Meet the chef - Michael Wignall, The Angel at Hetton

PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 October 2018

Michael Wignall Photo: Matt Austin

Michael Wignall Photo: Matt Austin

Matt Austin

One of the world’s top chefs is winging his way back to Yorkshire

Hay smoked Kilnsey trout, beetroot and carrot, fresh cheese, roe washed in ponzuHay smoked Kilnsey trout, beetroot and carrot, fresh cheese, roe washed in ponzu

If you’ve been praying for multi award-winning chef Michael Wignall to come back to the county where he first earned the stripes on his apron, someone was clearly listening. The former head chef at the Devonshire Arms has just picked up the keys to the iconic 15th century Angel at Hetton in the Yorkshire Dales with his wife Johanna and business partners James and Jo Wellock.

The landmark eatery was made famous as what was widely regarded as the original gastropub in the 1980s by the late chef – and Yorkshire Life inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award winner – Denis Watkins. Since his death in 2004, it has been in the very capable hands of his wife Juliet and son Pascal.

It’s believed the Angel started life as a drovers’ inn before being developed in the 18th century to serve as the local pub for surrounding farming communities, which it continued to do until Denis bought it in 1983.

He and Juliet then led the way in revolutionising pub food throughout the country by doing away with traditional menu staples like scampi and chips and chicken in a basket and introducing freshly cooked local produce accompanied by quality wines.

Semi-dried grape, jelly, crème fraîche sorbet, celery, olive oil cake Photo: David GriffenSemi-dried grape, jelly, crème fraîche sorbet, celery, olive oil cake Photo: David Griffen

Now, for the first time in 35 years, someone other than a Watkin is firing up the stove at the Angel. Thankfully, that someone is Michael Wignall, who held two Michelin stars and five AA rosettes at Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon, and at The Latymer at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, Surrey.

‘There’s so much affection for the Angel at Hetton and it’s an absolute privilege to take over the reins of this building and play a part in its history and culinary heritage,’ he said.

‘I can’t wait to get back behind the stove and work on dishes for the fine dining restaurant as well as creating something slightly different for the pub. My food has always been inspired by the fabulous produce that has surrounded me throughout my culinary journey and I couldn’t be in a more stunning setting than Hetton.’

Michael plans to run the Angel as it is until the end of the year before closing for an extensive refurbishment in the new year. Working closely with rural and agricultural planning consultants Rural Solutions, he will create a fine dining space in a part of the building that currently houses the wine cave, while the main building will serve refined pub food.

Pastrami of squab, black pudding puree and crumb, chestnut and juniper crumb Photo: Dave GreenAbove: Pastrami of squab, black pudding puree and crumb, chestnut and juniper crumb Photo: Dave Green

Cooking with class

Top chef Michael Wignall’s experience of freshly cooked food and multi-cultural cuisine started at a young age, travelling extensively from the Far East to the United States and across Europe.

Although exposed to a variety of international gastronomy, he had no intention of being a chef. In fact, as a teen, he had a promising career as a professional BMX biker.

With a bit of gentle parental encouragement, however, he took up a place at catering college. After three years, Michael moved to Spain to experience life front-of-house and to explore the country’s authentic cuisine.

When he came back to the UK, Michael’s professional career started in earnest at Broughton Park under Paul Heathcote, moving with him to his restaurant in Longridge, Preston, followed by a spell working with John Burton Race at L’Ortolan.

Next, he led the team at Beams, Staffordshire, Waldo’s Restaurant in Cliveden Hotel, Michael’s Nook in the Lake District and the Burlington Restaurant at The Devonshire Arms, earning a Michelin star at each. He was also named Yorkshire Life Chef of the Year.

He joined Exclusive Hotels in November 2007. With a wealth of experience already under his belt, he began to discover the true depth and breadth of his own style and identity and, as a result, made The Latymer one of the top restaurants in the country. It was awarded its first Michelin star and gained five AA rosettes in 2011 and added a second star in 2012.

Michael made his move from The Latymer to Gidleigh Park, Chagford, in January 2016, a transfer lauded as the highest profile culinary takeover of the year by influential food writer Jay Rayner. Within ten months, Michelin announced it had retained its two stars.

Putting the cherry on top of an already elaborate cake, Michael was awarded five AA rosettes in 2017 – the first time the AA had ever awarded five rosettes mid-year in its 61-year history.

Over the years, Michael has become synonymous with incredibly complex, technically accomplished dishes that highlight his attention to detail and his dedication to the pursuit of perfection in flavour, texture and appearance.

Out of the kitchen, he has a passion for extreme sports, particularly wakeboarding, and enjoys travelling the world seeking fresh inspiration and ideas to pair with locally sourced, British produce.

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