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Great British Menu chef puts on a show for CancerCare

Craig Sherrington

One of the rising stars in this year’s Great British Menu competition on BBC2 will be hosting a special cookery event in Ulverston.

Craig Sherrington from Lancaster is one of three chefs in the battle to win The Great British Menu’s North West heat which will be screened during the week of September 24 to 28.

Craig, who owns and runs Craig’s Kitchen at Virginia House on Queen Street in Ulverston, is supporting CancerCare with a Christmas Canape Cooking Demonstration, food tasting and cocktails at his premises at 6pm on Sunday, November 18.

In this year’s Great British Menu Craig is up against two Liverpool chefs – Ellis Barrie, head chef at the Marram Grass restaurant on Anglesey and Liam Simpson-Trotman, head chef at Orwells in Shiplake near Henley-on-Thames.

This year’s programme celebrates 70 years of the NHS and is dedicated to ‘NHS Heroes’. Craig and his fellow contestants were briefed to create a celebratory menu which will be served at a banquet in the Great Hall of Britain’s oldest hospital – St Bartholomew’s in London.

Craig said the challenge was poignant for him as his wife Louise worked in the NHS for many years. Louise’s sister currently works in the NHS and her mum was also in the service. In addition, Louise’s father is a volunteer with the Royal Voluntary Service which supports the NHS.

As well as competing for the chance to cook at this year’s banquet, for the first time chefs will be vying to be crowned ‘Champion of Champions’ as the diners will vote on their favourite dish in the final episode.

Judging the chefs will be Andi Oliver, Oliver Peyton OBE and Matthew Fort.

Each week, the three expert judges will be joined by a special guest to decide the winners of the regional heats.

Fittingly, the guest judges will represent the heroic staff of the NHS – from Jenny Turner, Britain’s longest serving nurse, to Dan Smith, one of the first paramedics on the scene of the Manchester Arena bombing.

A laid-back and hard-working person, Craig got a shock when he received a call from the show’s production team: “I just got a phone call asking me if I would be interested in being on The Great British Menu. I was very surprised!

“They interviewed me several times and I got onto the shortlist. They sent a film crew in June 2017 and did some screen shots.

“I have always done a lot of cookery demonstrations so I didn’t find it hard.

“I was on holiday in Spain with my family when they called to say I was in the final three in the North West. I was in the sea with my two youngest daughters and my eldest daughter came running down the beach to tell me.

“Then I had two weeks to come up with ideas, a concept and recipes. I really enjoyed doing it. A huge amount of thought went into it.”

The filming was done at a studio in Camden in London last November. The full details of who won the North West heat are top secret until Friday, September 28, when the winner will be announced.

“Doing the filming was a fantastic experience – a real rollercoaster ride,” said Craig. “There were massive ups and downs. The making of a TV programme is a lot more complicated than you might imagine.”

Craig, 42, lived in Lancaster for the first nine years of his life and then moved to Middleton village near Morecambe.

Over the years he has worked in numerous restaurants across North Lancashire, South Cumbria and other parts of England including London and the Cotswolds.

Craig went to St Bernadette’s Primary School in Morecambe and then Morecambe High School.

He had always enjoyed cooking with him mum and in 1993 he decided to train to be a chef at Lancaster and Morecambe College.

He said: “The college years were some of the best in my life.

“I met a lot of great people. I just learned as much as I could. I didn’t have a ‘style’ at that point

“I still do cookery demonstrations for the college. I did one recently for the new intake with Lisa Allen, the executive chef from the Michelin starred Northcote Manor restaurant in Langho.”

Lisa is from Morecambe and also went to Lancaster and Morecambe College. She won The Great British Menu in 2010 and was a runner-up in 2011.

When Craig was at college he entered a national cookery competition called ‘Le Toque d’Or’ (which means a chef’s hat) run by Nestle.

The chief judge in that competition recognised Craig’s talent and asked him to do a work placement with him at his restaurant, the high end Lygon Arms hotel in Worcestershire.

On leaving college, Craig secured at job at the Lygon Arms: “It was a great place to work with a big kitchen and 15 chefs,” he said.

From there Craig moved to Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds.

After that he secured a job with the renowned chef, David Everett-Matthias, at the Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham. David has two Michelin stars and is known as one of Britain’s most inventive chefs.

Craig said: “David was a huge influence on my life and career. His style is French with his own twist. When he thought I had worked with him for long enough he sent me to London. I was prepped and ready to go.”

Craig went to work at the luxury Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge with head chef Eric Chavot.

“He was a massive character and a big influence on me,” said Craig. “It was an amazing place to work. A lot of rich and famous people went there as it was near Harrods but when you’re working at least 18 hours a day in the kitchen, six days a week, you don’t see any of that.

“When I’m in the kitchen it doesn’t feel like work – especially now. You have to really love your job to be able to do it well. I just do it for the love of the job.”

In 2003 Craig was delighted to have the opportunity to return to the North West as the senior sous chef at the Lakeside Hotel at Newby Bridge on Windermere.

From Lakeside Craig moved to Storrs Hall on Windermere and took on his first head chef role.

“It was a lovely place to work and they gave me the freedom to develop my own style,” he said. “I managed to get them two AA Rosettes.

“My food has always been very simple. I like to let the flavours speak for themselves.

“It’s all about the flavours and local ingredients.”

He then spent a year as general manager of the Duke of Edinburgh in Barrow but the lure of the kitchen was too great and he went back to being a chef.

Craig got married to the love of his life, Louise, ten years ago in March and they have three daughters aged four, eight and 15 years.

Craig said: “When we met Louise was a biomedical scientist in the transfusion department in Barrow.

“We had always spoken about running our own business. Then we had the opportunity to run the General Burgoyne pub at Great Urswick near Ulverston.

“We were there for five years and then Virginia House came up. It was a going concern and we decided to renovate it.”

Louise and Craig took over Virginia House in September 2015 and eight weeks later they opened for business.

The grand building dates back to 1790 and was built by a tea merchant from Virginia in America. It has eight guest rooms and an elegant restaurant. Craig works in the kitchen with chef Andy Hoines from Morecambe.

“We serve relaxed brasserie-style food,” explained Craig. “We’re always pushing for the food to be better. One of our most popular offerings is called ‘Premeditated Indulgence’. With 48 hours’ notice, our customers can have fresh Morecambe Bay lobster or Chateaubriand.

“We’ve just got into ‘The Good Food Guide’ which is the foodies’ bible for the UK. We’re really pleased with that.”

At Craig’s Kitchen he only uses the freshest of ingredients: “Our beef comes from Greenodd, our lamb is from Ulpha Valley and seafood is from Morecambe Bay.

“I like to use seasonal produce and, when I have time, I like to go foraging for wild herbs.”

Craig is looking forward to the screening of The Great British Menu on September 24.

He added: “The competition was very intense. As chefs you are like a band of brothers and sisters.

“There was great camaraderie. We helped each other when the going got tough.”

He is also happy to be supporting CancerCare: “I think CancerCare is a fantastic charity.

“Everyone in Barrow and Ulverston needs to know it’s there for them. That’s why I want to help raise funds through my demonstrations and to raise awareness. It’s great that CancerCare has expanded from Lancaster and Morecambe into the Barrow and Furness area.”

Places for the Christmas Canape Cooking Demonstration in aid of CancerCare are limited. Tickets are £20 per person. Please buy your ticket online at www.cancercare.org.uk/events

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