Steven Smith on his Good Food Guide success

Steven Smith on his Good Food Guide success

by Great British Chefs 10 September 2014

One of the biggest winners of the recent Good Food Guide results, Steven Smith has made his name cooking from Lancashire's Freemasons at Wiswell. We caught up with him to discuss the guides, his love of Japanese cuisine and Michelin star aspirations.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Freemasons at Wiswell chef Steven Smith has never been afraid to do things a little differently from most. You won't find this straight-talking Lancastrian following 'trends' or using fad ingredients; nor does he believe in the need for signature dishes. And while 'locally-sourced produce' continues to dominate the contemporary chef's lexicon, Smith is open about his use of European and Asian ingredients.

For risk comes reward: The Good Food Guide has recently named Freemasons as the best pub for food in the UK, giving it a prestigious 7/10 rating and placing it 41st on their list of best UK restaurants.

It is a truly stunning result for the Lancastrian chef – especially when you consider some of the feted names that sit below Freemasons on the list: The Hand and Flowers, Clove Club, Northcote Manor, to name a mere few.

“It’s superb, it’s absolutely fantastic,” Smith comments. “Bookings have really picked up and people are very happy to see all the hard work that we have been putting in for five years has paid off.“

When Steven Smith opened The Freemasons in the summer of 2009, his was a new face to local epicureans. He didn’t come with a name-dropping CV or fresh from a stage at Noma or French Laundry. Instead, he had been quietly working his way around Lancashire and Yorkshire, serving his time in some quality kitchens and honing his talents.

Menus in the early days revealed a talented chef that was perhaps a little too eager to show off his skills. But by 2012, when The Guardian published a highly complimentary review of Freemasons, the product had been refined and Smith’s humble, eclectic style was beginning to come through.

He explains: “We’ve seen growth and progression pretty much from day one, really. We took an easy approach and introduced people to our food slowly but surely, and have been cooking like this for about three years now."

While many local chefs have put North West cuisine on the map by showcasing local tastes and ingredients, Smith prefers to take his own route.

“If we weren’t different then we’d just be another one in the Nigel Haworth/Paul Heathcote mould. The food (at Freemasons) is very much becoming a progression of my training and a good cooking background, but also with the stuff that I like to eat.

“I’m very much influenced by places like Japan, for example. I just think the flavours are fantastic so that’s what I like to eat when I go out.”

As his recently released recipes on Great British Chefs show, Smith’s dishes certainly don’t want for technical flair or ambition. But the chef is also conscious of the fact that Freemasons is a pub first and foremost; so offerings must retain their accessibility.

“You have to have familiarity with what you do,” he asserts. “For example we’ve got a dish which is cod fish fingers. It might be the best cod fish fingers you can have but it’s still cod fish fingers.

“If you go to what The Good Food Guide says, they’ve awarded us a 7 because of the great food and because we still remain as a pub.”

As for the future, Smith hopes to maintain standards over the next twelve months and build from there. And then there is Michelin - as yet a star has eluded the pub and while Smith isn’t actively chasing it, the award would undoubtedly be another great fillip for him and his staff.

“The focus is on delivering the product we want - if we deliver that, the rest will follow, like it has done with The Good Food Guide. Hopefully everything else will fall in line. You’d like to think a star is on its way."