The connections he had painstakingly built with farmers and breeders in the area paid dividends as he sought the very best supplies for his kitchen. Impressed with the quality of corn-fed chicken coming out of France, he persuaded a nearby poultry farmer to start production himself. Similarly, he encouraged his vegetable supplier to develop a business in unusual vegetables – known as “queer gear” at Preston market.
Paul Heathcote became famous for championing undervalued British specialities, like the black pudding he reinvented and included in his menus – a long time before this ingredient was fashionable. Invited to cook for a Champagne event in France, he eschewed the recommended foie gras, caviar and truffles, choosing instead to develop and refine the blood sausage, omitting the lumps of fat, adding vinegar-soaked sultanas and chopped sweetbreads, then finishing it in a bain-marie. It went brilliantly – a fluke according to Paul Heathcote – but he returned from France with a series of articles written about “this young British upstart” and his reputation (and that of his now signature black pudding) enhanced.
He also made a name for other neglected Northern foodstuffs and dishes, reinventing shepherd’s pie, pig’s trotters, rice pudding, treacle tart and his signature Bread and butter pudding with apricots for a Michelin-star clientele. His iconic Lancashire hot pot was reconstructed using juicy rack of lamb, Puy lentils and smoky bacon, all topped with potato slices baked in butter (pommes Anna by another name). Those specially bred chickens were also a speciality, turning up in dishes like Corn-fed chicken with wild mushrooms and leeks.
Writing in 1996, The Independent said of Paul Heathcote: “As a cook, Paul doesn’t lack refinement, but he has a hearty style reminiscent of some great French chefs who retain links with their local origins. Pierre Koffmann and Bruno Loubet spring to mind, from Gascony and south-west France respectively.”
Heathcotes Brasserie came in 1995, offering innovative takes on British and French classics, all based around these valued local producers. Relaunched in 2011, today’s menu features many of his greatest dishes from the past 20 years such as Black pudding and cheese hash browns with caramelised pear, Heathcote’s steak au poivre, Braised beef pie with ale, mushrooms and green peppercorns and Chocolate pots with berries.
Over the years, Paul Heathcote has added 12 more restaurants to his portfolio, including Grado in Manchester, Simply Heathcotes in Wrightington and several branches of Olive Press Bar and Grill. After 22 years, he decided to sell his flagship Longridge Restaurant and the cookery school he had added to the venue, telling The Caterer: “It is a long time and I have enjoyed every minute but there is a time when it is right. There are other opportunities I want to pursue.”
Paul Heathcote has published two cookbooks, Heathcotes at Home and Rhubarb & Black Pudding – the latter a portrait of the character, people and atmosphere of rural Lancashire which showcases his prized local producers as well as his extraordinary, two-Michelin-star cooking. He fundraises for several charities and works with organisations to promote Lancashire, educate and train young people entering the hospitality industry and teach children about food and healthy eating. He has also received three honorary fellowships from Liverpool John Moores University, Lancashire University and from Bolton University, in his home town.
In 2009 he was awarded an MBE for services to the hospitality industry. Commenting on his MBE he said: “It is an honour to be recognised in this manner for doing something I really love … this award isn’t just for me, it is for the hundreds of hard-working people who have and who continue to support me on a daily basis.”
In 2016, Paul sold Heathcote's Brasserie and The Olive Press after twenty-one years of service to focus on his catering business.