Andrew you describe yourself as a ‘purveyor of mayhem’, explain that…
(laughs) I think that chefs have a certain reputation to live up to! We did that with a fair bit of gusto living in Whitby and playing rugby for many years, we built up a bit of a reputation in more ways than one… and it’s a bit of mayhem in the kitchen too. Organised chaos I like to think.
The Star and Whitby have strong connections for you, as a child you visited this very pub and now you own it. Do childhood memories influence what you do today?
Very much so. I was born in Whitby but we lived along the banks of the River Esk, with the salmon fishing and the moors – its great shooting country. As I kid I always remember the purple clad moors and now we’ve got grouse on the menu. Those flavours and smells take you back to being a child, we just try and make it snazzier. It’s comfort food with a bit of a twist.
There’s a lot of imagery in the way you describe your childhood and the countryside, it strikes me that you try and then convey that into your cooking. Is that a fair statement to make?
Definitely, you’re painting a picture for the folk coming from further afield. We’re cooking the food of the region and its amazing scenery. From that amazing scenery comes amazing produce, winter or spring time, whatever it may be.
We’ve just been through the recession and you’ve said you’re busier than ever, during those five years did you have to change your offering?
We changed slightly but not massively. A lot of people if they’re going to spend, they’ll go to places they’re confident in. I think people are prepared to spend, they might visit less often but when they do, it’s more of a blowout. We changed the market menu in the bar which is cheaper but still made with the same skill by the chefs in the kitchen.
As well as running the restaurant you’ve written two books in 2008 and 2010. It’s been a while, when is the next one coming?
It’s quite funny, when you turned up today I was sitting there with my pad and I’m on to a third book, it’s a kids book.
So there’s a third book coming?
It’s been coming for the last two years and I had four children when I started, now I’ve got a fifth child and I’ve got to weave him into it, there’s an expanse of kids! It’s a story of the region where the kids are going through various villages like Fryup Dale and Great Kettlesing and the fish monger is called John Dory or the baker is Ginger Parkin. There’s hidden messages about the countryside and what to eat like game, but it’s all good fun.
You’ve developed a very strong reputation for promoting Yorkshire and its products. Do you feel compelled to, or are the products so good it’s not a struggle?
I feel sort of compelled to… I don’t necessarily buy local things for local sake – that can put a few noses out of joint but it’s a privilege to work and live in the area. The suppliers we use have become my friends and without them I couldn’t do my job. I always say my job is very easy because of the brilliant produce we’ve got around us. I’m a proud Yorkshireman and why wouldn’t I use the produce that we’ve got on doorstep? We’re the envy of the country to be honest.
As a chef all you want to do is give, you’re cooking food that hopefully someone else will like. That’s why we’re portrayed as slightly off-the-wall now and again, especially on the TV, but you just want to appreciate the ingredient.
As a chef, if you have someone like Pierre Koffmann come and visit the Star, as he did, what does that mean to you?
It’s a massive sense of pride that they can be bothered to come to taste our food, he travelled sixty-five miles out of his way to visit for a light lunch. When we found out that there was a Koffmann booked with ten minutes’ notice, there was panic in the kitchen! His light lunch ended up being a six-course meal!
You once said the best ever meal you had was at Marco Pierre White’s Oak Room, care to change your answer?
That was brilliant, he was hero of mine when I was at Scarborough Tech reading White Heat the book. I rang up to book the table and I said what time do you start serving? I need to eat as early as possible as we’re coming down from Yorkshire and have to get the last train back. The reply came ‘that’s a long way to come’ and I said I hope it will be worthwhile, he responded ‘I’ll make sure it’s worthwhile’. It was Marco on the other end of the phone and I didn’t know! I nearly fell over when I put the phone down!
And finally, if you could only cook one meal for the rest of your career, what would it be?
I think a roast. Christmas day a few years back I had roast pheasant packed with truffles, it was lovely. It takes me back to as a child the smell in the oven making my mouth water and when I smell it now, it reminds me of being seven or eight years old.
Andrew Pern spoke exclusively with Gareth Barlow on 14th August 2014. For more interviews with key players in Yorkshire’s foodie scene check http://www.garethbarlow.co.uk every week