Chef Q&A: Andrew Pern, The Star restaurants

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Mr P's Curious Tavern
The man behind the Star stable – The Star Inn, Mr P’s Curious Tavern, The Star Inn the City and The Star Inn the Harbour – on nailing Christmas dinner, giving the Yorkshire pud a gourmet makeover and fitting in presents around Christmas Day service

How’s the Star Inn the Harbour been going since you opened in Whitby in June?
It’s been fantastic. It’s been received really well in the town. It was a great time to open, just before the summer trade kicked in, and it’s carried on through to autumn and pleasingly so to be honest. We thought it might slow down a bit but it’s business as usual. We did a lifeboat dinner last week to raise money for the local community, and there’s Goth Weekend we’ve just had which is a bit crazy, but every weekend there always seems to be something going on in Whitby. It’s vibrant and it’s a great community.

It’s clear there’s a really deep connection between yourself and the area, as a Whitby native.
Yeah. It’s fantastic and it’s a privilege to be back there and involved with the community and the town again. It’s sort of giving a bit back in a roundabout way: working with local schools, and taking on some of the youngsters for apprenticeships and things. It’s just slightly different. We never wanted to compete with the restaurants that are there already, the fish and chips and that sort of thing, we wanted to offer something slightly different. We got into the Michelin Guide straightaway, which is fantastic.

Is Michelin award season still quite a stressful time of year?
It’s always nice to see it in print, to be honest. But no, it’s great – it’s not the taking part, it’s the winning, as we always say around these parts. We like a bit of pressure. You’ve got to be in it to win it. Like the top 50 pubs list – we’ve never been out of the top five in 21 years and we’re currently number one. You don’t hang your hat on it at all, but it’s always nice to be recognised by your peers, and then Michelin being world-famous, it’s a great club to be in. Having not been in it for a couple of years, I know that feeling.

What’s your longest-serving, most copper-bottomed dish?
The black pudding and foie gras dish, which has been on for 18 or 19 years. We’re just starting to think about tweaking it slightly because it’s the dish that stands out most now – it is quite old-fashioned – but then the front of house say, ‘Oh no you can’t take that off, people come from all over the world who’ve heard of that.’ So I think we might put that into the Harome Hall of Fame as a standalone dish, and it then frees us up to do other things. But people come here to have a good time and we’re putting on a Yorkshire pudding royale, which is like a foie gras toad in the hole with truffles, madeira onions and that sort of thing. That will then allow us to double up on the ingredients without taking the black pudding foie gras dish off. A Yorkshire pudding royale has got to be a winner. I cooked it a few times: I cooked it in the Maldives and I cooked it in Barbados, and I cooked it at Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park, and it was the winner every time. You can’t get anything more Yorkshire than that. It’s a must-have dish. Completely over-the-top for a humble Yorkshire pud. 

Any top tips for getting Christmas dinner spot on?
It’s the basics really, of getting everything prepared beforehand, before the alcohol kicks in. Plan ahead and get everything ready, down to the vegetables being blanched off and ready to be reheated. It’s cutting down on any preparation, as we would do for restaurant service. But there’s something quite nice about it being hectic, probably for me more than other people – everybody else in the world wants it to be more organised, while I like it a bit off the cuff on Christmas Day. It only happens once a year, so you want nutmeg, you want your brussels sprouts, you want parsnips, turkey, goose, whatever. Again, we always go over the top with some truffled brie. It’s a time to eat, drink and be merry, and that’s exactly what we do.

What’s your Christmas Day schedule at The Star Inn?
I’ll probably go over there early on, about 9ish. One of the chefs will be up early to do breakfast, then we’ll go over to make sure everything’s in place. We just do one sitting, so it’s between 60 and 70 people – slightly less than my family, but only just. Ha! We do a five-course Christmas lunch, all the people from the village come out, they get a drink on the house, so it’s a good atmosphere. We just have the traditional things on: Christmas pudding, turkey, goose, bit of lobster possibly, some truffles. I love it – I’m 50 next year, so I want to be behind the stoves again. That’s my aim. I’ve done all these things, put them in place, and I want to get back to cooking again. That’s the main thing for me, consolidating what we’ve got and moving on for the next generation to carry on the good work. 

When do you fit in presents?
Well, the children tend to get up quite early still – the 19-year-old you’ve got to dig out of bed a bit, but the four-year-olds, it’s trying to get them to bed. It’s 19 years of changing nappies that I’ve been doing, and we’ve got a seven-month-old at the moment, but it’s lovely. The younger ones love it, it’s a great time. We do some presents early on, and then we’ll do some more when we come back from the restaurant later on in the afternoon. It’s all part of it really. It’s a great party village, lots of people come and stay so the party continues for more than one day. 

You mentioned the next generation carrying on the good work.
Yeah. I don’t know if any of the children will come into the business but I’d love to work alongside them. It’d be fantastic. I mention it now and again and they’re never very forthcoming at the moment. But they’ve probably seen what mum and dad have done in the past. We’ve done all the spadework for them. Obviously it won’t be given to them – literally – on a plate, but as the business grows, you can’t get any better than working with your family, you’d hope. They’ve been suitably wined and dined over the years, so they know good food.

Mr P’s is an outlet for more experimental cooking – what have you come up with recently? 
We’ve got a thing that’s brilliant for Christmastime; we’ve got the rotisserie on, whole suckling pigs, legs of lamb and things, so very much that kind of mountain feel of the Alps. We’ve got Raclette on the menu as well for a sort of skiing feel to it all: gluhwein, spiced cider, and homely comfort food but using local produce with worldly flavours. It’s a raclette of Ogleshield cheese, a washed-rind English cheese rather than a Morbier or a Raclette itself as they use abroad. We’ve got tandoori pheasant on at the moment. That’s brilliant, that’s a number one bestseller. Doing different things like risottos with partridge is popular. It allows me to have a bit of fun again by going against all the rules that I’ve always flown the flag for. I think it’s nice that you can try out different flavours and styles using local produce, which is fantastic. 

You were involved in the National Chef of the Year judging – there’s a great photo of you on a long table with Sat Bains, Claude Bosi, Simon Rogan, Tom Kerridge…
It looks like the Last Supper doesn’t it? There’s 33 Michelin Stars there. 

Do you judge as a chef or as a customer?
As a customer, more than anything. Without the customer, we’re skint. You can cook away and see that, time and again, chefs try to put together menus to get awards which is all very snazzy and they might have lovely crockery and thousands of pounds worth of art in the restaurant, but if the food doesn’t taste great then that’s the end of it.

NIBBLES

Food heroes? The Roux brothers, Marco Pierre White and Paul Heathcote.

Essential cookbook? Escoffier.

Favourite bit of kitchen tech? My ethanol stove is my baby, basically. It’s the price of a house, and it’s something I spend most of my life with. I’ve had it 12 years now.

One thing that always puts you off a restaurant? Probably people that try too hard – I’d rather have food that fits the place.

Guilty pleasures? Oh god, I’ve got loads. HP Sauce is my favourite, and salad cream. I hate ketchup. Not me at all. I like salad cream with a lot of things – whatever’s in front of me. Salad cream’s great, it reminds me of being a kid. I’m just a big kid, to be honest.

Favourite can’t-be-bothered meal? We’re lucky that I live across the road from the restaurant, so steamed fish is easy and good. 

Last supper? I’d start with grilled lobster with garlic butter and green salad, and then I’d have truffled pheasant with Robuchon mash – the mash that’s more butter than spud – and juniper cavolo nero. And then I’d probably have ginger parkin with rhubarb ripple ice cream and hot spiced syrup, and probably truffled Tunworth cheese. And then I’d probably die anyway after eating all that.

Published in: December 2017

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