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Nigel Haworth comes to Cheshire with the Nag’s Head in Haughton Green

PUBLISHED: 16:24 07 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:50 07 May 2015

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Was there ever a top chef associated more closely with his home county than Lancashire’s Nigel Haworth? Probably not. Well now, he’s opening in a county near you

The Nag's HeadThe Nag's Head

Was there ever a leading chef associated more closely with the county of his birth than Lancashire’s culinary colossus Nigel Haworth?

Holder of a Michelin star at Northcote, near Blackburn, continuously since 1996 - 12 months after being named Egon Ronay Chef of the Year - he has, through numerous television appearances, become a national figure through his devotion to local and regional food.

His famous dish, Lonk lamb Lancashire hotpot, with which he won through the final of the BBC’s Great British Menu, epitomises his approach: local, rustic and laced with nostalgia, but produced with formidable innovation and skill.

And now, 30 years after becoming head chef at what was then the newly-launched Northcote Manor and ten years after the opening of the acclaimed Three Fishes in Mitton, the first of his Ribble Valley Inns, Nigel is expanding the group into Cheshire. Next month RVI’s first acquisition in the county, the Nag’s Head in picturesque countryside at Haughton Green, near Tarporley, will begin serving its menu of signature traditional-with-a-twist dishes made from the finest ingredients supplied by the pick of local artisan suppliers.

Said Nigel: ‘It’s always been about the quality of the product. It’s got to be right and we’re speaking to many local producers so that we can put a Cheshire stamp on our offerings. Hopefully we will bring something exciting to Cheshire.’

Nigel’s insistence on meticulous sourcing of the best ingredients has done much to raise the profile of a range of suppliers in Lancashire and especially in the Ribble Valley where there are now popular tourist food trails.

He said: ‘Working in this kind of economy can produce a vibrancy in a local area that benefits both us as end users and the suppliers too. Though in this country we’re still a long way behind the way regional food is recognised in France and Italy, we have made huge strides in the last 30 years and there is a much stronger representation of local ingredients in which, hopefully, we have led the way.”

The takeover of the Nag’s Head - and a second Cheshire acquisition which will be revealed soon - marks a new burst of activity for the Northcote group and Ribble Valley Inns and signals confidence that the recession is ending. Northcote itself is undergoing development and all five Ribble Inns in the group - the Three Fishes and Clog and Billycock in Lancashire, the Highwayman near Kirby Lonsdale and the Bull in Broughton, North Yorkshire - have undergone refurbishment.

‘We’ve made them softer and more relaxing, introduced table service and a reservations policy that we didn’t have before and all these features will be present in the Cheshire pubs,’ said Nigel. ‘It’s always been our intention to expand the group into Cheshire, perhaps the Peak District and Manchester and Liverpool, but no sooner had we launched the Bull than the recession put things on hold.’

Born in Accrington in 1958, Nigel trained as a chef at Accrington and Rossendale College and following jobs at the Royal Berkshire Hotel in Ascot and the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, he moved, in 1978, to Switzerland where he refined his cooking and patisserie skills in a succession of different establishments over four years.

Disillusioned with catering standards in Lancashire upon his return to the UK, he accepted the post of lecturer at his old college but within 18 months – in March 1984 – had been appointed head chef at what was then Northcote Manor by Craig Bancroft, who had been hired by the property’s owner to create one of the finest country hotels and restaurants in the UK.

It proved a winning partnership, starting with the hotel gaining its first entry in The Good Food Guide in 1987. Two years later the pair converted their 40 per cent stake in the business to outright ownership and soon gained a galaxy of coveted awards. Nigel helped launch the North West Chefs’ Circle and is a member of the Masterchefs of Great Britain and the Academy of Culinary Arts; in 2004 he received The Prince Philip Medal, City & Guilds’ highest achievement in recognition of his commitment to catering and inspiration to others. Two years later he was presented with The Lifetime Achievement Award at the Northern Hospitality Awards. In the 2009 Harden’s Guide, Northcote was rated as serving the best food in the country.

Success at the hotel led to expansion - a successful bid for the long-term catering contract at Nigel’s beloved Blackburn Rovers Football Club in 2000, followed four years later by the birth of Ribble Valley Inns. Their first pub – the Three Fishes in Mitton – was an instant success and scooped three big awards in 2005. Nigel then won UK recognition following his success on Great British Menu in 2008 and reaching the final of The Great British Feast the following year when he served his Lancashire hotpot to British soldiers returning from the war in Afghanistan.

‘It was an emotional event and for me, a great platform for my passion for regional food. In terms of the programme I thought winning that opportunity was an achievement that couldn’t be bettered - but I thoroughly enjoyed being a judge and mentor for three years after that.’

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