The Ayala SquareMeal Best Female Chefs Series 2022: Lisa Goodwin-Allen

Northcote chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen talks influences, inspirations and the importance of developing the next generation of chefs

Updated on • Written By Pete Dreyer

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Lisa Goodwin-Allen’s body of work speaks for itself - as head chef, then chef patron of Northcote, Lisa has been at the helm of British food for nearly 20 years. Her signature style - playful and innovative, but respecting classic dishes and flavours - has had a huge hand in driving British cooking into an exciting new era. Provenance; sustainability; making the most of British ingredients - these are buzzwords for restaurants across the country now, but Lisa has been ringing the bell for great British produce for decades already.

Alongside other luminaries like Angela Hartnett, Ruth Rogers and Clare Smyth, Goodwin-Allen has long been an inspiration to many female chefs of what can be achieved in this industry. When Lisa became head chef of Northcote in 2003 she was just 23 years old, becoming one of the youngest head chefs of a Michelin-starred restaurant in the country. Northcote has never relinquished that Michelin star since - in fact, arguably, this monument to British cuisine is as good as it has ever been.

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‘It was a massive honour,’ she says of becoming Northcote head chef. ‘It was very daunting though - you have a lot on your shoulders. To run a kitchen at that age is a tough job. You aren’t just being you and running a section anymore, you’re overseeing the whole kitchen. You’re running people underneath you who are sometimes older than you.

‘I learnt a lot of things the hard way because I was young, but all that development I got was crucial to making me the person I am today.’

‘To be an ambassador and bring the next generation through is really important...'

Despite her many achievements, the thing Lisa takes most pride in is developing young talent. Under her leadership Northcote has become an incubator for talented young chefs; the restaurant runs an apprenticeship scheme, where young chefs are assessed in-house and get to learn on the job. ‘We have three in the kitchen at the moment, they’re with us five days a week,’ Lisa explains. ‘To be an ambassador and bring the next generation through is really important, especially now when the industry is in a time of need.’

If it’s proof in the pudding you’re after, look no further than head chef Danny Young, who started as a Northcote apprentice at 16 and won Young National Chef of the Year before working his way up to head chef. Lisa smiles. ‘It’s a proud moment knowing we contributed to Danny’s development when he stands up and gets the trophy. In years to come when you see all these chefs that have been in your kitchen, and they’re running their own kitchens as head chefs, that’s the joy.

‘I really believe that if you develop your staff and provide the training they need, the longevity of them staying with you is amazing. Danny is proof of that.’

'Food helped me become who I am.'

Developing the next generation of chefs matters to Lisa, perhaps because she sees the potential the industry has to provide a fulfilling, lasting career, as it has for her. As a child Lisa struggled academically - it wasn’t until she discovered food that she found a place where she could unleash her talent and creativity. ‘Food helped me become who I am,’ she explains. ‘I really struggled to find something that I felt I was good at at school, but I felt that, even when I was young, I could show my emotions through food. I was a hands-on person who loved being creative and food brought all those things together.’

It was like finding the missing piece of the puzzle. Lisa jumped at the chance to train at Lancaster and Morecambe College and went from school truant to never missing a day of college. ‘I was studying in the week at college then I would travel every weekend to go and work at Holbeck Ghyll in the Lake District,’ she explains. ‘I just wanted to see as many things as I could. I’d go on unpaid work experience to places just to stand in the kitchen and watch.'

After time in the kitchens at Holbeck Ghyll, then alongside David Everitt-Matthias at the then two Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage, Lisa’s desire to be back home brought her to Northcote, where she joined forces with Nigel Haworth - a chef who would become her mentor for years to come.

Between them, Nigel and Lisa built Northcote into a powerhouse of modern British food - a training ground for young chefs, and a champion for British produce. Haworth stepped away from the restaurant in 2018, and Lisa has firmly stamped her mark on everything Northcote ever since, from the menus to the hotel’s annual Obsession food festival. Obsession has a pedigree, sure, but Lisa’s energy and generosity is what draws world class chefs from all over the globe to little Langho, Lancashire.

Food that conjures memories...

Meanwhile, Lisa’s unique cooking style has kept Northcote ahead of the curve - her fun-loving nature carries through in her dishes, which often take traditional flavours, but present them in new, interesting ways. ‘I like taking traditional things and stamping my DNA on them,’ she says. ‘Creating a dish that doesn’t look like an apple pie, but it tastes like an apple pie, that’s really exciting to me! Food conjures amazing memories, whether it’s tasting something that you remember from childhood, or something you ate with your grandparents. I think food just comes with this amazing history.'

‘As I’ve got older, I think Northcote food has really dug into the idea that less is more,’ she continues. ‘I want to be able to taste everything that’s on the plate. We source the most amazing produce from very passionate people, so we really want to use that produce in a way that brings the best from it.’

In April 2021, Northcote was bought by Britannia Hospitality - the umbrella group that also owns the five-star Stafford Hotel in London. The takeover was business as usual for Northcote, but as a result, Lisa also now oversees the food at both The Game Bird and The American Bar at The Stafford, alongside executive chef Jozef Rogulski. It presents a new challenge for Goodwin-Allen, who has never previously plied her trade in the capital. At the very least, it presents an exciting opportunity for Londoners to get a taste of Lisa’s food, even if it’s not quite the same experience as Northcote. ‘The Game Bird really lends itself to what we do because it’s all about the British larder - it’s maybe a little less technical, but we really want the flavours to speak and for people to come and enjoy themselves.’

We ask Lisa how she feels about inspiring a generation of female chefs, and she seems genuinely a little taken aback. ‘I’m probably not aware of it, to be honest!’ She laughs. ‘I'm quite a happy-go-lucky person really - I love what I do, but if I can inspire people to really believe that if you want to go for something, you can achieve it with hard work, then that’s great to hear.’

Lisa’s perfect match for Ayala's Le Blanc de Blancs 2015

The dish: Wild turbot, cucumber, Ayala Le Blanc de Blancs and caviar

The Champagne: Ayala Le Blanc de Blanc 2015

Goodwin-Allen explains: The Blanc de Blanc is fantastic, it has some lovely almost citrusy notes, so I’ve paired it with turbot - a beautiful fish that we’ve poached in turbot bone stock with lemon and butter. We’ve served some pickled cucumber and dill as well. We’ve prepared the dill in two ways - we’ve got fresh dill, and then we made a dill oil and a white dill mayonnaise where we take the stalks, vacuum pack them in oil and cook them in a gentle water bath for eight hours. The dill flavour goes into the oil but it leaves it white, so when we make the mayonnaise you get this beautiful dill flavour. We keep some of the cucumber fresh and some pickled, so it really comes through. Then you have some Oscietra caviar on top, and we make a sauce with the Champagne and the turbot bone stock, with butter, creme fraiche and onions. The idea is to highlight the flavour of the turbot and the Champagne - the citrus notes add some elegance to the dish, and the cucumber really cuts through as well. You get the longevity of the Blanc de Blanc on your palate, and it stands up really well with the turbot. All it is is cucumber, dill and turbot - three flavours - but we’ve used everything in the dish and presented different textures and angles.

Lisa’s quick bites

Who or what have been your biggest influences?

Nigel (Haworth) and Craig (Bancroft) have always backed me 100% and I’ve learnt an incredible amount from both of them, not just in terms of cooking and using ingredients but also understanding costings and the fiscal side of food.

Which female chefs have inspired you in your career?

There are some amazing ladies in this industry! I look at Clare (Smyth) - what she’s achieved is incredible, she’s right at the peak of the industry now. Similarly with Angela Hartnett, she’s been a massive inspiration with everything she’s achieved. They’ve created amazing opportunities for themselves but also for others - what can you do but be inspired by that?

If you could give someone just starting out some words of wisdom, what would they be?

Be a sponge and absorb everything around you.

Favourite cooking gadget?

I do like my Thermomix to be honest - you can do anything in it, it’s like having a commis chef!

Describe your cooking style in three words?

Flavours (but) modern British.

First dish you learned to cook?

The first proper thing I learned to cook that I would take home from school was a quiche Lorraine I think!

What is your favourite thing to cook at home?

My son loves a pizza so I’d say that - we have Friday night pizza night at our house!

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

Tinned tomatoes on toast with grated cheese on top! It has to be piping hot, on a piece of tiger bread, then cheese on top so it starts melting.

Where is your favourite foodie destination?

I love America. We went to Chicago recently and I loved it.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?

Probably something to do with cars to be honest - I grew up around that when I was young and I was always tinkering in my dad’s yard.

Favourite restaurants in the UK?

I ate at Core a couple of years ago and that was amazing. And I went to Kiln recently too and thought that was fantastic!

What was the last great meal you had?

Probably Alinea in Chicago. It was just the best experience - it’ll stick in my mind for years!

Read more about our Ayala Female Chef of the Year awards, including interviews with the likes of Sally Abe and Chantelle Nicholson.

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