Steven Smith is the chef-proprietor of the Freemasons in Wiswell, Lancashire. Nestled in the Ribble Valley, the award-winning country pub adds a twist of contemporary creativity and flair to dishes to create a memorable gastronomic experience.
What is your career history?
I trained at Blackburn College and then got my first position as pastry chef at the Feildens Arms at Mellor. From there, I moved on to junior sous chef at the Forest at Fence, chef de partie at The Box Tree in Ilkley, senior chef de partie/junior sous chef at Stanley House Hotel in Mellor, sous chef at Gilpin Hotel and Lake House in Windermere and then back to Stanley House as head chef before taking over the Freemasons in 2009.
Who has been your biggest influence?
When I first started out, it was Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay. But, as time went on, I started to admire Sat Bains, Brett Graham and Tom Kerridge. They’re more chefs that I admire, as opposed to role models. At the Freemasons, we try not to model ourselves on anyone and we’re doing what we can to create a unique environment.
How did your love of cooking develop?
I worked part-time in a kitchen in my final year of secondary school. I really enjoyed it and felt it was an avenue to explore. Once I got involved in cooking I never looked back – there isn’t anything else I could imagine doing and enjoying as much!
What fuels your creativity?
We get a lot of our inspiration from the local area, which is absolutely beautiful, and of course seasonal ingredients. I have an enthusiastic team of five who are keen to experiment with flavours and have created some absolutely fantastic dishes such as our Suckling Pig with Hoi Sin sauce and our Pigeon with XO sauce. Fusing English and Asian flavours has been really successful for us and gives us a lot of scope to try new things.
Tell us about the Freemasons…
At the Freemasons we offer customers a culinary experience second to none, in a cosy, inviting pub atmosphere. The pub has so much to offer – it’s in a beautiful location, it is really warm and inviting, but allows us to provide private dining rooms and up to 83 covers. Our à la carte menu is home to classic Freemasons’ favourites; our seasonal menu offers excellent value at lunch and early supper featuring the freshest flavours and we have a tasting menu too. We never sit still at the Freemasons. I’m always planning for the future and looking at ways to improve our offering and bring in new customers. We are hoping to get planning permission on a kitchen extension and also some bedrooms which I believe would make a big difference to those travelling from further afield.
What awards have you won?
We had a fantastic year in 2016, winning Best Food Pub in the Great British Pub awards, retaining our place as number one pub in The Waitrose Good Food Guide and moving up to 25th place in the Square Meal Top 100 Restaurants. And this year we have already scooped number one pub in the Good Food Guide 2017 and come fourth in the UK’s Top 50 Gastropubs – so we’re not doing too badly!
Was that your goal?
You don’t necessarily set out to win awards but it’s always a nice achievement when you do, as it shows you’re on the right track! It also pushes the Freemasons out further afield, introducing us to new customers. We often meet new customers who have sought us out on the back of an award win and then become repeat visitors, so we appreciate the role awards have to play.
How important is food and wine pairing?
Really important. Different ingredients and flavours really impact on how wine tastes and it can really make a difference to your meal if you choose the wrong wine. Our staff have been fully trained on our wine list and can advise on the right wine to complement your dish. In addition, we run a monthly Food & Wine Club with Master of Wine Miles Corish, which is really popular.
Do you BBQ during the summer months?
Yes, we have an annual summer BBQ which is incredibly popular. Our best selling dish is our Queenie Scallops in their shells, with garlic butter piped in – cooked straight on the BBQ.
Does the Freemasons have a signature dish?
I wouldn’t say we have one signature dish. Our menu is filled with signature dishes – all of which have been inspired by the pub itself, Wiswell village, Lancashire and indeed the North West. It’s such a beautiful part of the world, there’s so much to take inspiration from! A couple of dishes we’re working on for the summer menu include a heritage tomato, English mozzarella and caviar dish and we’re also working on a Morecambe Bay sauce, which will bring together all the small fish that come out of Morecambe Bay during the summer, such as red mullet, baby crab and gurnard to be served with a lovely piece of cod.
What would be your last meal?
Believe it or not, beans on toast!
Any hobbies outside the kitchen?
I love walking my English Bulldog Bam Bam who is very much part of the Freemasons family. And when I have the time, I like to go shooting and play golf.
Advice for aspiring chefs?
It’s important to stay grounded, work hard and have a good attitude. Don’t be too eager. Put in the hard work first and you’ll get the rewards.