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Craig Bancroft trained at TrustHouse Forte, at five-star properties including Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris, and Brown's, the Westbury and Grosvenor House on Park Lane in London.
Following stints at Regent Palace Piccadilly and the Strand Palace in London and Yorkshire's Beverley Arms hotel, he was lured to the unimpressive Northcote Manor hotel in 1983 as its general manager. One of his first moves was to bring Nigel Haworth on board as head chef in March 1984, and the pair have since taken Northcote from a backwater non-starter to a multi-award-winning international player on the hospitality scene, buying the business outright in 1989.
Bancroft is known for his food knowledge, but he won his reputation for pairing Northcote's cuisine with wines from an award-wining list. He has already received a Special Award at the National Restaurant and Bar Top 50 Awards 2015, which he won in partnership with Nigel Haworth, and has been championing food and wine and pairing for decades, long before the current trend for tasting menus took off.
Bancroft and Haworth are also the masterminds behind food and wine festival Obsession, which showcases Michelin-starred chefs at Northcote every January, providing a much-needed boost to business at a typically slow time of year. Bancroft has also spread the pair's knowledge through Ribble Valley Inns, the pub group they both launched in 2004.
Ribble Valley Inns' first pub, the Three Fishes in Mitton, scooped three awards in 2005: a Catey for Pub and Bar Operator of the Year, the Publican Pub of the Year and the Campaign for Real Ale's Kids' Food award. The company operates three other pubs: the Highwayman in Kirkby Lonsdale; the Clog and Billycock at Pleasington, Lancashire; and the Bull, in Broughton, North Yorkshire.
In 2013, Bancroft received the Association of Portuguese Wine Importers' (APWI) Special Award, only the third time such an award has been made, in recognition of his commitment to promoting Portuguese wines for the past 25 years.
Bancroft has also won a place in the Academy of Food and Wine Service's Hall of Fame and gained national recognition at the AA Hospitality Awards, winning the AA England Wine Award 2013-14. The award was for his outstanding contribution to promoting wine understanding and appreciation, while demonstrating a high-quality wine list and the ability to inspire customers to a wider and more adventurous choice in selecting wines.
Away from the Northcote Group, Bancroft often lends his support to fundraising events for charity, and he and Haworth often stage their own, as at the Three Fishes in March, when customers at the pub raised £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.
What the judges said
"Craig lives and breathes wine. He was promoting wine in an area that was a gastronomic desert long before it was as fashionable as it is now. He is evangelical about training his people and his passion ensures wine gets an equal billing alongside Nigel Haworth's exceptional food."
"In addition to developing one of the foremost hotels in the UK, Craig has made a significant contribution to hospitality. His expertise is well-known and he commands great respect."
Craig Bancroft, Northcote, Langho, Lancashire
Matthieu Longuere, Le Cordon Bleu
Christine Parkinson, Hakkasan Group
Gérard Basset, Hotel TerraVina
John Croft, The Wine Guild of the United Kingdom
Roger Jones, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn
Andrew McKenzie, Vineyard at Stockcross
Xavier Rousset, Blandford Comptoir, Cabotte
Ronan Sayburn, 67 Pall Mall
Marc Verstringhe, MESV Trust