You’d hesitate to call her the Scrapyard or Junkyard Chef, given the exquisite nature and nurture of her cooking, but Lisa Goodwin-Allen can dismantle and discover to deliver Michelin-starred food – and then go and change your tyres with the pace and precision of a F1 mechanic.
Goodwin-Allen, before rising to become one of the UK’s finest chefs, worked at her father’s scrap yard in Lancashire. She raced stock cars and doffs the chef’s hat to the inspiration of her nan, who ran a food truck in Sedbergh called The Three Peaks.
Goodwin-Allen swapped overalls for chef whites and she is firing up the culinary scene with both her cooking and her character, while also applying sublime skills and command of flavour to the barbecue world. Hello brilliant; meet matter of fact.
Let me take you to Northcote in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley. I couldn’t be there in person with the Covid travel restrictions, but after a conversation with Goodwin-Allen and Northcote hotel managing director Craig Bancroft I am heading to the edge of the Forest of Bowland through its steep valleys and peat moorland at the earliest opportunity. A Michelin Star barbecue washed down by a sumptuous wine list – and a king-size bed to sleep it all off in overnight.
The north-west of England is replete with barbecue enthusiasts and at Northcote they find their local hero. The hotel runs a cookery school, including BBQ courses, which are hugely popular.
The pandemic ground hospitality in all forms to a halt, but Northcote, part of the Stafford Collection which includes The Stafford hotel in London’s Mayfair and Ben Tish’s Norma restaurant in the capital, is hopeful of full houses when its school reopens this summer.
“Our cookery classes are bespoke, for just eight people at a time. We started BBQ courses in 2012 and they go down so well,” says Goodwin-Allen. “It is amazing how people, once they’ve understood how to control heat, embrace BBQ and become incredibly enthusiastic, going away and playing and then coming back, often with a partner or friend, to learn more techniques and different foods to cook.”
Goodwin-Allen compares it to a recipe book. “Make it complicated and they won’t use it. Teach the basics on a course and they will use those skills for ever more. Go and put your own twist on it, back your own flair and imagination. That’s what you want as a teacher from your students.”
While the barbecue courses date back nine years, barbecuing has been a way of life and leisure at Northcote since 1982. “We started with big grills that we used for weddings. We also created a BBQ dinner party, starting with sausages with 19th hole sauce (my father’s recipe), ginger ribs, cedar plank salmon, roast sirloin, shoulder of lamb and split pineapples,” says Bancroft.
Goodwin-Allen – try her barbecue beer can chicken – is always educating herself, picking up techniques as she experiments, finessing the art of direct and indirect cooking and with her husband, Steve Goodwin-Allen, a South African, she understands the elemental allure of the braai.
The Northcote school inventory includes gas and charcoal grills from Weber, a Monolith Kamado, with an Ox grill on the way for a bit of Argentine Asado action.
“It is important to offer people the opportunity to barbecue in a whole range of ways and there is such a diverse, global live fire culture to tap into,” says Bancroft.
Goodwin-Allen says ceramic grills have proved a “game changer” for BBQ, allowing for the lid-down low-and-slow cooks and a variety of techniques.
“Essentially BBQ is freedom. You can control it, but I like the unpredictable too; the chance to experiment, take a chance, add brining and marinades, try smoking with different woods and there is so much you can do with vegetables as well, creating great and different flavours. Cooking over fire is a very healthy way of eating,” says Goodwin-Allen.
While she’d love to live outside, there is the Michelin-starred kitchen inside Northcote to consider too. “I often take BBQ ideas back into the main kitchen, be it in terms of charring or finishing a dish. I am learning all the time as a chef, inside and outside and that’s what makes it so exciting. The day you stop learning you have a problem.”
At Northcote, Goodwin-Allen, as executive chef, runs a brigade of up to 20. “We all seek inspiration and progression. It is not just developing for the kitchen and the customers, but the team. A kitchen is all about the team.”
Bancroft is a BBQ fanatic, grilling just about every day. “Turkey on Christmas day, Sunday roast beefs; I have four barbecues at home.”
Bancroft’s wine and hospitality awards are legion and, for him, wine and barbecue food are matches made in heaven, if often overlooked. A sparkling Shiraz to start with; a Chablis to go with the cedar plank salmon, ginger-infused lamb brings a Rioja into play.
“There are so many South African wines, Australian wines and Argentine Malbecs perfectly suited to charred food.” Bancroft is a fine chef in his own right, having started as a kitchen porter and trained his way up through a raft of well-known hotels, until drawn to Northcote when it was bought by a friend of his father.
Goodwin-Allen has been at Northcote for 16 years starting at the hotel aged 23 and working under mentor Nigel Haworth. She is “hungry, ambitious and passionate”.
Goodwin-Allen loves working with the ingredients on her Lancashire doorstep and she is a “Lancashire lass” through and through, born in Morecambe. “We are very spoilt in the north-west with amazing producers – great farmers and lots of small businesses doing big things. It is so important our chefs work closely with them.”
She says it is not just what you cook on and cook with but remembering who your food is representing and showcasing – the people who rear the animals; grow the produce.
“Their passion gives you the drive to make amazing dishes from their ingredients – their care and hard work. The best food comes from the heart,” says Goodwin-Allen.
Bancroft adds: “Artisan producers are key to our offering and great animal welfare tastes great on the plate.
Goodwin-Allen loves cooking with game, be it pheasant or partridge and it was a venison dish that won Goodwin-Allen the main course at the Great British Menu banquet – the BBC series last year Northcote runs an annual end of shooting season lunch, hosting various Lancashire shoots and raising money for the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC).
We often ask our interviewees for their last BBQ on earth, where the calories of course don’t count. Goodwin-Allen goes for “an amazing fatty piece of brisket and slow cook it for 24 hours; add some pastrami and serve with pickles and cucumber.”
For Bancroft it would be a 15-course menu, with an appropriate wine flight too. “A family favourite is a shoulder of lamb with marinated ginger beer and garlic – slow cooked.”
Pay attention to the next bit Richard H Turner. “We went to Meatopia in 2019. BBQ heaven. I smelt of BBQ when I left and it was brilliant. I found it inspirational seeing some of the cuts used and the abstract ways of cooking on such a variety of equipment,” says Goodwin-Allen.
Back to her scrap merchant days and maybe the food seed was sown without noticing. “Dad took a big drum from the yard, split it in half, welded a grill on and we had a barbecue,” says Goodwin-Allen.
“Dad’s grill became quite popular. The cricket club borrowed it and he kept adding bits.”
Last year Goodwin-Allen won three banquet courses at the Great British Menu Christmas Special, honouring the NHS and keyworkers, and her charity work, including Northcote food boxes, is boundless.
There’s a book in the pipeline and you know before it’s written, you want to read it. There’ll be an ‘at home’ theme, drawing on her life.
“I want to encourage people to cook but put their own spin on my recipes. There’s nothing I’d like more than to see peoples’ notes in the pages.”
“I loved home economics at school. I was very shy, but food has been the platform to express myself.”
Some expression; a Michelin-starred chef with live fire in her veins. I’m driving to the village of Langho near Blackburn and if I have a blow out and am hungry, I know who to call.
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