Brian has always tried to experience as many aspects as possible in the world of food service; it’s never solely been about exclusive dining although that forms a good wedge of his experience.
One thing that has always been at the heart of everything he’s done is learning, perfecting and passing on skills. Be it in private dining, pubs, brasseries, as a personal Chef in a Penthouse, restaurants, banqueting, ships, in house Hospitality, competitions or at shows he still gets the same buzz from learning and passing on a skill.
Harthill is that passion packed into a historic building in a wonderfully scenic location.
At 23 Brian was a sous chef in a hotel and was poached (pun intended) to go and cook at the headquarters of a multinational company and tasked with cooking for their many visitors and private dining rooms. The standard was high and what followed were several years of studying for advanced Chef Credentials and a teaching qualification. The in house training was like nothing he had ever experienced and he was also seconded out to Michelin starred establishments to hone his skills, the pinnacle being the three starred La Tante Claire with Pierre Koffman.
Following his first Head Chefs position at 26 he moved back into private dining this time cooking exclusively for the board of the UK’s largest independent broadcaster and their guests. Guests included renowned actors, pop stars, celebrities, Olympians, dignitaries, royalty and government ministers.
During this time he also looked after the company’s in house craft training, devising and delivering training initiatives across the country. The world of Culinary Competition beckoned both as an organiser and competitor teaching him the discipline of immaculate preparation and presentation. In addition to medals he was awarded Master Craftsman status by The Craft Guild of Chefs and later recognised as their Contract Catering Chef of the Year both for his own work and efforts in inspiring and developing other Chefs. He also became a Master Chef of Great Britain.
He was then approached by a long-time colleague to assist in developing a Brasserie concept. As a Group Executive Chef what followed were several years assembling teams of Chefs and developing brasserie and country inn concepts, culminating in running a team of seventy chefs across ten sites.
As well as the craft aspect of the role there were other knowledge banks needed in the role including design, purchasing, budgeting, food and health and safety, leadership, communication & change management skills. Brian then took the decision to set up his own business in 2000 taking on projects with the likes of P & O, the Food Standards Agency, Granada group, Cambridge University, North West Fine Foods in addition to private projects and teaching in F.E, H.E. and Chefs Academies.
Around this time the popularity of farmers markets, food and lifestyle festivals exploded and the farmers, producers and artisans that Brian knew needed a voice to shout about their produce. Brian was enlisted to cook at the markets, festivals, county shows and even took the produce to famous London stores and the European parliament. He founded the North West Young Chef Competition in 2002 to connect young chefs with local producers, with hundreds of chefs progressing through its ranks to gain valuable contact with artisan producers, their peers, mentor Chefs and the national final.
As the popularity of festivals evolved Brian was increasingly asked to introduce and host the cookery theatres providing the link between talented Chefs and eager audiences. Chefs were being plucked from the comfort of their own kitchens and being asked to perform in front of hundreds of people.
Brian noted that there was a stream of nervous under prepared Chefs being asked to appear on stages and it made him think that there should be something that helped them steady their nerves, promote themselves and their business. So he devised a workshop that helped his fellow professionals deliver effective, informative demonstrations & maximise the PR opportunity with the public and media.
Working with the then tourist boards (now the ‘Visit’ brand) his ‘Prep 2 Dem’© workshops took competent Chefs through their paces to become confident demonstrators, brand ambassadors and further help the visitor economy.
In 2007, ahead of Liverpool becoming European capital of culture in 2008 he was invited to visit Sibui in Romania as a Cultural ambassador for the city. Along with good friend and fellow Chef Paul Askew they met with professional chefs bodies, judged a prestigious chefs competition and show cased their own cooking as part of the cultural exchange. There were notable similarities in the history of the two cities, boom times & rich heritage, troubled pasts, decaying buildings with no money available for demolition at one time, now restored centuries later and heralding the rebirth of the city. At the same time the historic Victorian village school in rural Harthill closed it doors and bid farewell to its pupils for the last time.
Competing years turned into judging years and in addition to his young chef competition Brian was regularly invited to judge in schools, colleges, universities, restaurant and national Hospitality awards, Northern Chef of the year, the Welsh International Culinary Championships and internationally at the acclaimed Salon Culinaire de Londres at Hotelympia.
Brian continued and continues to be a regular at festivals, lifestyle and flower shows which lead to him being invited to host the cookery theatre at the prestigious Bolesworth International Horse Show. Bolesworth is a beautiful country Estate in Cheshire owned by the Barbour family with prime grazing for the county’s dairy herds and an ever increasing equine population. Traffic jams on the Estate tend to feature cows plodding off for milking, pristine horses being exercised, pheasants ducks or partridge with no road sense, wild rabbits with twitching noses or farmers tending their fields watched closely by gracefully gliding buzzards.
Brian was taken with the area. Cheshire is renowned for its luscious plain that provides rich grazing for its dairy and meat herds and Bolesworth climbs from the plain onto a sandstone ridge overlooking it all and across Liverpool, Wirral and Wales. An enquiry lead to him being shown the now defunct Harthill Primary School, cold, empty and hidden behind overgrown holly hedges with children’s work still displayed on its walls, all a bit Marie Celeste.
Renovation began and in 2011 Harthill Cookery School opened its doors and it’s quite simply a place where everything and everyone from Brians life as a Chef comes together. Chefs, cooks, butchers, bakers, preservers, patissiers, grillers, foragers, makers of food and memories come to share their knowledge and enthusiasm.
Brian describes the school as an expensive way for him to carry on learning and when he’s not teaching, you’ll often see him peering over the shoulders of the tutors picking up even more tips and techniques.
To teach is to learn twice