We Grill: Lisa Allen
There are several things that strike you about Lisa Allen, firstly that she became executive chef of the Lancashire-based Northcote at such a young age and secondly, that she is a she.
Lisa has been making waves in the industry for some time now. She joined Michelin starred Northcote in 2001 to work under Nigel Haworth. Just three years aer joining the Lancashire-based hotel, at the age of 23, she was placed in overall charge of the kitchen.
Aer successfully retaining the Michelin star that Haworth had gained, she was one to watch and you could. Lisa appeared on TV’s Great British Menu in 2010, reaching the final and presenting her dish to Prince Charles. Her star shone bright.
We interview this leading light of hospitality…
What is the most nerve-racking moment you’ve had in the kitchen?
For me, it has to be when you step foot into the kitchen on your first day. At that point everyone is looking at you to see if you are good enough.
Do you have any tips for chefs looking for new menu ideas?
I would say you have to educate yourself by researching new products and ingredients.Dining in other restaurants also helps you to experience different styles of food.
What do you look for in new staff?
Someone who is passionate about what they do and keen to learn new things. For more senior staff, the knowledge to educate others in the team.
Do you have any interview tips for aspiring young chefs?
Research the workplace you are going to. The biggest thing is to be yourself and ask questions to show you are keen.
Looking back on your career, would you do anything differently?
No – I fell in love with cooking and it took me on an incredible journey. It’s something I love to do day in day out. In this industry there is always something new to learn and every day is a school day.
As someone with a shellfish allergy, do you find your menu ideas take into account others who cannot eat certain foods?
It makes you more aware and when guests book into the restaurant that have allergies, we make sure they have the same experience as everyone else.
Apart from culinary talent, what skills do you think modern day chefs need to thrive in such a cut-throat industry?
Maybe computer skills, everything is modernising. Management skills, if you are running a large kitchen.
How important do you think provenance is in modern professional kitchens?
It’s our philosophy here at Northcote to bring some of the North West’s unique hand-reared or grown produce to the plate. I also think it gives chefs a great understanding of how much hard work, passion and effort goes into growing and rearing produce, when they see them in their natural environment. It
can also give you ideas for new dishes.
We know you forage some of the food you cook, do you think it is time for chefs to go wild, wellies in hand?
I think everyone should experience foraging, to pick local grown, wild ingredients, to inspire new dishes and to realise there are a lots of ingredients out there on your doorstep.
What’s on this year’s planting list for Northcote’s kitchen garden?
Northcote is changing over the next 12 months, with a new kitchen, renovations throughout the property and 14 new garden bedrooms in the grounds. The garden will be transformed and the working garden will be altered offering many new herbs, fruits and vegetables. We are looking at different heritages to see where vegetables come from and unusual ingredients.
Who do you find inspiring?
Angela Hartnett – a talented female chef at the top of her game. She works incredibly hard and it is very inspiring for the younger generation to see that all the hard work and determination you put into the industry pays off.
Who is your favourite chef?
Tom Kerridge – a guy with a massive heart and an outstanding chef.
Aside from Northcote, where is your favourite place to eat?
I had an amazing meal at Alinea in Chicago, also in the Hand and Flowers in Marlow –
outstanding food with a lot of love.
Out of the awards you have won, which means the most?
My Acorn Award in 2007.