Simon Salt - the White Bull pub in Gisburn
PUBLISHED: 11:00 10 June 2015 | UPDATED: 17:06 24 October 2015
A talented young chef is charging ahead with his plans for the White Bull pub in Gisburn. Emma Mayoh reports. Photographs by Kirsty Thompson
Simon Salt’s cookery teacher at high school in Oswaldtwistle got quite a shock when she asked him what he wanted to make in her first class.
‘It was surprising there was a boy in the class to start with,’ explained Simon. ‘All the rest were girls. But then I said I wanted to make choux pastry. I think she was very surprised. And I did it perfectly. I was very pleased.
‘School really wasn’t something that was for me. One of my teachers said I would be most likely to end up on the dole. When someone says something like that to me, I set out to prove them wrong.’
Simon, now 30, has had a passion for food since he was small. At six years old he would be treated to the finest fillet steak at the local pub by his mum, Susan.
She was even known to puree bacon and eggs so her baby son could experience the taste. It’s an ethos Simon has continued at the White Bull in Gisburn, a once derelict pub that he has breathed new life into. You’ll find no children’s menu, just smaller portions of the dishes on the main menu.
As well as studying catering at Accrington and Rossendale College, Simon cut his teeth at some of the finest restaurants in the county and beyond. He did an apprenticeship at Northcote with Nigel Haworth, working alongside the likes of Lisa Allen. He also worked for Nigel Smith at his Ribby Hall restaurant and at other landmark dining establishments, including at the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey.
He was the recipient of the Lancashire Young Chef of the Year and North West Young Chef of the Year awards at just 23 and he was one of three vying for the top spot on the Gordon Ramsay Scholarship.
He has travelled to some of the most exciting culinary destinations including San Sebastian in Spain and worked at the prestigious The Vineyard at Stockcross and reached the quarter finals in MasterChef: The Professionals in 2010.
It was a call from former colleague Steven Smith, chef proprietor at The Freemasons Arms at Wiswell, which drew him north again. He turned a job down at Gleneagles in Scotland to take up the position with his friend.
He said: ‘Being a Lancashire lad I always wanted to be back at home. I always knew if I had the opportunity to be back here, I wanted it to be the Ribble Valley.
‘It’s thriving, it’s Lancashire, it’s what I’m about. That was the main reason I turned down the job. That and being able to help out a friend.’
But it was around two years ago that his own personal dream was starting to be realised. Simon has always longed to run his own pub. With the help of his mother he scoured Lancashire for the ideal place. He had spotted a place in Inglewhite which later fell through. It was when he received details of the White Bull in Gisburn, he jumped at the chance. But it has not been a smooth ride and it was last December, after an 18 month wait and a £500,000 renovation, that he finally opened the doors.
He explained: ‘The building had been empty, it had been left to rack and ruin. The ceilings were falling down, it was very run down. It was knackered, an absolute state.
‘But it was such a good opportunity and I wanted to do it. We had some issues with planning because it is such an old building. But we had lots of help from Nigel Evans, who even spoke about us in the House of Commons as an example of why it is important to support local pubs when so many are closing down.’
The White Bull, built 150 years ago, was first used as a coaching inn and it has always been a pub serving the local community as well as visitors.
Simon’s renovation brought back to life some of the features that have served the building well over the years, including the old bar and fireplaces, and has transformed the former run down pub into an elegant, welcoming place to eat, drink and stay – the White Bull also has accommodation.
The talented chef is focused on providing fantastic food along with a well needed place for the local community to use. He has a long list of local producers including Albert Matthews at Bury Market, Wellocks and farmer David Lee for his potatoes and other vegetables. Simon is proud to have reinstated the local pub.
He said: ‘There used to be three in Gisburn but until I reopened the White Bull, there hadn’t been any for quite a while. Pubs are the heart of the community in villages like this. I hope I have put the heart back into Gisburn.
‘I don’t want us to be known for just one type of food. If you come in here and fancy a burger, you can get that, but we’ll also have the finest quality turbot or lobster on the menu.
‘We are really lucky that locals, as well as visitors, are really supporting us. I just want to carry on building it.
‘My dream has come true by taking it on. I feel excited to have my own place. Now I want it to become a huge success.’