ingredients you would miss most? Stranded on a desert island I wouldn’t care about food. I would miss an aeroplane, boat or pedalo.

If you had to hand over the running of your kitchen to another chef, who would you pick and why? That’s easy. It would be any single one of my chefs. I’m fortunate that they know and understand me. They share my vision and I have complete trust in their execution.

Given the chance, how would your staff describe you? Sexual deviant.

You’ve made a career out of fine dining, but when it comes to home comforts what’s your favourite dish to cook? I live on Asian food and can mostly be found eating dim sum, ramen, noodles, rice etc.

And finally, tell us a secret about what it really takes to win a Michelin star? See my answer to question six. It really is that simple.

ANDREW PERN: THE STAR INN AT HAROME, NEAR HELMSLEY

Who is your inspiration in the kitchen? For me it’s not a who, but a what. I take my inspiration from the seasons.

What was the first recipe book you ever owned? When I was about 14 years old my Aunty Anne gave me a set of Robert Carrier cookbooks. My mother suffered from multiple sclerosis so I became the family cook and while still a teenager I was making a mean woodcock terrine.

What’s the best thing about running your own restaurant? The fact that my hobby is what I do for a living. I don’t think you can beat that.

And the worst? I suspect what everyone would say – it takes over your life.

Stranded on a desert island, what three ingredients you would miss most? I’m tempted to say cheese, cheese and more cheese, but if I could add in some game and a bit of wine I would be a happy man.

If you had to hand over the running of your kitchen to another chef, who would you pick and why? My head chef, Steve Smith. He joined nine years ago and like me he lives and breathes the business. He’s been here through the good times and the not so good and has my absolute trust.

Given the chance, how would your staff describe you? Slightly mentally unstable, but kind and generous.

You’ve made a career out of fine dining, but when it comes to home comforts what’s your favourite dish to cook? It would have to be something like braised oxtail with horseradish mash. Delicious.

And finally, tell us a secret about what it really takes to win a Michelin star? There is no simple list of boxes to tick when it comes to what makes a Michelin star restaurant. They are all so different, so I guess the key is to plough your own furrow.

SIMON GUELLER: THE BOX TREE, ILKLEY

Who is your inspiration in the kitchen? Roger Vergé. The French chef and restaurateur is credited with inventing nouvelle cuisine, which revolutionised European cooking. He died earlier this year, but is rightly considered one of the greatest chefs of all time.

What was the first recipe book you ever owned? La Varenne. Francois Pierre de la Varenne was chef to Nicolas Chalon du Blé, the Marquis d’Uxelles, and wrote the most important French cookery books of the 17th century.

What’s the best thing about running your own restaurant? It has to be nobody telling you what to do.

And the worst? Whichever way you look at it, it is life consuming. If you want to run your own restaurant well, then most other things have to come second.

Stranded on a desert island, what three ingredients you would miss most? Herbs, white onions and Parmesan.

If you had to hand over the running of your kitchen to another chef, who would you pick and why? The key to any kitchen is having staff who you can absolutely rely on and who you know will work hard and only ever be satisfied with perfection. On that basis and because I trust him 100 per cent, it would have to be Daniel Clifford, who runs Midsummer House in Cambridge.

Given the chance, how would your staff describe you? Just one word would probably suffice: extreme.

You’ve made a career out of fine dining, but when it comes to home comforts what’s your favourite dish to cook? Dishes with simple, lovely, fresh produce. You can’t beat them.

And finally, tell us a secret about what it really takes to win a Michelin star? It’s a secret…

FRANCES ATKINS: THE YORKE ARMS AT RAMSGILL

Who is your inspiration in the kitchen? Raymond Blanc. When I was just starting out, he was making his name. I had never seen anything like his style of cooking before and it made me want to be a part of this business.

What was the first recipe book you ever owned? Modern French Culinary Art by Henri-Paul Pellaprat. It’s a whacking great book and I saved up for months to buy a copy, but it contains everything you need to know about that style of cooking. Predictably, by the time I’d perfected those dishes, the world had moved on and French cooking had fallen out of fashion.

What’s the best thing about running your own restaurant? It would have to be the independence it brings. That and the fact I hope I have a great relationship with the staff.

And the worst? The buck stops with you. If something goes wrong, then you are the end of the line.

Stranded on a desert island, what three ingredients would you miss most? Bread, wine and cheese. The stuff of life. In fact, you’ll find most chefs prefer quite simple food when they are out of the kitchen.

If you had to hand over the running of your kitchen to another chef, who would you pick and why? My head chef, Roger. We have been working together for 15 years now and we think exactly the same. Finding a good head chef is like finding a good dancing partner. Once you have one, you should never let them go.

Given the chance, how would your staff describe you? Probably a pain, a total pain.

You’ve made a career out of fine dining, but when it comes to home comforts what’s your favourite dish to cook? A salad of fresh vegetables picked straight from our garden. That kind of taste, money can’t buy.

And finally, tell us a secret about what it really takes to win a Michelin star? Simple. Consistency and hard work. You are only as good as your last meal.

TOMMY BANKS: THE BLACK SWAN AT OLDSTEAD

Who is your inspiration in the kitchen? I know it probably sounds a little cliched, but I take my inspiration from those I work with. They are so passionate about what they do and their hard work makes me want to do even better.

What was the first recipe book you ever owned? It was Leiths Cookery Bible, a great big doorstep of a book which contains every classic recipe you could ever want to cook. I may spend my days refining complex recipes, but if I want to know how to cook a proper pie or a pudding, it’s still my “go to” book now.

What’s the best thing about running your own restaurant? That’s easy. It has to be the freedom it gives you. We are lucky in that we have absolute control of the place. We’ve built our own vegetable garden, which has changed the way we cook and given us a huge amount of flexibility. We don’t have anyone saying: “You have to put fillet of beef on the menu, because that’s what the regulars want.”

And the worst? You never escape. Running your own restaurant is a 24/7 job, but I’m not whingeing. It’s a real privilege and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Stranded on a desert island, what three ingredients would you miss most? Butter, definitely butter, bread and wine.

If you had to hand over the running of your kitchen to another chef, who would you pick and why? There isn’t such a thing as a Michelin star chef. Honestly, it’s a complete misnomer. You can’t get to or maintain this style of cooking without a fantastic team. When I’m not here, they already take over, so I wouldn’t hesitate in handing over everything to them.

Given the chance, how would your staff describe you? I hope they would say I was a friend, because that’s how I see them.

You’ve made a career out of fine dining, but when it comes to home comforts what’s your favourite dish to cook? Frangipane tart. I have a bit of a thing for marzipan. In fact, I picked some blackberries on the way into work this morning and I’m going to make one when I get home.

And finally, tell us a secret about what it really takes to win a Michelin star? Who knows? No real secret, just consistency. One bad meal and that’s it.

JAMES MACKENZIE: THE PIPE AND GLASS, SOUTH DALTON

Who is your inspiration in the kitchen? A wide variety of worldwide chefs from the classic masters like Raymond Blanc to great restaurateurs like Jason Atherton. It’s always about keeping focused on what we offer but being aware of what’s going on in our industry around the world.

What was the first recipe book you ever owned? Practical Cookery, which I got when I started catering college. It’s an essential book that every young chef should have with all the basic classical recipes.

What’s the best thing about running your own restaurant? All the customers, suppliers and people you meet. Being able to make decisions yourself, from how to run the business to what goes on the menu and knowing that we have built our business from scratch.

And the worst? The sacrifices you have to make along the way.

Stranded on a desert island, what three ingredients would you miss most? I’d be too busy surviving to miss anything.

If you had to hand over the running of your kitchen to another chef, who would you pick and why? I am confident in the great team I have here, but if it were someone else probably my old chum Andrew Pern ably assisted by Keith Floyd as his sous chef (if he were still with us). My chefs would have a great time I think!

Given the chance, how would your staff describe you? Passionate, hard but fair I suspect it might depend when you asked them.

You’ve made a career out of fine dining, but when it comes to home comforts what’s your favourite dish to cook? At home the crowd pleaser for our kids and my wife Kate and I is always a good old roast chicken dinner, with Yorkies of course.

And finally, tell us a secret about what it really takes to win a Michelin star? Who knows? Number one for us is looking after the customer, serving great food with great Yorkshire hospitality. Working hard and never standing still.