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Michael Wignall interview - Take Stock Magazine

We Grill – Michael Wignall

Renowned chef Michael Wignall took over the reins of the famous Angel at Hetton – the original gastropub – in September 2018. The Lancashire born chef, who has won Michelin stars in every kitchen he has headed up since being awarded his first star in 1993, has returned to the north to become chef patron at his first business venture.

Tell us about the Angel…

The 15th century nine-bedroom property is six miles from the historic town of Skipton located in the heart of the stunning Yorkshire Dales National Park in the village of Hetton. The Angel is famous for its fantastic food, warm welcome and a deep connection with the dramatic landscape. Together with my wife Johanna, and our business partners James and Josephine Wellock, our combined vision is to keep everything that the Angel was known and loved for, and make it outstanding. We’ve created a style that’s casual and contemporary and the new Angel is all about great food and great hospitality – we aim to give all customers a relaxed experience no matter who they are. Everyone is welcome.

Tell us about your menu?

We have a 60-seater restaurant which offers a restaurant and pub menu. My cooking is modern, technical and meaningful; I want each element to bring flavour or texture, enticing diners to experience new combinations and ingredients.

Is using local produce important to you?

Yes, but quality is what’s most important. I believe in taking influences from around you and then breaking with tradition because people want a wide variety of flavours to keep food interesting. As a northerner, I’m keen to use produce from the north when the quality is outstanding; it makes it easier to source, and it means we can visit the producers ourselves. For example, the fish from Hartlepool in the north-east is truly world-class, so I’m excited to be able to use it.

What is your career history?

I studied catering at Preston’s College and got my first job at Broughton Park, under Paul Heathcote. I moved with Paul to his restaurant in Longridge as senior chef de partie, where I stayed for two years. Since then I’ve worked in Spain and France and at restaurants including L’Ortolan, Michael’s Nook, The Burlington at The Devonshire Arms and the Latymer at Pennyhill Park. In 2016 I moved to Gidleigh Park as executive chef; where I retained its two stars. The following year the restaurant was awarded five AA rosettes – the first time the AA has ever awarded five rosettes mid-year. Then the opportunity came up to buy the Angel.

How important is the drink you stock?

Very. I believe you need to be focused on everything; not just the food. The service, ambience and drinks menu should all go hand in hand with the food we serve – and be equally as interesting. It’s still early days for us at the Angel but we plan to stock wine that isn’t run of the mill, but also not hugely overpriced. We are working with producers and aim to visit vineyards so we can judge the wine we’ll serve. We have the popular Black Sheep on tap as well as brews from our local brewer, the Dark Horse Brewery which is just 200 yards down the road. We also have Japanese lager Asahi on tap and Inedit, a mix of lager and wheat beer styles crafted by world-renowned chef Ferran Adria.

Is being awarded a Michelin star the be-all and end all for a chef?

When I set out in the business, I never thought I’d get a star and didn’t aim for one, but when I was awarded one I felt very humble. When I got a second one, I thought, right, what else can I achieve? I know some chefs may not set out to get one, but deep down I believe it’s something we all want, and certainly wouldn’t turn one away. Gaining a star is also a great pull for the establishment and a morale boost for the staff too. Ingredients have gone up in price 30% in the past year so the pressure for establishments to produce the same standard of food with only a small price rise is tough. Chefs, and their teams, need to be inventive and creative, and skilled, to produce dishes of the same standard in these challenging times.

What’s the secret to your success?

It’s a really hard industry so you have to be dedicated and focused. Lots of people today want all the glory of a job without the hard work. That doesn’t work in this industry. You have got to work hard to be good. You have to believe in yourself and not copy other chefs’ work but create your own identity, and do your own thing.

Where does your inspiration come from?

All walks of life. I love all types of food from Michelin star restaurants to street food and each one inspires me. Social media now plays a huge part and whereas 15 years ago chefs kept their recipes a secret now everyone is willing to share, so that’s another great source of inspiration.

Any hobbies outside the kitchen?

I love to snowboard, go wakeboarding and make use of the stunning Yorkshire Dales by cycling.

What’s your future plans for the Angel?

Later this year our brand new fine dining restaurant Cove will be added to the mix (across the road from the Angel) hopefully putting the Angel at Hetton on every gourmet food lovers bucket list. We want to make both experiences unique, yet relaxed, with everybody welcome.

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