He is back in charge at The Three Fishes at Mitton following its £1m makeover and has grand ambitions for the latest chapter in his glittering culinary career.
Nigel was born in nearby Whalley and was brought up in Clayton le Moors in East Lancashire. But his career, which saw him working in London and Switzerland before returning north, has been focused on some of the finest dining in the world. For more than 20 years Northcote Manor at Langho, where he was co-owner, director and chef patron, , has retained the Michelin star he first won in 1996.
While at Northcote he also created the legendary food festival Obsession which brings together internationally renowned chefs. He featured on TV and has had his talent recognised by royalty.
But he is still hungry for success, championing local produce and distinctive dishes made with the finest of ingredients - some of which he hopes will be home grown in a polytunnel and on the one acre field at the rear of the Ribble Valley pub restaurant.
.Now in his sixties he is bringing a lifetime's experience to create what he hopes will be a stand out dining experience but with "a traditional pub feel."
The locally based Aspinall estate owns The Three Fishes and while Nigel is the chef patron and his silent partner in the new business is Martin Aspinall. Nigel's wife Kath, an interior designer, has designed the interior of the recently re-opened pub, which offers 60 covers plus a private dining room.
Nigel was first at the helm t The Three Fishes in 2004 when he sought to create a pub rather than a restaurant experience for lovers of regional food. It was sold in 2018 along with the other gastropubs in the Northcote's Ribble Valley Inns group and had been closed for some years. Nigel said: "I almost genuinely feel I haven't been away. The Three Fishes is a place close to my heart. It's exciting."
However he acknowledges it is not the best time to open a new enterprise and said: "We opened on November 17 right in the middle of the Covid mess."
The opening itself was delayed when Nigel caught Covid too, then Christmas was challenging because new and ongoing concerns about the spread of new variants meant there were more cancellations. But the project had been in the planning for two and half years. He said: "We're ploughing on - we've had a good January. The ambitions for the place are always very ambitious - it's a farm to fork concept."
He is currently deciding which heritage seeds will be grown to suit the soil and conditions and said the emphasis is on sustainability. His hope is that the menu can in part be dictated by what they've grown: "You've got to get them on the menu. That's one of the challenges...as always growing things is a challenge, cooking is a challenge.. You have to synchronise and we've got to have a system and a formula. It's all about being sustainable and using produce that's good enough that's near to home - but that doesn't mean we can't use a bit of truffle or caviar here or there."
He continued: "This is in between gastro pubs and fine dining. It's a more casual approach. It's more relaxed dining but it's still an emphasis on quality of ingredients. It's all about thequality of the ingredients."
Nigel has looked to northwest suppliers getting cheese from the Courtyard Dairy at Settle, meat from a Cumbrian producer and Lancashire Game. He said:"We're always on the look out for good supplies and good products."
Nigel believes the cost of the meals at The Three Fishes are "very much value for money" given the cost and quality of the ingredients -with a charge of £50 for a four course lunch and £65 for dinner.
As for The Three Fishes goals Nigel, said: "It's just like as always - let the food and service do the talking...we're ambitious."
The Michelin judges have already been round and Nigel thinks maybe it is a tad early to hope for or expect such recognition: "I don't expect after eight weeeks we'll be getting an accolade but you never know, it's a work in motion.... Rome wasn't built in a day."
For those who remember the Three Fishes hotpot, one of Nigel's signature dishes, there is a promise of a hotpot Sunday in the autumn. But ever creative his emphasis will he stresses,be on creating seasonal menus, with plans for a charcoal grill outdoors when the weather improves and the desire to always offer a plant based menu option as a vegetarian choice.
Of catering he says: "It's been my life for 30 years. It's a challenge, something I feel it is right to do at this time - to move on and take new challenges. You have to move with the cycles of life. Things never stay the same. I had done what I needed to do (at Northcote) and I needed a new challenge."
For more about The Three Fishes see here
To subscribe to the Lancashire Post see here