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We Grill: Simon Salt

Simon Salt, 30, is the new chef-patron of the White Bull, in Gisburn, Ribble Valley. A former quarter-finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals, he was previously Lancashire Young Chef of the Year, North West Young Chef of the Year, Gordon Ramsay Scholar finalist, and an apprentice at the Michelin-starred Northcote Manor, Lancashire.

What brought you to the White Bull?

It had always been my ambition to have my own place. When The White Bull came up it stuck out for me. I’m from Oswaldtwistle, so I wanted a village pub in Lancashire, and I used to go there when I was a lad. It had a tired but nice character and always felt like the heart of the community, so after it had been closed for a year it seemed the perfect opportunity to bring it back to life. It’s got four areas; the snug (a drinking area for locals), a dining area, a private dining room that seats up to 14 and the function room that holds 140 people. It can cater for every situation.

What’s the menu?

I was adamant about providing dishes of different cost and style to suit every occasion. I wanted staples on the menu, like a burger and fish and chips, but then we have a specials board that you can have something a bit more fine dining – like lobster or venison. Fresh, local and seasonal products are extremely important to me. I want to use local produce to feed local people. I wouldn’t call my food gastro or fine dining: it is what it is. We aren’t pretentious. You can get a burger or something fancier with a gel or a foam. I’m offering the two options and not singling myself out as one or the other.

Do you have a children’s menu?

No. Everything I make I’ll do in a small portion of. I knew what I wanted at that age and I believe children need to be taught about good, nutritional food. Customers love it because they want their children to be eating what they’re eating, and they are trying food they never thought they would – and enjoying it.

What’s your signature dish?

I don’t have one. I don’t use expensive cuts because anyone can cook with an expensive cut. I like braising and slow cooking – for me its more about the flavour than the presentation. Presentation plays a massive part but flavour is absolute key to me, and using local produce is important.

Who has been your biggest influence?

There are a lot of chefs who I look up to and have helped me throughout my career; from lecturers at college to Brett Graham at The Ledbury and Martin Berasategui in San Sebastián. Meeting people like Mark Askew and Gordon Ramsey inspired me, but so did a broad range from all over the world. I’ve picked up things from a lot of people so I couldn’t single out just one.

When did your love of food begin?

I liked food from an early age. As well as offering to help Mum make tea, we ate out a lot, and when we did I never ordered a child’s meal. Even at the age of seven I knew I wanted a steak over fish fingers and would even order it myself – medium rare! And when I was 15 I figured out I wanted to be a chef, because I was the only boy in my home economics class! I struggled academically, but thrived when it came to cooking. I loved it.

What advice would you give to a young,ambitious chef?

Soak up as much as you can from chefs you respect. Be prepared to work long and unsociable hours and, starting from when you first start training, expect not to have a social life for at least five years! Try and get an apprenticeship somewhere good that has an excellent reputation and are prepared to train you. You have got to constantly eat, sleep and drink food.

Favourite restaurant in the UK?

There are too many to name just one! But, in London, I’d have to say The Ledbury in Notting Hill. Brett Graham is fantastic and in my eyes one of the best chefs in the UK. Obviously, you can’t beat Nigel Howarth. He is the man of the north west without a shadow of a doubt. And in the Lake District L’Enclumes serves simple, beautifully tasty food.

Do you think restaurants outside of London can compete?

The Ribble Valley is one of the strongest areas in the country outside of London for food. You can’t beat the views and the northern hospitality. Places like Northcote and the Freemason’s in Wiswell match London and give it a run for its money. London chefs have been using north west products for a long time, there is a lot of good stuff grown in Lancashire that is shipped to London.

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