Paul Heathcote

Paul Heathcote

Paul Heathcote

Paul Heathcote helped to put British food on the map – in particular specialities from his home county of Lancashire, which he refined and presented to a new audience. Over his considerable years in the hospitality industry he has run many different eateries, winning two Michelin stars at his flagship restaurant, which he ran for 22 years.

Paul Heathcote was experimenting in the kitchen from an early age, augmenting the dinners his mum would leave for the family when she worked night shifts. He says this is when he fell in love with cooking and he would run home from school on those days, thrilled by the time in the kitchen that awaited him. A teenage boy growing up in 1970s Lancashire, his presence in domestic science classes at school raised a few eyebrows, but he says his athleticism (he was also in the football, swimming and cricket teams) meant he was left to his own devices.

He moved on to study catering at Bolton Technical College, then on to a series of uninspiring kitchen jobs, but he had no great drive until an inspired interjection by his father. He was taken to lunch at Sharrow Bay, a luxury country house hotel and restaurant in the Lake District – at the time, one of the best restaurants in the country, chosen by his father after research in the Good Food Guide. Here, Paul Heathcote saw a different side of the hospitality industry – and it was love at first sight. He told The Independent: “It was like knowing football from kicking a ball around in the park, and then seeing Liverpool play.” He badgered Francis Coulson, chef-patron of the restaurant, for two years until he gave him a job. Over his three years there he learnt much about British food, service and devotion to cooking and hospitality, educated by head chef Coulson and his partner Brian Sack who took care of front of house.

With his ambition now ignited, he moved on to the Connaught Hotel in London in 1983, where he joined Michel Bourdin’s 50-strong brigade of highly disciplined, classical-French cooks. Now cooking in a kitchen with 13 people on every section, he told The Guardian of this experience: “They made you go through every single process, and not cut any corners. It was a meticulously hard school, there’s no question about it. But I learned an enormous amount there.”

His next position was at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, which he joined in 1985, working under the legendary Raymond Blanc. With Le Manoir’s impressive kitchen garden supplying the restaurant, Paul Heathcote says it was here that he developed a passion for fresh produce. He told The Independent: “It wasn’t uncommon to be out in the vegetable garden digging up baby leeks and carrots at 8pm.”

Always keen to return to the north of England, he accepted his first head chef job at Broughton Park near Preston, running his own kitchen by the age of 26. Already with his own restaurant in his sights, he set about learning the business side of such an enterprise and making links with local suppliers in preparation.

In 1990, he opened his eponymous restaurant (later renamed the Longridge Restaurant), at the age of 29. Within nine days of opening, a gas leak saw the kitchen go up in flames, but against all odds, they were open again only 48 hours later. Within two years he was awarded his first Michelin star, as well as the Good Food Guide’s Restaurant of the Year. His second star came in 1994 – an enormous achievement in any era, but particularly so for a British-born chef cooking in early 1990s Britain – which he retained for the next four years. It remained a one-star establishment until 2003, when it was relaunched as the Longridge Restaurant, regaining its second star in the 2004 awards.

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.