Before the pandemic, Oli had spent several years as head chef at the much-lauded Hipping Hall. Running the kitchens at the multi-award winning former Wildsmith Hotels venue, which sadly closed earlier this year, he had won praise and plaudits from the likes of Prue Leith, was featured in the Michelin Guide and was awarded 4 AA Rosettes. But as restaurants started to think about opening back up again, it was time for a change.

Oli left his long stint as head chef at the much-lauded restaurant to launch weddings, events and private dining company, Foray Catering, with fellow former Hipping Hall chef Matt Willdigg.

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‘It felt like a big jump at the time,’ says Oli. ‘Hipping was a very special place where I had learned and done so much. It had been a tough time through lockdown, and it just felt like the right thing to do.

‘I wanted more time at home, too, with my wife, Jules and daughter, India. Lockdown had shown me what I was missing out on, and I wanted to have more time with them. Taking the new direction with Foray meant I could have a bit more balance.’

Great British Life: There are people who shout about their achievements and then there are those who work away with a quiet determination. Chef Oli Martin is the latter.There are people who shout about their achievements and then there are those who work away with a quiet determination. Chef Oli Martin is the latter.

Less than two years on and Oli and Foray Catering are thriving. Along with fellow chef director, Matt and operations director, Alex Blamire, Oli is also now chef director at a stable of restaurants including Preston’s 263 Restaurant, the first one in the city to be awarded three AA Rosettes, and at successful neighbourhood restaurant, Fell Bistro in Longridge. It’s an extraordinary achievement in a short amount of time.

‘It’s something we feel great about and it’s brilliant we’ve been able to do what we have done so far,’ says Oli. ‘I feel really proud of what we’re achieving.’

Oli’s introduction into hospitality had never meant to be a permanent one. But it was when he got a role at the former Chicory restaurant in Lytham that he got the bug for working in kitchens. He went on to work a summer season in France and in catering in Australia and, closer to home, in the successful kitchens of Northcote in Langho and Gilpin in the Lake District. He has achieved culinary success and a raft for food awards including that fourth AA Rosette while at Hipping Hall. He also appeared on MasterChef: The Professionals, reaching the final three in the competition.

Through his experiences he gained a deeper appreciation of the heritage of food and recipes passed along through generations.

‘When I was in Australia, I could have been loading the kitchen onto a boat for a wedding one day and then in the outback another,’ say Oli. ‘It really deepened my knowledge of food and gave me different experiences to the ones I’d already had.

Great British Life: Oli at home in Lytham. Photo: Kirsty ThompsonOli at home in Lytham. Photo: Kirsty Thompson

‘When I came back, I started to look more into the history of British food and our ingredients and from that came my love of foraging. There’s magic in working with seasonal ingredients because it forces you to be creative and everything tastes better for it.’

That love for seasonal, local ingredients from the land has formed the backbone of Oli’s menus and he delights in forming strong relationships with local food and drink producers to ensure the best products end up on diners’ plates at Fell, Foray and 263.

Now Oli, along with Matt and Alex, have created a strong kitchen brigade leading both venues with hospitality power couple Sean Wrest and Samantha Haigh – who have worked in Tommy Banks’ Roots in York (Sean) and The Black Swan at Oldstead (Samantha). It sends a strong message on their ambitions and Sean and Sam work with Oli and the directors to create the menus and drive the restaurants forward.

‘Having such a good team in place means it also gives me a chance to step away from the stove a bit and concentrate more on developing the businesses, focussing on how we want to move forward,’ says Oli. ‘We’re so lucky to have the people we do. People like Sean and Samantha, and our Fell head chef Brett Thornton, are so talented and know exactly what they are doing.’

Great British Life: Oli foraging with Sean Wrest, group executive chef at 263 and Fell Bistro. Photo: NickOli foraging with Sean Wrest, group executive chef at 263 and Fell Bistro. Photo: Nick

Both have already seen success with neighbourhood Fell Bistro being awarded an AA Rosette and fine dining restaurant, 263, becoming the first Preston restaurant to be awarded 3 AA Rosettes. Both venues feature in the Michelin Guide and are focused on seasonal ingredients and using the best of what is available. Now Oli and his team are focused on driving the businesses forward.

‘To get the recognition we have already had is fantastic. Our reward is keeping people happy through good food and service but getting more recognition through awards, that would be fantastic too.

‘I’m so proud to be a Lancastrian chef cooking in the county I love. Over the past ten years, its reputation has just grown and grown – there is so much to celebrate about it. Lancashire is a place rich in its quality of food with the best ingredients and the people growing and producing them.

‘Then we are in the lucky position to be able to create dishes to make people happy. I’m looking forward to just keeping improving and hopefully expanding the business a little further. And I’m sure we’ll all have fun doing it.’