Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft, Northcote, Northcote at the Rovers, Ribble Valley Inns

06 December 2012 by
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft, Northcote, Northcote at the Rovers, Ribble Valley Inns

Overall ranking: 59 (ranked 70 in 2011)
Chef ranking: 16 (ranked 21 in 2011)

Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft - Snapshot Nigel Haworth is the chef-proprietor of Northcote - the Michelin-starred, four-AA-rosette restaurant with rooms in Langho, near Blackburn - which he co-owns with general manager and wine expert Craig Bancroft. Under the umbrella of Ribble Valley Inns, the duo have also opened four pubs: the Three Fishes at Mitton, Clog and Billycock at Pleasington, and Highwayman at Burrow (all in Lancashire, with the latter right on the Cumbria border); and the Bull at Broughton in North Yorkshire. The pair also run corporate hospitality at Ewood Park, home to football club Blackburn Rovers under the banner of Northcote at the Rovers.

Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft - Career guides Nigel Haworth was born in Lancashire in 1958. After training at Accrington and Rossendale College, he worked at the Royal Berkshire hotel in Ascot and London's Grosvenor House hotel and, from 1978, spent several years in Switzerland, working at one stage for Natalie Viscardie one of Switzerland's finest chefs. Returning to the UK in 1982 and dismayed by the standard of catering he found in Lancashire on his return, Haworth became a lecturer at his old college for 18 months.

Meanwhile, Craig Bancroft, who was born near Blackburn in 1961, had taken his first job as a kitchen porter at the Kensington Close hotel in London before joining the Trusthouse Forte management trainee scheme. He served as a chef at the Grosvenor House hotel and the two-Michelin-starred Plaza Athénée in Paris, followed by trainee roles in food and beverage, housekeeping and front of house at the five-star Brown's and Westbury hotels in London.

Following stints at London's Regent Palace Piccadilly and Strand Palace, and Yorkshire's Beverley Arms hotels - and with just six months' training left to complete - Bancroft was lured to the unimpressive Northcote Manor hotel in December 1983 as its general manager. One of his first moves was to bring Haworth on board as head chef in March 1984. And though the road has been tough at times, the duo have never looked back - taking Northcote from a backwater non-starter to a multi-award winning international player on the hospitality scene.

In 1986 Haworth and Bancroft acquired a stake in the business and, in 1989, bought it outright. The duo set up outside catering arm Northcote Offsite in 1999, two years after Haworth became consultant chef to contract caterer Baxter & Platts, now BaxterStorey. They sold Northcote Offsite at the end of 2007 to the company's operations director, Martin Jones, so that they could then concentrate on developing the hotel and expanding Ribble Valley Inns, which they had launched three years earlier. However, they have continued to run Northcote at the Rovers, the corporate hospitality at Blackburn Rover's stadium Ewood Park.

In addition, the duo have run a much-imitated annual 10-day food and wine festival, Obsession, every January at Northcote for over a decade, using it to showcase the talents of the finest chefs from the UK and abroad; in 2010 they launched an early summer food festival, The Fantastic Food Show, at Ewood Park which at its core showcases local artisan producers and suppliers; and for Christmas 2012, they've added a Fantastic Christmas Show at the same venue.

Away from the Northcote Group, Haworth can often be seen lending his support to fund raising events for charity - and he and Bancroft often stage their own, as happened at The Three Fishes in March when customers at the pub raised of £8,000 for the local Bowland Tourism Environment Fund. He is also a patron of Hospitality Action. And in 2010 he signed up to consult for BaxterStorey, delivering mentoring and training programmes for its staff.

In November this year, the duo announced they had secured long term investment of up to £6m to grow the Northcote group by selling undisclosed equity in the business to local entrepreneurs and long-term Northcote customers Richard and Lynda Matthewman.

Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft - What we think It's become commonplace to talk about local sourcing in UK food circles, but Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft were championing home grown Lancashire produce long before "local" and "artisan" became fashionable, up-market culinary buzz words.

Over the past 25 years at their flagship hotel restaurant Northcote (formerly Northcote Manor), menu items such as Lancashire hotpot, Herdwick lamb and Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire cheese have become as much part of Northcote's calling card as the Edwardian architectural detailing and array of fine fireplaces at the property.

And they were among the first to commission grainy black and white photos of their artisan producers to adorn the walls of their Ribble Inn pubs.

The duo's fervent belief in supporting local also extends to being environmentally friendly in the wider world. Most obviously at the Clog and Billycock where they spent £10,000 on new lighting and a move towards carbon neutrality.

Haworth is involved in Chefs Sans Frontiers, a group of chefs who promote the North-west of England with demonstrations in Paris, Barcelona and London. He's also a member of the Academy of Culinary Arts and of the Masterchefs of Great Britain. Under his guidance several next generation chefs have emerged and won prestigious competitions: Warrick Dodds, Northcote's former head chef, has won the Young Chef of the Year award and was a finalist in the Roux Scholarship. Northcote's former sous chef, Jason Birkbeck, has also won the Young Chef competition. Current head chef, Lisa Allen, has competed twice on the BBC's Great British Menu, winning through to cook for Prince Charles in 2010 - and in 2011 she picked up the Restaurant Chef Award at the Craft Guild of Chefs annual gong fest.

Haworth's skills and passion for giving a contemporary twist to classic British dishes such as Lancashire hotpot, combined with Bancroft's wine knowledge and development of a strong front-of-house team, won the partnership a string of accolades during the 1990s, most notably the Lancashire Life Restaurant of the Year 1993; a Michelin star in 1996; and three Cateys - Independent Hotel of the Year award in 1999, the Pub Operator of the Year in 2005, and a richly deserved Special Award won by the duo at the Cateys in 2009.

It is difficult to understate the major inspiration that local farmers, growers and producers have given to Haworth over more than 20 years. But he's repaid them with cooking that stands shoulder to shoulder with the best traditions of terroir cuisine in France. And it's his food philosophy that is at the heart of all the Northcote Group's identities. He and Bancroft are always looking for new ventures (Haworth has talked about how he'd like to open a fish restaurant on the Lancashire coast one day): so the recent £6m equity deal seems set to secure their championing of northern British produce for a good while yet.

Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft's ranking in the 2010 Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 >>

Bancroft and Haworth secure £6m investment >>

Top chefs join Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft for 2013 Obsession at Northcote >>

Nigel Haworth becomes patron of Hospitality Action >>

Nigel Haworth and BaxterStorey launch 'Fuel Your Passion' for Porsche >>

Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft local heroes >>

Menuwatch: the Bull at Broughton >>

Nigel Haworth teams up with Sodexo Prestige for golf's Open >>

Northcote website >>

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