Chef Q&A: Michael Wignall | Living North

Chef Q&A: Michael Wignall

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Having built a reputation for gaining and retaining Michelin stars across the country, Michael Wignall takes on the new challenge of running The Angel at Hetton.

What can we expect when we walk through the doors of The Angel at Hetton? 
I want the restaurant to have a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere and the food to excite diners. It’s a refined pub, but The Angel is still accessible to all tastes. We serve lovely wines and beers alongside great food – ultimately I hope dining at The Angel is an experience that you’ll remember. We’re refurbishing all the bedrooms at the moment too, which will give the place a completely new look.

Why did you and your wife Johanna choose to pursue your combined vision to own a restaurant in the Dales?
When I was cooking at Michael’s Nook in Grasmere many, many years ago, the owner Reg Gifford took me to The Angel for Sunday lunch. I remember being amazed at how busy it was. I’ve also previously worked at the Devonshire Arms, where I earned a Michelin star, so I know the area quite well already. It was my business partners and good friends James and Josephine Wellock who encouraged me to take on The Angel with them. We’ve always toyed with the idea of opening a place together, half jokingly, but when the opportunity arose we saw the raw potential of the place.
 
What’s your second restaurant going to be like?
We’re hoping to open a small high-end restaurant across the road called Cove, based in The Angel’s original wine cave. Planning permitting, the steel and glass building will be both modern and luxurious, connecting the old with the new by embracing historic details of the rugged Dales’ landscape, whilst showcasing contemporary architecture. It’s going to be a really dramatic place where you can enjoy a spectacular gastronomic experience. The ethos running through The Angel and Cove will be the same, but this intimate restaurant will reflect my background as a two Michelin-starred chef.

How would you describe your culinary style? 
That’s always a tricky question! It changes all the time really, which is reflected in The Angel’s seven-course tasting menu. My style of cooking is quite modern with a few classical undertones. The restaurant is still in its early stages, but I’ve got a great team working with me in the kitchen, some of whom I’ve worked with before, and some new local staff from the area. I’m only ever as good as the team I work with and they’ve just been fantastic – we’re getting stronger and stronger each week. 

What will we find on The Angel’s menu that comes from Yorkshire’s abundant pantry?
We source fresh seafood from the east coast, using whatever fish is available from the day’s catch. We use Yorkshire asparagus and rhubarb when they’re in season, local dairy produce and we’ll be using local berries this summer. Wherever I’ve worked, even down in Devon, we’ve used suppliers from this part of the country because so much of the produce grown in Yorkshire is second to none. But obviously there are limitations; in winter we have to import some of our ingredients – you can’t grow sugar cane during a Yorkshire winter unfortunately.

Which seasonal ingredients are you most looking forward to cooking with this summer?
This time of year is amazing for chefs. We’re looking forward to enjoying soft fruits and berries – we’ve just put a new apricot and almond dessert on the menu here.

Tell us about your culinary journey.
I started out doing three years at catering college in Preston before moving to Spain for just over a year. When I returned to the UK, I went to work in the kitchen at The High Moor Restaurant in Wrightington, shortly followed by a stint working with Paul Heathcote at Broughton Park. He later purchased the Longridge Restaurant and I moved with him before deciding to head down south to explore the restaurant scene further afield. I had a spell working at the two Michelin-starred L’Ortolan, near Reading. I spent a short time at Marco Pierre White’s Harveys restaurant before heading up to Michael’s Nook in the Lake District, where I earned a Michelin star and four AA rosettes, which I repeated again at The Burlington Restaurant at the Devonshire Arms. I then moved to Latymer Restaurant at Pennyhill Park where I gained two Michelin stars and five AA rosettes and then Gidleigh Park in Devon in 2016 where I retained its two Michelin stars. I never thought I would actually have a place of my own, but here I am. There have always been limitations in the restaurants I’ve cooked in before, due to moving into a pre-designed concept or taking over from the previous chef, but this is a clean slate. We can put our own interpretations and personalities into The Angel, which is really exciting.

What are your earliest food memories?
It’s probably a bit of a cliché but I would have to say my mum’s cooking. She was a trained patisserie chef so we enjoyed eating lots of fresh baking. I was also very lucky  to have the opportunity to travel a lot as a child. When I was just four years old we drove to Turkey in a VW Campervan and I have memories of my father encouraging me to eat baby octopus and things that many young kids wouldn’t be eating. I think back on those moments and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to try such a variety of food from different cultures. You can go to the best restaurants in the world or you can go to the tiniest Turkish café and you’ll learn something from both experiences.

What dish transports you back to your childhood?
The skin on rice puddings which my mum used to bake in a pyrex dish in the oven. Or my mum’s liver and onions – the liver itself was so overcooked it was like eating the rubber sole of a shoe, but the sauce was amazing and I used to love dipping bread in it.

Did you always want to be a chef?
No, like most teenagers I left school without really knowing what I wanted to do and almost fell into going to catering college. But I think I’m the kind of person who wants to push myself to reach the best of my ability in whatever I’m doing. It’s the competitive spirit in me. 

How did it feel to get your first Michelin star?
It felt amazing. I’m quite a reserved, shy person so I was never one to push for a Michelin star, but it’s really special when you finally get one. However, when I got my first two Michelin stars it was actually leaked on the internet, so it wasn’t quite the big fanfare that you might expect. It was an odd situation really because I was planning on leaving the restaurant before I was awarded the two stars. I had to reassess things and decided to stay on. Once you have one star, you want two and then three… I just want to keep challenging myself to improve and progress.

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
Don’t rush things. Don’t try and be someone you’re not before you’re experienced enough to be that person. Be humble and read all the time to teach yourself new things. Dine out as much as you can – I know it’s expensive but the experience is invaluable. Lastly, don’t be afraid of failure – try as many different flavour combinations as you can; experiment and be bold. 

The Angel Inn, Hetton, Near Skipton BD23 6LT
01756 730263 • www.angelhetton.co.uk

Published in: August 2019

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