Michael Hales, chef patron at The Butlers Arms in Pleasington
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 June 2017
There is little surprise Michael Hales loves food and hospitality. He’s been cooking since he was four. Emma Mayoh reports
‘It all started when I was four,’ recalled Michael Hales, chef patron at The Butlers Arms in Pleasington. ‘My gran, Queenie Whitworth, would always have me cooking and baking in her house. She lived in a house that used to flood but that would never stop her.
‘We’d be stood knee deep in flood water cooking something. She taught me how to melt butter in front of the fire. Even though she’d wrapped my hands in a tea towel I’d still burn my hands. She wouldn’t tell me to take my hands away, she’d just say, ‘well, the butter needs melting so you’ll have to do it’. She was great, she really inspired me and was one of a kind.’
His passion never waned. At Withins School in Bolton, near to where he grew up, he was encouraged by home economics teacher Melanie Wharton and got a grant to spend time working at London’s Savoy Hotel. He then studied at Bolton College before working his way up in the catering and hospitality industry in the North West including at The Sun Inn in Kirkby Lonsdale.
He lost his enthusiasm for food after his dad, Ian, was killed in a tragic accident. His jet ski, which his mum Debbie was also on, crashed into a strut at one of Blackpool’s piers while they were on a family holiday.
‘I watched it all happen,’ said Michael. ‘It was one of those times where everything happens in slow motion.
‘My mum was pronounced dead too but they managed to revive her and she is still around now, thank goodness. But I definitely lost my focus and dedication then. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I could barely manage to cook beans on toast for myself, never mind create great food for other people.’
But the 43-year-old rediscovered his passion when he spotted a venue in Newby Bridge had come on the market. The Bridge Café and Bistro received many accolades and for a decade Michael poured everything into the business. As well as running the bistro, he also made a local gin and a mulled wine that was served at royal functions attended by the Queen.
But again he was hit by setbacks when his health took a dive. He was diagnosed with two malignant tumours on his thyroid and had to undergo treatment.
‘I got a letter to say thank you for the mulled wine,’ he said. ‘That was pretty special. The Café and Bistro is something I’ll always be proud of.
‘It came out of the tragic loss of my dad. But he inspired me and it led me to where I am today. I felt I achieved so much there. But my body was telling me I needed to take a step back. And I had to listen to it.’
Michael moved back to Bolton with partner, Warren, where he lectured in catering at Salford City College. But he missed the buzz of hospitality and began working for a number of pubs, including The Butlers Arms in Pleasington. When the opportunity came to take on the running of it, he jumped at the chance.
‘It had been a little bit unloved for a while and I knew there was so much here,’ he said. ‘That potential just had to be realised. When the chance to own it came long, I couldn’t resist it.’
The talented chef has transformed the fortunes of this now thriving pub. Working with an enthusiastic kitchen and front of house team the Butlers Arms is building a reputation for quality dining and service. Much of the produce served is local, including some from just a few steps away from the pub. He prides himself on the seafood menu he provides, as well as the extensive gin list and there is even a doggie menu.
‘Well, why not?’ said Michael, who spends his spare time participating in gruelling sporting events. ‘They can have chicken and rice and the dog biscuits I sell fly out of here like hot cakes.
‘Joking aside, the team I have here, including some who I’ve worked with at other pubs, are just fantastic. It’s like everything has come full circle.’
Michael is now writing a book about his food journey featuring the stories and recipes that have shaped his culinary experience. It’s something he’s dreamed of doing for ten years. He has also recently taken ownership of the Top Lock in Chorley where he is hoping to emulate the success of the Butlers Arms.
‘Cooking for me is a way of life,’ he said. ‘It’s been a way of life since I was very young. The cookbook is something that I hope we can all relate to and it’s connected to my passion.
‘I’m the proud owner of the Butlers Arms and Top Lock. I’m working with new chefs developing exciting new menus and training young chefs of the future. There have been challenging times but it has all influenced the way that I am as a chef today.’
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