Nigel Haworth on life after Northcote and his final Obsession

Nigel and Kath Haworth

Nigel and Kath Haworth - Credit: Archant

As celebrated chef Nigel Haworth prepares for his final Obsession at Northcote, he has designs on a successful 2020 with wife Kathrine.

Nigel preparing a dish

Nigel preparing a dish - Credit: Archant

Few have done more than Nigel Haworth to promote the region's food and train a generation of budding culinary stars. He is a name synonymous with the county's food and drink resurgence and he's the one that all chefs worth their salt want to work with.

Together with fellow Lancastrian Paul Heathcote, he brought an awareness of the quality, variety and breadth of incredible food and drink we have in the county. He worked with producers like the now renowned Johnson and Swarbrick in Goosnargh and HP Ascroft in Tarleton, putting them under the spotlight not only at his Michelin star Northcote but also at Ribble Valley Inns, a collection of gastro pubs which included the then much-lauded Clog & Billycock.

This month Nigel will oversee and take part in his final ever Obsession at Northcote in Langho. He stepped back as head chef there in 2017 to concentrate on his own projects and become their global ambassador until 2020. To the uninitiated this is a food festival like no other - a gastronomic feast with a line-up of some of the world's greatest chefs where tickets sell out in about the time it takes to devour one of Nigel's famous hotpots.

The event, of course, includes executive chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen, who took the reins when Nigel left, as well as culinary heavyweights and godfathers of the chef scene - think Ken Hom, two Michelin star chefs Claude Bosi and Sat Bains and exciting young talents like Gareth Ward, chef at the one star Ynyshir in Wales. To anyone who knows the event, Obsession is undoubtedly Nigel's baby.

Nigel Haworth wins the Lancashire Life Food Hero of the Year 2019 award (photo Donna Clifford)

Nigel Haworth wins the Lancashire Life Food Hero of the Year 2019 award (photo Donna Clifford) - Credit: Donna Clifford

'I'm happy and proud to look back and see how we started Obsession with just a few chefs,' said Nigel. 'Now, to see where it's gone, and to be marking that 20th anniversary, is wonderful. It will always be something special to me.

'I'm really proud of Lisa; she's an incredible person who was running that kitchen before I left. She's very good at what she does and I'm thrilled to see her doing so well, she really deserves it.'

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Sitting on the couch in his snug at home in Ribchester, the chef is the picture of contentment. Talking about his grandchildren - twins who arrived several months early and are now thriving - he breaks into a big smile. He also speaks happily about his children, including son, Kirk, also a chef and the driving force of London plant based restaurant, Plates. Kirk, who has been diagnosed with Lyme Disease along with mum Kathrine, runs this restaurant with sister Keeley.

'I'm incredible proud of Kirk and the work he has done not only to battle Lyme but also raise awareness of it,' said Nigel. 'The doctor then tested Kath and found she had it, too. It's a disease, that until we found a brilliant doctor in Prestwich, just wasn't taken seriously.

'What's he doing with Plates, and his knowledge of food that's come from battling Lyme is incredible, really innovative. He's doing exciting things with food.'

Since finishing at Northcote, Nigel has worked as a consultant for hotels and restaurants and came within a whisper of opening his own Manchester site - it wasn't to be this time. Now, he is doing consultancy work with wife and interiors whizz Kathrine, calling on his more than 30 years of hospitality experience and her knowledge of sustainable construction, design, renovation and restoration.

They're a formidable duo - together they created the successful Café Northcote, which has received a clutch of awards, including a Lancashire Life Food & Drink Award. Nigel has also launched his own range of meals with Sainsbury's - his hotpots have been a huge success with plans for more lines and stockists on the cards, too. The chance to open his own restaurant is always at the forefront of his mind, and discussions are ongoing that may make his wish come true.

'Every chef wants their name above the door, and it would be good to have that back again,' said Nigel. 'Working with Kath really made sense. We worked together on Cafe Northcote, and I thought, if someone wants me to do a restaurant, if I'm working with someone who understands me, it will add so much more to the project.

'It's good to be able to work together. It's the next phase of our business life and it feels incredibly exciting. I could have 20 restaurants open all over the world or the country and I could be running these, with Kath designing them. I have taken two years to build this since taking time out from Northcote and together we're really looking forward to making an impact on some very exciting schemes.'

Nigel's eyes really start to shine, though, when he gestures towards his 'shed' in his back garden, which is actually concealing a state-of-the-art kitchen. He hopes, with the help of a videographer friend, to launch his own cookery videos sharing tricks of the trade.

The shed space is due for completion this month and, while Nigel is in no rush, he's looking forward to having his own space for recipe development, as well as a place to continue to foster his love of cooking.

'It's pretty exciting, really,' said Nigel. 'It will be about going back to basics, showing people how to do those essential skills that are so important to get right and make a big difference to the dishes you can produce.

'It's very early days but the kitchen should be done soon, which is fantastic. Maybe I'll get some characters in to come and film with me, we'll link with foraging as that's so good around here. The opportunities are exciting. It feels like this year is going to be great with lots of things to look forward to.'

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