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Meet the chef: The Bay Horse Inn at Ellel, near Lancaster

Craig Wilkinson with wife, Nicola <i>(Image: Craig Wilkinson)</i>
Craig Wilkinson with wife, Nicola (Image: Craig Wilkinson)

Craig Wilkinson first came to The Bay Horse Inn at Ellel, near Lancaster to help parents, Brian and Mae, when he finished college. Now 52, over the past 30 years, he has carved out a reputation for consistently good food: simple in style and full of flavour. His style is inspired by the French bistros and auberges he visited a as child. Today, he runs the award-winning dining pub with wife, Nicola, and is the ‘exhausted dad’ to Hugh and Lois. Here he shares his food loves.

Tell us a little about The Bay Horse Inn

Cosy country pub, serving flavoursome classics with a modern twist. We have a small bar, dining room overlooking the extensive gardens and a private dining room for parties of 8-14: The Hayloft. Our Sunday lunches are really popular and people travel from across the county to enjoy them.

What's the key to bringing diners back time and again after 30 years?

We strive for consistency of quality, whether our guests are returning for the confit duck legs which have been a staple for many years, or for one of our seasonal dishes such as venison loin, dauphinoise, blackberries, bay and port sauce.

First dish you learned to cook?

Braised ox cheek in red wine, melt in the mouth once slow cooked for six hours.

Most vivid childhood food memory?

Pinching broad beans and peas from our neighbour's garden as a young child and eating them fresh from the pod.

Most memorable meal out?

There have been so many. The best have been when I am relaxed on holiday... maybe Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier, after we got engaged in Paris or Tristan's in Mallorca, which sadly is no longer there.

Great British Life: One of the dishes at The Bay Horse Inn Photo: Craig WilkinsonOne of the dishes at The Bay Horse Inn Photo: Craig Wilkinson

Favourite ingredient?

Fresh fish and seafood, Scottish hand-dived scallops take a bit of beating.

Your go-to snack?

French bread - from Booths usually - and Lancashire cheese.

If you weren't running the Bay Horse, what would you be doing?

I would have loved to be a wildlife photographer or cameraman. My nephew is currently studying Film Studies at Salford and his brother studied zoology at Chester so animals and film are passions shared by the family.

Your dream dinner guest?

Sir Kenny Dalglish: football has been a life-long passion which I am delighted to now be able to share with my son, Hugh. Kenny is a Liverpool Legend and an inspiration both on and off the pitch.

What's your guilty food pleasure?

Chinese takeaway.

Who are your Lancashire food heroes?

Paul Heathcote, Nigel Howarth and Stephen Docherty. You need tenacity in this trade.

A hospitality industry person who inspires?

Alex Polizzi. Her straight-talking, no-nonsense attitude is so refreshing and she's always ready to get her sleeves rolled up and get stuck in. You are never 'above' any job in this industry.

A place you love to eat?

The Drunken Duck, Barngates.

What has been a career highlight?

Cooking for Sir Alex Ferguson, Michael Owen, Tyson Fury and Deitmar Hamann, Bradley Wiggins too. As well as winning Lancashire Life Dining Pub of the year of course.

What's next?

The continued development of the property, possibly to include some holiday accommodation.

What wish do you have for 2024?

A much-needed VAT reduction for the hospitality industry.

My favourite dish

Craig loves this roast chicken breast dish with scorched hispi cabbage, haggis and whisky cream sauce.

 



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