Nick started cooking at the age of 15 in a local pub and then went on to Aylesbury College to do his NVQ 2. Whilst studying, he was also a kitchen porter and trainee chef at The Sir Charles Napier restaurant. On completing his NVQ, he took a three-year apprenticeship at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons with mentoring from Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones.
After completing this apprenticeship, Nick was promoted to demi chef de partie, a position he held for a further 18 months. In 2005, he was lucky enough to win the William Heptinstall Award 2005 and used the prize money to travel and stage around the USA. It was an incredible experience with Nick spending time at WD50 in Manhattan and Charlie Trotters, TRU and Alinea in Chicago. On his return to the UK, he worked at Michelin starred restaurant, Juniper in Manchester as a junior sous chef. Eighteen months later he worked with Adam Simmonds at Danesfield House before returning to Le Manoir as a junior sous chef. The role of head chef was given to him in 2012.
Nick made a bold move to the North in 2015, leaving Le Manoir to take on the position of head chef at The Samling restaurant in Cumbria. Within nine months of being there, the restaurant won a Michelin star and 3 AA rosettes and Nick received Cumbria Life Chef of the Year Award in 2017. His current role is at The Ryebeck Hotel in Windermere where he is head chef.
What Nick loves most about being a chef is the fact he can work hard and push himself every single day. Whenever he leaves work, he has a real sense of achievement, whether that’s through creating a new dish, guest comments or developing the next generation of chefs. He loves the freedom he has and the ability to express his personality on a plate.
Nick wanted to be a chef from the age of four. His dad was a baker by trade and so Nick would love watching him working and sampling the delicious things he would create. When Nick was about 10 years old, he loved watching CHEF by Lenny Henry. This really inspired him to work at a beautiful restaurant, cooking delicious and stunning food like it was portrayed in the TV show.
Whilst his dad massively influenced his decision to become a chef, Nick says the most inspirational influence in his career, without a shadow of a doubt, is Gary Jones. From day one walking in to Le Manoir, at the age of 17, he helped develop Nick and pushed him to be the best he can be as a chef and a person. Nick told us: “Gary has always been there as a mentor and a father figure. Even four years after last working under him, he still inspires me and every time I create a dish or talk to a junior member of the team, I think back to what was said to me or what he would say if he was stood next to me now.”
The most memorable day of Nick’s career was when he received a phone call from Rebecca Burr at Michelin inviting him down to London for the first ever live unveiling of the Michelin guide. It was a great personal achievement not only for him but also the team that had worked through some long, tough days to achieve what they did in such a short time. On the same day, Nick found out that one of his chefs had just been offered a job at Restaurant Sat Bains, which for him was a very proud moment. Nick said: “She had joined me just nine months earlier having worked at a Best Western hotel cooking scampi in a basket and now she had been offered a job under one of the best chefs in the UK. As any head chef will tell you, that’s as good a feeling as winning any accolade.”
Nick entered The National Chef of the Year this year because a couple of months earlier he was helping mentor his sous chef through the North West Young Chef of the Year competition. They were doing lots of late nights practicing and Nick was pushing him very hard to ensure he would do his best. One night the young chef turned around and said that Nick should practice what he was preaching and enter NCOTY, so he did. Nick also feels he has a little unfinished business with the competition, having made the final in 2014 and coming third. Nick felt that this year the time was right to push himself again.
When Nick found out he had made the final, he was having dinner with his family in Paul Ainsworth’s new restaurant in Cornwall, The Mariners. Nick knew there was going to be a Twitter announcement and he had a lovely surprise and huge feeling of relief when he saw the tweet with his name on. He got straight on the phone to his sous chef to break the good news to everyone at the hotel.
Thinking about taking the title, Nick commented: “Winning would be a fantastic achievement. I’ve achieved a lot in my career but to add the title would be another great accolade for both me personally and the team at the hotel. To succeed as a chef, it’s been all about sacrifice at an early age. I’m so glad I worked hard when I was younger, when I had the energy and ability to absorb knowledge like a sponge. Now it’s about finding challenges to keep being a chef as interesting and as exciting as I did the day, I first picked up a knife. This is a hard challenge but surrounding myself with young, hungry, talented chefs really helps.”
The three words that describe his style of cooking are flavour, texture and acidity.