Meet the chef - Oli Martin, Hipping Hall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 October 2018
Oli Martin is a head chef that has transformed the kitchens at Hipping Hall. Emma Mayoh finds out more
No one can question Oli Martin’s dedication. When he found out he was taking the top job at fine dining haven Hipping Hall near Kirkby Lonsdale it was no easy task. It was just 11 months after he’d started there as sous chef – all holidays were cancelled.
‘It was just before Christmas I found out,’ remembered Oli, who lives in Lytham with partner Julia and new baby India May. ‘We were such a small team and we just had to concentrate on getting through it.
‘Everyone else took two weeks off in January. But I didn’t, I didn’t want to. I spent that time in the kitchen, experimenting and working out new menus and how we were going to take things forward.
‘I’d been thinking of moving on because I wanted to develop and learn. But the owner told me to stick around and I might just get what I want. I couldn’t quite believe it when he offered me the job – it was fantastic and an opportunity to take the restaurant and myself forward.’
That was four years ago. And it is a work ethic that has paid off for the 30-year-old. Hipping Hall, a 350-year-old five-star boutique hotel and part of the prestigious Wildsmith Hotel’s group, has three AA rosettes – which many believe should be swapped for a Michelin star. It has also notched up a succession of local and national industry prizes, including top billing at the Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards. The kitchen team has gone from Oli and two commis chefs to seven in the team now.
‘It’s taken a lot of time,’ said Oli. ‘We’ve had a lot of people come and go. But it’s been a fantastic experience for them as well. They’ve gone onto places like Moor Hall and other incredible restaurants.
‘I always push them forward, encouraging them to take the next step. It’s great to see it happen, it shows we’re doing something right.’
Oli always loved watching his Nan cook traditional dishes like toad in the hole and he was brought up on great home cooking from his parents – although he does admit he’s partial to a good, simple beans on toast. But his introduction to the world of fine dining – which began at one rosette restaurant Chicory in Lytham – was purely by fluke.
‘My friend was trying to find a pot wash job, we were both 14,’ recalled Oli. “They asked if I was looking for a job too. They called me back, but not him. He’s forgiven me for it though.
‘But that was it for me, I just loved it. I fell in love with the atmosphere, it was my first introduction to it all and it was a good one. The business grew quickly, which was fantastic for me. I got a really good taste for everything.’
Oli got the opportunity to work across all of Chicory’s sites – there were three in Lytham and an outside catering arm – before spending a summer working in France in a kitchen with a two Michelin star trained chef. When he finished the chef gave him his orders to find a Michelin restaurant to work in. Oli came back to Lancashire to Northcote, working under the tutelage of Lisa Allen, now executive chef at the Langho venue.
‘I was young, only 18 or 19, and I thought I knew it all,’ said Oli. ‘I was pretty cocky. And then I realised perhaps I didn’t know everything. I definitely learnt a lot there. And then I realised perhaps I didn’t. I definitely learnt a lot there.
‘It was a tough kitchen, full on. Nigel was always so full of energy, he’d come in at 1am and we’d start working on new dishes. It was exciting. It also helped me learn more about local produce and food. But I found it really tough.’
Oli then worked at Gilpin Lodge in Windermere as well as spending time travelling and working in restaurants across the world, including Australia. He would have happily spent more time travelling – a break for him after being in kitchens since his mid teens – but knew it was time to come home and knuckle down.
All of that experience has given him the skills to define and shape the kitchens at Hipping. And he couldn’t be happier. Taking the reins has given him the opportunity to be creative – the part he loves most about being a chef and something he does with flair.
A lot of his menu choices also focus on seasonal and local produce – being located on the edges of three counties Hipping’s menus take the best ingredients from producers in Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. You’ll find Morecambe Bay potted shrimp, Bowland pork, Goosnargh duck and lamb from nearby Kitridding getting their moment in the spotlight. Oli spends a good portion of his time foraging along the Lancashire coast and in the nearby countryside. He picks herbs from Hipping’s gardens and he and his team do a lot of pickling and preserving to get the most out of all of their produce.
He’s also a particular admirer of Growing with Grace. They get many of their vegetables from this organic co-operative just a few miles away in Clapham.
Oli has been described as one to watch and a rising star in the industry. There are no doubt exciting things on the horizon for the talented chef. But for now, Oli is dedicated to progressing.
‘When I first came across Hipping I fell in love with it,’ he said. ‘I wanted a job at a place that really meant something to me and a place where I could develop. I definitely found that.
‘We’re focused on trying to keep progressing in the kitchen. We’re not chasing accolades but it’s nice to get them. We don’t have a star but our guests think we’re worthy of one so it’s nice to excel in that way.
‘I’m very settled here and it’s a job I love. I think most chefs dream of having their own place but I don’t have any plans on disappearing any time soon. I love it too much.’