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We Grill- Andy Gabbitas

Andy Gabbitas has been the head chef and proprietor of The Wortley Arms in Sheffield for the past nine years. An Army-trained chef, Andy was made a Master Chef 12 years ago and works with a team of four using local and seasonal produce to create pub classics and fine-dining restaurant dishes in his country pub. Here, he shares with Take Stock his secrets to success and how he and his team get prepared for the festive season…

Describe the Wortley Arms..

When we first started we had the pub downstairs and a fine-dining restaurant upstairs – a two-tier affair. It started off alright, but then we had people wanting to go upstairs who wanted pub food and people down in the pub wanting fine dining! So we closed upstairs and combined the two. Now the restaurant food and pub classics go hand in hand. There might be someone sat with fish and chips dining with someone eating beef or venison and it works really well. We mix a modern menu with pub classics using local, fresh and seasonal produce.

We have an allotment and greenhouses so we serve whatever we grow. We use local lamb and a fish supplier from Whitby and we cook whatever is the catch of the day! We have held 2AA rosettes for the past eight years. The consistency of our product, plus the variety – pub lunch or three-course dinner – and our hospitality keeps our regulars very loyal and we are lucky to attract a lot of drop-ins too. We don’t have a high staff turnover which I think also helps and makes the pub feel like a home from home for staff and customers.

Do you have a festive signature dish?

Yes – without doubt it is our Christmas pudding; we are renowned for it. Homemade, it is an old fashioned recipe full of fruit and made just like it used to be in the good old days. Customers love it! Not only does it bring back memories for older customers, people know they can come somewhere that serves a proper homemade traditional Christmas pud. We make about 2,000 portions and as well as serving them we sell take-away ones too – we even have an ordering form!

How prepared are you for Christmas?

By mid-July we were already fully booked for Christmas Day. Turkey is still very popular and we make our own stuffing. We are also serving beef cheeks bourguignon-style but I can guarantee that 90% will still choose the roast turkey. We smoke our own salmon, make parsnip and apple soup, and serve a local whipped goat’s cheese with pickled beetroot. All of our cheese is Yorkshire cheese – we only use local.

How do you decorate the pub?

On the 30 November my team and I stay late and put the trimmings up ready for the 1 December. We have traditional decorations; quite understated and don’t go overboard. The tree is the focal point and takes precedence next to the bar. We always buy an artifical one, but make sure it is a really good one. We have flashing lights and really old fashioned ornaments dotted about that blend in really well. Our customers always comment on how tasteful the trimmings are, so we have never changed our style. To us, the interior deco is more important than the table settings, which we don’t bother with, asides from the usual crackers. And we don’t do anything different with the serving plates – it’s more about the actual food than how it’s presented.

How profitable is Christmas?

Trade is boosted an extra 25% during the whole of December – and that’s on food and drink. Christmas Eve we are very busy. Last year we took 220 covers! We don’t get finished up until about 11.30pm and by 8.30am we are back prepping. Christmas Day we open at 12pm. Lunch is served between 12 and 2pm and we get finished about 5.30pm – we don’t open in the evening. But then Boxing Day is one of our busiest days! By then, we are back to a pub grub menu because we attract a lot of walkers who are wanting something hearty! Then, on New Year’s Eve we are so busy it’s not true! The kitchen is open from 5 to 8.30pm and we tend to do about 160 covers and then, thanks to the three bands playing, we are packed with drinkers and the bar stays open very, very late!

How do you keep the pub busy in January?

Thankfully, we don’t have bad January’s. We are lucky to be located in such a beautiful area that we attract a lot of visitors and walkers. But last year we decided to do something quirky for a bit of fun, and for the whole of January had ‘Roll a Six’. Each table who dined had one die and if they rolled a six the whole party got their meals for half price. It was a great PR stunt without realising because all the diners who competed – and won – couldn’t wait to tell their family and friends about it, so they then came in too, so, in theory, we probably boosted trade even with the discount! It was great fun too and just gave the month a bit of a lift.

Favourite childhood food memory?

My grandma’s meat and potato pie. In those days she used to have a stove beside the fire so every Friday during the school holidays I’d go to her house and by 8am the pie would be baking. The smell, as it lingered around the house, was wonderful. She’d serve it with relish – Henderson’s Relish – which is iconic and made in Sheffield but now available in supermarkets.

Favourite restaurant in the UK and abroad?

In the UK, the Crab & Lobster at Asenby, Thirsk, because of the atmosphere, consistency of good food and the welcome we always receive. They’ve got it spot on. The River Cafe in New York, under the Brooklyn Bridge, is superb – the whole setting was just fantastic. We had a seven course tasting menu which was not over complicated, but full of nice flavours.

Favourite Yorkshire dish?

Round Green Farm venison or Moss Valley pork. Both are very local to us and always great. The pork is so consistent and nice, and that is especially difficult to maintain when you are a smallholder.

Hobbies outside the kitchen?

I do a bit of running – not as much as I used to – but my wife and I ran the London Marathon a few years ago to raise money for charity. We hold an event each year to support a local charity. We get the brewery, suppliers and caterers to donate products and we put an event on in the pub where everything that’s sold goes to that particular one. We raise about £3,000 a time. I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan too and go to watch them. I also love having a potter in the allotment where I learn a lot from the older blokes there.

Where did your passion for food come from?

I’m not really sure, but I always liked to cook. My mother went to my school when I was about 12 to persuade my teacher to let me do O-Level cookery. It was at a time when boys did metalwork and woodwork and only girls did cookery so mum had to tell them that I was serious about it and wanted to do it as a career.

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