Nestled away in a quiet Lancashire valley lies one of the UK’s iconic luxury hotel and restaurants. Proud holder of a Michelin star for 22 years, and a conveyor belt of talented UK chefs, Northcote has been one of the driving forces in the British fine dining scene for over 30 years. Here, Electrolux Professional heads into the kitchen to find out more.
“I think the style of cooking we’ve evolved at Northcote is definitely modern British. But, having said that, we’re not frightened of using eclectic ingredients. If we want something we can’t get, or the quality isn’t good enough locally, then we’ll go farther afield to get that,” begins Nigel Haworth, Chef Ambassador.
A quick glance at the restaurant’s menus – not to mention the numerous television appearances of both Nigel, and Executive Head Chef, Lisa Goodwin-Allen – underlines the ‘modern British’ ethos that flows through the kitchen at Northcote, of which Howarth and Goodwin-Allen have worked in for 34 and 17 years respectively.
In fact, what immediately strikes you when you enter the kitchen is the space. Rather than being cramped away or squeezed into a tiny footprint as is so often the case with hotel kitchens, Howarth and Goodwin-Allen have created a spacious, open-plan cooking arena from which to showcase the finest produce the Ribble Valley and surrounding area has to offer.
“When you inherit a country house hotel, you’ve got ‘igglety pigglety’ corners; your pastry’s shut away so communication is difficult,” continues Nigel.
“When we looked at redesigning this kitchen in 2012, the main thing was to knock down the structure and the walls and build and open plan kitchen where we can all see each other and communicate well. Communication is definitely the key to working better. It massively influences the stress levels in the kitchen when you can actually just look at someone and say ‘Can you get that ready for me’ rather than shouting.”
The choice of equipment was central to Nigel and Lisa’s vision of creating a harmonious working environment within the hotel’s redeveloped kitchen. Nigel continues: “Having worked in a kitchen that was very industrial and hot, I wanted to move to planchas as I’d seen planchas work in Switzerland and Sweden. I wanted to get rid of the excess of pans, and in service for it to be very quick and direct, and planchas give you that.”
After numerous consultations with kitchen designers C&C Catering Equipment, the decision was made to commission a bespoke cooking suite from Electrolux Professional’s thermaline made-to-measure (M2M) range, comprising of a bespoke island featuring two planchas, each with four independently controlled zones; two induction hobs; a bain marie; and a rise and fall salamander grill.
The suite would be supported by two tilting ProThermetic braising pans, creating an ideal ‘multipurpose system’ to boil, braise, griddle, steam or pressure cook; as well as create stocks and broths, all in the same appliance. An air-o-steam Touchline combi oven from Electrolux Professional with an accompanying blast chiller in stacked formation, completed the installation.
Nigel continued: “The thermaline has been perfect for us, because we can work from our ovens, our convection steam ovens, through to either our induction or straight on to the plancha. You’ve got four zones on the main plancha, so you’ve got control of your garnish and of your main ingredient, and also if you so choose, you can have your pan simmering away at the back. It was that control, and that cleanliness of control that the plancha gave to me.
“Then we’ve got the warming drawers which really are very very good, as we can control the temperature. I can hold a partridge or a grouse in our warming drawers at 55˚C and we know it’s going to be perfect. We can just finish it on the plancha, and away it goes. That quickness and speed of efficiency when you’re doing a volume business at the high level that we are, is absolutely paramount.”
What many may not realise is the scale of kitchen operations undertaken by the Northcote brigade. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – with three different menus – seven days a week, both in the hotel’s main restaurant and several private dining rooms, the kitchen can easily find itself catering for three-figure covers during a busy service. As such, the equipment plays a pivotal role in ensuring Nigel and Lisa’s exacting quality standards can be replicated in significant quantity.
“How we’ve designed the flow of the kitchen, with C&C and with Electrolux, is so important; and the chefs love to be part of service,” continues Nigel. “However, we know, because of the design of the kitchen, we can get 100 covers out, and we’re calm with getting that volume of covers out.”
No more so is the flexibility of the kitchen at Northcote tested then each January and February, when the hotel plays host to Obsession – Northcote’s annual festival of gastronomy, which is now in its 18th year. With acclaimed chefs from around the world descending on the kitchen, each bringing with them a multi-course menu of signature dishes and often their own brigade of chefs, the equipment must be able to adapt to a diverse – and often wildly different – style of cuisine each night.
“The great thing about our kitchen for Obsession is that we can get chefs in, and we’re proud of our kitchen,” he continues. “They come from all walks of life, and all corners of the world. We could be flying chefs in from Brazil, South Africa, Australia, or from Manchester. We’ve got a really big cross section, and your kitchen has to be flexible, and for me the ergonomics of the kitchen are paramount, and really have to work well.
“With chefs coming from very prestigious hotels and restaurants around the world, their eyes have shot open as they’ve seen the detail and the openness of the kitchen, and you know, it’s just got a lovely feel.”
Looking to the future, Nigel is confident the kitchen will continue to evolve and better itself. “We would like two stars, and we’ve said that now for a long time, and I think this team – in particular under Lisa’s guidance – they can achieve that without any question, he concludes. “So we need to keep focused, keep delivering, but most of all keep our customers happy, and that, to be fair, has always been our focus.”