Michael Wignall

Michael Wignall

Michael Wignall

From a childhood filled with new flavours and handmade food to a professional career spanning Michelin-starred restaurants around the country, Michael Wignall’s efforts were wholeheartedly recognised at the two-Michelin-starred Latymer and Gidleigh Park, and now at The Angel at Hetton.

Michael Wignall’s childhood was filled with fresh produce, the smell of home baking and food-travel adventures. His mother was a permanent fixture in the kitchen, he says: 'She used to bake cakes every day and everything was fresh. There was a bit of a garden with some things growing there, like rhubarb. It was normal for me to see her baking every day.' His family travelled extensively and adventurously, taking in the Far East, the United States, Croatia and Italy among many other places and he was exposed to 'a lot of different cultures and food trends' from an early age. He told us: 'My father would force me to eat all sorts of ridiculous things that I’d never try normally. I remember driving to Turkey, which took a week, in the late 1970s – my parents visited places that people weren’t really going to then. We’d always take the back roads and stay in little villages – we’d go to all sorts of places regardless of the language barrier. I remember as well when we actually got to Turkey, to Istanbul, drinking strong-as-anything Turkish coffee when I was about five years old! At the time I thought ‘my God, that coffee is disgusting! It’s like syrup!’ – but now I’ve got a real taste for espresso.'

Despite this exposure to the wonderful variety of hand-crafted food, Michael Wignall did not always dream of becoming a chef and fell into catering as a path of life. Although a promising career as a professional BMX rider was on the cards, his parents persuaded him to try catering college. He lasted the full three years before heading for a stint in Spain – cooking and working front of house – an experience which established his great love of the country’s cuisine. He told us: 'I think that style of food is one of my favourites, other than Japanese. San Sebastian is probably one of my favourite places to go, just for its simplicity and respect for ingredients.'

On returning to the UK in his early 20s, he started his professional career in earnest at Broughton Park, under Paul Heathcote, moving with him to his eponymous restaurant in Longbridge, Preston, followed by a spell working with John Burton Race at L’Ortolan, near Reading. After this came Old Beams in Staffordshire where he earnt his first Michelin star and saw the restaurant awarded the Good Food Guide’s Country Restaurant of the Year. He says of this experience: 'I was really young to be a head chef. You don’t flipping know how to cook properly then, you’re just too young. But I think from being a head chef quite young I got my own style and identity, as well as not being afraid of trial and error or failure. If something didn’t work we’d build on it and build on it until it was right. That’s so important. I think a lot of people get scared to actually try things and just stick to what they know and that’s it. Which is great, you get consistency, but you don’t really push yourself or change.'

Taking the helm at Waldo’s Restaurant in Clivenden Hotel in Berkshire, he retained their Michelin star and achieved four AA rosettes. Following this was Michael’s Nook in the Lake District where he stayed as head chef for four years, retaining their four AA rosettes and Michelin star. Moving to The Burlington Restaurant at The Devonshire Arms in the Yorkshire Dales, he ran the kitchen here for five years, where only six months after joining he again secured a Michelin star and four rosettes.

Michael's biggest achievement was at the Latymer Restaurant at Pennyhill Park, where he built the restaurant up from a two-rosette establishment to the two Michelin star establishment it is today. Anointing the restaurant with five rosettes in 2011 (one of only eight restaurants in the UK to receive such an accolade), the AA said Michael Wignall’s food had reached 'the ultimate level', continuing: 'The cooking style is complex but delivered with immaculate precision. Depth of flavour is stunning, presentation beautiful and each dish is full of texture, vibrancy and excitement. Michael Wignall takes a highly technical, modern approach to his craft: dishes are complex, but based on classical themes, delivering light, elegant food with clear, intense flavours and exciting textures.'

The restaurant’s first Michelin star came in 2009, with its second awarded in 2012. 'Two stars was amazing, but it’s a bit of an empty feeling because I wasn’t thinking ‘we’re going to go for two stars’ – when you do get it, obviously it’s amazing, but what do you do now?' he told us. 'It’s not the be all and end all.'

In January 2016, Michael left the Latymer for Gidleigh Park, in Devon, where he continued to wow diners with his effortlessly brilliant dishes. He retained the two Michelin stars by shaping the menu around his own incredible style of cooking, maintaining the hotel's reputation as one of the best restaurants in the UK.

Two years later, at the beginning of 2018, he left Gidleigh Park to take on a new project of his own. With wife Johanna, he moved up to Skipton in North Yorkshire and took over The Angel at Hetton – one of the oldest gastropubs in the country. After a renovation, Michael slowly but surely introduced his immaculate cooking to the Yorkshire Dales, with dishes like aged fillet of Yorkshire beef, forest mushroom, caramelised onion and parsley, turbot, charred leek, cep velouté and Madeira, and a cracking selection of Sunday roasts proving a hit with the locals. He was awarded a Michelin star just a year after opening, cementing his place as one of the most respected and awarded chefs of his era.