Lisa Allen, Great British Menu winner speaks to Lancashire Life
PUBLISHED: 08:33 18 June 2010 | UPDATED: 13:57 10 December 2017
Lisa Allen is queen of the Great British Menu kitchen. And now she has cooked for a Prince. Emma Mayoh reports<br/>MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
The waspish judges on BBC2’s Great British Menu may have puckered their lips in disapproval at Lisa Allen’s strawberry dessert, but there’s one lady out there who just can’t get enough of it.
A customer at the Michelin-starred Northcote Manor, where Lisa is head chef, was delighted with the strawberry, meringue and mint cake water ice finale to her dinner. So delighted she ordered it again the next day - for breakfast!
‘I couldn’t believe it,’ laughed Lisa. ‘She’d eaten it in the evening and said she was going to have it again in the morning. I thought she was joking but she was true to her word. She still loved it, too.’
Morecambe-born Lisa chose mint cake as an ingredient because one of
her sisters was born in Kendal. But while her pudding might not have won over the judges, the 29-year-old was overjoyed when Oliver Peyton, Matthew Fort and Prue Leith announced her wild rabbit and leek turnover with piccalilli had earned her a place at the Great British Menu banquet in celebration of the National Trust. She’s the first female chef to go all the way in the competition and it meant she cooked her dish for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Lisa, who is single but has a boyfriend, said: ‘It was one of those heart-thumping moments. You go into the judges’ chamber and it is so terrifying. You just keep thinking let me be through, let me be through. The relief and happiness was unbelievable. It was stressful but fantastic.
‘Cooking for Prince Charles and Camilla was nerve-wracking. I spoke to Camilla and she said she loved the rabbit. They already knew about Northcote Manor, too. I hope she comes to visit.’
Lisa, who sourced her ingredients from the Sizergh Estate and Levens Hall, studied catering at Lancaster and Morecambe College. She then worked as a commis chef at the Michelin-starred Holbeck Ghyll and Cheltenham’s Le Champignon Sauvage. She started at Northcote Manor in Langho, run by top chef Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft, nine years ago and she had only expected to stay for a year. At 23 she was promoted to head chef making her one of the youngest women to run a Michelin-starred kitchen.
Lisa’s passion for food and cooking started while she was studying at Carnforth High School. ‘I was obsessed with home economics,’ she said. ‘I loved going to school with my little wicker basket with all the ingredients in. We’d always make something like quiche lorraine. I loved cooking at home, too.’
Nigel’s enthusiasm for locally-sourced produce rubbed off on Lisa and her menus are packed with food from Lancashire and the Lake District. She has won many awards, including Chef of the Year at the 2008 Northern Hospitality Awards, and she now assists in cookery demonstrations at local school to encourage young, talented people to enter the industry.
Lisa admits she couldn’t have come this far without the support of Nigel, a winner last year, and joint managing director, Craig Bancroft, as well as her mum and dad, Cynthia and Ken, and sisters Jane and Debbie.
She said: ‘My sister tells me she’s my number one fan. They’re all really proud of me and to know that is really lovely.
‘Nigel and Craig have been absolutely brilliant. They’ve supported me every step and now I want to help the younger chefs in the way they helped me.’
When Lisa found out she was through the first heat of the show she had to keep it a secret. Her celebrations were confined to a can of beer on the train back to Lancashire. But the festivities to mark her big win will be more elaborate. Nigel and Craig are taking her to Spain for three days to eat at some of the country’s most prestigious restaurants - including San Pau, where head chef Carme Ruscalleda is one of only four women to hold three stars.
Nigel said: ‘We wanted to mark the occasion properly. Lisa has admired Carme for some time and she deserves to have a treat. We’re all very proud of what she’s achieved and now it’s about keeping her feet on the ground, staying focused and I know things will go well for her.’
Lisa’s Great British Menu
Lisa teamed up with the Sizergh Estate to get the ingredients for her menu. Milk and cream came from the Park family at Low Sizergh Farm, which also supplies Nigel Haworth’s The Highwayman restaurant, local produce came from the gardens on the Sizergh estate overseen by head gardener, John Hawley, as well as from Growing Well, and organic vegetable growing scheme that creates volunteer placements for people recovering from mental health issues. The rabbit came from the Levens Hall estate.
Lisa said: ‘The head gamekeeper at Levens Hall, Andy Garnett, was up for three nights trying to get me the best sized rabbits for the banquet. When someone is putting so much effort into helping you be the best, you cannot let them down.
‘They have all been fantastic. Growing Well is a remarkable fruit and vegetable box scheme and the milk and cream is delicious. I was really lucky that I had such great produce at my fingertips.’
Fancy having a go at making a Michelin meal yourself? See the recipes for Lisa’s Great British Menu in the recipes section