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Be inspired every day with Living North
Meet Restaurant Pine's Rising Star, Liam Smith Joe Taylor Photographer
Eat and Drink
June 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

From competing in the finals of the Roux Scholarship to helping Tommy Banks set up The Abbey Inn, Liam has wasted no time in kickstarting an impressive fine-dining career

Living North catches up with Pine's Liam Smith, an emerging culinary talent in Northumberland, to find out about day-to-day life at Pine, career aspirations and why he can't get enough of competitions.

A local lad through and through, Liam started his career as so many of the greats do, with a simple kitchen job as a teenager. ‘I started out cooking as a part-time job. I lived in Allendale at the time and I was working in the local village pub,’ he says. ‘I was doing sixth form and planning on going off to uni, but I really enjoyed it and decided to stick with that instead.’

Liam never looked back, moving to Scotland to work at the five-star Gleneagles Hotel and refine his skills (including a two year stint in pastry). It was here that Liam began to stand out, pushing himself to enter competitions including making it to the finals of both the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Excellence Awards and the prestigious Young Chef Young Waiter competition (twice). During all of this, Liam managed to find the time to return to England and be part of the that helped Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks open The Abbey Inn, Byland and to top that all off, this year Liam made it to the final six of the Roux Scholarship after impressing the judges at the regional heats.

‘That was a big career goal of mine. I did the semi-finals in Birmingham and there were 18 people in total and six of us got through to the final,’ he explains. ‘Getting to meet and rub shoulders with people like the Rouxs and Clare Smyth, it was all crazy.’

For Liam, these competitions aren’t about winning, they’re about pushing your own limits and being inspired. ‘I think for me I quite like doing them because you have to work independently and you get to meet a lot of people in the industry. I’ve made quite a lot of friends doing various competitions, and got to meet some chefs who are at the top of their game,’ he explains. ‘I think it’s really good for your career to do it. I started out just in a little pub and to meet some of those people is really cool.’ He admits that the nerves can still get to him ahead of competitions. ‘I think you’d be in the wrong profession if it didn’t make you nervous!’

Now settled back in his native Northumberland, Liam is a relatively new member of the team at the Michelin star and Michelin Green star restaurant Pine, a change of pace from previous kitchens. ‘For me personally, the fact that we try and grow as much of our own stuff as we can is pretty cool. We have a Michelin star and a Michelin Green star which is awarded for sustainable working practices, so we try and waste as little as possible, we try and grow and forage as much as we can,’ he explains. ‘We only use produce that grows around us and we don’t use things like chocolate, vanilla and oranges that have come from abroad so we have to find alternatives that we have around us. It’s very hyper-local and it’s a reflection of the region that we’re in in a lot of ways.

‘In terms of the service, the chefs serve a lot of the food and it’s an open kitchen. We’ll bring the dishes out, describe them to you and there’s opportunity to chat to the chefs and ask lots of questions. There’s a lot of diversity in the job that I haven’t had in other jobs, which keeps it fun.’

For someone as driven as Liam, it’s fair to ask what keeps him motivated. ‘I think anything new really. When you cook you get good at doing things repeatedly and practising and perfecting it, but any time you get to do something completely new or you learn a new skill or see something you haven’t seen before, it gets people excited,’ he says. ‘On my days off I do quite a lot of cooking as well, and its just about learning new techniques and new styles, that’s what gets most chefs excited.’

Unsurprisingly, Liam has a game plan for the coming years. ‘I haven’t really been at Pine that long in the grand scheme of things, so I’m just getting my head down and learning as much as I can. I work with a really great team who are super experienced and they’ve got a lot to teach me still,’ he says. ‘I’m quite newly engaged so I think me and my fiancé at some point in the future would like to have a little project of our own. That’s the dream isn’t it? Getting your own little spot and building something up.’ Watch this space!

Quick-Fire Questions

Tell us a hidden gem you love.
In Hexham I go to Wentworth Café quite a lot for breakfast. We love Ophelia’s in Gosforth too and you’ll normally find a few of us there on a Sunday, we’re big fans.

What’s your guilty pleasure meal?
I love a really dirty sandwich and I love to raid the fridge and find mad concoctions of things. You can’t beat a toasted sandwich really.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Someone said to me once when I was having a really bad day, and was super stressed out and everything was going wrong, ‘it’s just cooking’. It sounds weird to say because everyone is so passionate but you need to pick your battles and let go of as much stress as you can.

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