Chef spotlight

Northern powerhouse: the Freemasons at Wiswell, Lancashire

By Helen Gilbert

- Last updated on GMT

Steven Smith: "Growing up in the cooking world, Marco Pierre White was my idol"
Steven Smith: "Growing up in the cooking world, Marco Pierre White was my idol"

Related tags: Good food guide, Michelin star, Heston blumenthal, Michelin guide starred restaurants and chefs, Michelin guide, Marco pierre white

For the second year in a row, The Freemasons at Wiswell, Lancashire has ranked number one in the Good Food Guide’s Top 50 Pubs. Helen Gilbert catches up with chef-patron Steven Smith to discover what the latest accolade means to him, his Michelin Star ambition and why he’d like to cook for Marco Pierre White. 

Congratulations on the second win, how does it feel?

Last year we were absolutely chuffed, it was a bit surreal.  This year it feels a bit more real. It’s like a rubber seal of approval – we’ve maintained it, which is the hardest thing to do. When we started six years ago we were unknown. We’d look at places like the Hand & Flowers and think ‘that’s where we want to be’.

Now we’ve been crowned number one [again] and we’re the only pub to have a cooking score of seven in the entire list. Because the Good Food Guide is consumer led it really does help from a business point of view. We’re in a rural location so it makes it all the more satisfying for us.

What’s your unique selling point?

We stay true to being a pub but the food is so far removed from pub food. The dishes could sit on the tables of many top restaurants up and down the country, that’s the secret to our success. We really have worked hard to merge the two together - high end plates of food being served within a pub. Regulars always say they’d be able to spot my food a mile off because of the style and individuality. I like to think there is only one Freemasons.

Do you think you can win three times in a row?

Yes, if we can keep moving forward and not rest on our laurels. We’re very proud of the win but we’ll never stand still. Tomorrow’s a new day. 

And achieve a Michelin star?

Absolutely. That’s our ambition. It takes hard work and dedication but I believe we can get there.

At what age did you first become interested in food?

I was 15-years-old when a friend of mine began working in a hotel. They needed someone to do breakfasts part time at the weekend so I went in and then worked in various establishments. When I met Steve Williams, who’d been a head chef at various Michelin star restaurants, I was bitten by the bug.

Which chefs inspire you the most?

Tom Kerridge, Sat Bains, Claude Bosi and Brett Graham for their the creativity, simplicity, and their sheer attention to detail. Over the years I’ve looked to their establishments for inspiration. They’re the leaders, my top four.

If you could cook for one person dead or alive, who would it be?

As a young chef growing up in the cooking world Marco Pierre White was my idol. I’d make him a smoked saddle of wild hare. I believe that’s one for the best dishes that we’ve produced and I know he’s a lover of game.

What is the best meal you’ve ever had?

I had the tasting menu at the Fat Duck, the first time I visited. That was one of the best.

And the worst?

Last year in Spain I went to a restaurant with two Michelin stars. At the time there was mega hype around it. The actual dinner did not live up to the expectation. The braised veal tendon was like eating a bowl of beef swine. It was gimmicky for gimmick’s sake and underwhelming.

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