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Out Of The Frying Pan: Andrew Nutter, Nutters, Rochdale

David Blake talks dwarves, armed robbery and The Monday Club with the North West’s most animated chef

Written by . Published on August 14th 2013.


Out Of The Frying Pan: Andrew Nutter, Nutters, Rochdale
 

NUTTER by name, Nutter by nature.

He’s not exactly the retiring sort Andrew Nutter. You’re less likely to see him quietly sat in the corner as you are to find a copy of an OK magazine without a bloody Middleton in it.

Having gained a kitchen apprenticeship at London’s Savoy, Nutter then swanned off to France, working his way around luxury châteaus and squeezed in a stint with Gary Rhodes back in London before opening a family run restaurant in Rochdale. He's never looked back.

They got in on the roof and smashed in the windows, glass spilled all over the chef's head and they tied him up. Then they tied my Dad up and put a gun to his head.

Nutter holds a certain presence around Manchester, the consummate wild-eyed TV chef about town with a penchant for lavish parties of Caligula proportions. What is less mentioned, however, is his sheer passion for food, unwavering dedication to his trade and work ethic of a Victorian railway navvy. Oh and a tendency to go off on tangents. Just make sure you steer clear on Mondays…

Nutters, RochdaleNutters, Rochdale

So Nutter, where did it all begin?

When I was 13 my older sister entered a cookery competition and came runner-up in the regional final. So I thought, anything she can do I can do better. I entered it the following year and got through to the national finals but came second to a nine-year-old Scottish girl. I ended up with all these prizes, cookers, processors, and thought this isn’t too bad.  I entered a Daily Mail competition when I was fifteen and got to the national finals of that. Everyone else was a lot older; your standard Daily Mail dinner-party cooks. One of the judges was Anton Edelmann, the head chef at The Savoy. He must have seen something in me because he stood up at the end and said he’d like to give me another prize, an apprenticeship at the Savoy when I left school.

Flunk your final exams then?

No I did okay actually, I wasn’t really like that. We were quite strict. Whilst at school you’d go and work at my Dad’s butchers shop in Prestwich. I was responsible for packing the mincemeat, the livers, the kidneys, getting my hands dirty basically. That’s where our pocket money came from. I had a paper round as well. You had to work for it. It annoys me a bit the way kids are handed money these days.

The Savoy, LondonThe Savoy, London

So when did you set off for the gold paved streets of London?

The day after I finished my exams, I was only 16 and thinking, what the fuck am I doing? The Savoy, along with hotels like the Ritz, put money into this building in Earl's Court called the PM club for us apprentices. It was quite strict but a safe haven for all us youngsters coming to London.

It’s amazing to see how well some of the guys that I lived with have done. You’ve got Marcus Wareing, Steve Drake, Andy Needham. I had Giorgio Locatelli and David Sharland as sous-chefs, so I was always surrounded by talent. There were about 80 of us in that kitchen.

How long were you at The Savoy?

Three years. It was the most amazing experience of my life. Intense doesn’t even do it justice. I couldn’t legally drink at the time but we had a deal going with the B&B owner over the road. I was only on £92 a week, £70 of that was already going out so I had about £20 a week to spend. We were doing crazy hours though, 7am till 10pm, but that became normal to me. It was work, work, work, none of this nine to five some chefs want now. But The Savoy back then was old school, it was an institution. It had an old brigade system.

Anton Edelman was the best head chef, he knew all 80 of us by name and would come round every morning, shake all our hands and see what everyone was doing. Just before service he’d pull everyone up and check all the cooking. We were doing lunches for 200, banquets for 400, but the attention to detail was still phenomenal. We were cooking for royalty. I met the Queen Mother actually.

Black Pudding WantonsBlack pudding wantons

How far did you get at The Savoy?

I went in at the bottom, sixteen, no qualifications, nothing. It was all up to me, grow some balls and go for it. You can crumble in that environment or you can stick your chest out and say, I’m Nutter, let’s do it. Each section had its own hierarchy, you’d move your way up one and then start at the bottom of another. One minute I’d be chef de partie of one section then start at the bottom of another. It's a great way to learn.

Why did you leave?

I'd got a bit itchy. I’d done London now and wanted to branch out. I’d been told if I was going to be one of the best I’d have to work in France. I ended up at Chateau de Remaisnil in Picardy. It used to be the home of Laura Ashley. But when I turned up I was the only one in the kitchen. I only stayed about three months.

Chateau de Remaisnil, PicardyChateau de Remaisnil, Picardy

Where to next?

Bit prematureBit prematureI’d contacted Roger Verge, one of the great French chefs. He’d sent a letter back but the Chateau owners had opened it so knew I wanted to leave. I’d been busted.

Christian Germain of the Michelin-starred Chateau de Montreuil then contacted me. They were closed for the winter break but he told me to go and work a season in the Alps until the Chateau opened in Spring. So off I went to Les Deux Alps to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant there. The chef nearly killed me skiing. I’d never skiied before and he took me down a black run. I was clinging to a fucking tree.

When we launched channel 5 with Utter Nutter we had the Spice Girls on there, I was mixing with everyone. Film stars, TV stars, Popstars, if there was a premiere I’d be there.

After the season I went over to the Chateau de Montreuil near Étaples. That was one of the best years of my life. I really started to understand what good food was about there. They’d be bringing in all this produce from their own gardens and using all these fantastic local fish and cheeses. They had this superior French attitude. I was the only Brit in there at the time and they thought I was useless at first, but once I started to cook they took a step back and held their hands up.

Nutter and his team: They like pigsNutter and other pork loving chefs

Why did you come back to the UK?

There was a buzz going on in London. Gary Rhodes was just coming through and British cooking was stepping into the limelight. I put the feelers out again and got interviews with Paul Gayler at The Lanesborough Hotel, Anton Mosimann at his private club and with Gary Rhodes at the Greenhouse in Mayfair.

I did a days work in each kitchen and ended up going with Rhodes. He was doing something different, liver, kidneys, braised faggots. But I’d got used to finesse on a plate, beautiful arrangements. I’d become more French and this was a pipe of mash, slap the liver on and off you go. It wasn’t me.

Chateau de MontreuilChateau de Montreuil

I’d got a call from Montreuil in France again, they loved me over there. I was only 21 and they wanted me to open a new restaurant for them. But my Dad wanted to show me a little place in Rochdale before I made my decision. The picture he'd shown me was fine, but when we got there on a freezing February morning all the windows were smashed and the garage had just blown away. But we went for it.

Nutter's knackered old pubNutter's knackered old pub

Three months later we opened up as The French Connection on a shoestring. I wanted that business to work so much, even if we were closed on a Monday morning and I saw someone looking outside I’d run out in my boxers and give them a menu. It worked. After about two months the MEN got wind of us and gave us a glowing review. After that we had foodies coming from far and wide.

So people had taken notice. What next?

Well, a TV production company took me under their wing. I’d turned up at the Lancashire Life awards with ‘Nutter’ shaved into the back of my head and it caused a bit of a storm. A TV company invited me over to Manchester for a chat and I got the whole red carpet treatment. I walked into this room with about fifteen TV folk sat around a big table all throwing ideas at me, telling me I was going to be the next big thing.

It all came as a bit of a shock. They were telling me I needed an agent. I was so naïve at that point I was just happy to be cooking. One minute I was watching Ready Steady Cook thinking it was a bit shit, the next thing I’m on it.

Nutter's coy reg plateNutter's coy reg plate

Did the restaurant suffer?

No, I was barely away from that place. We’d film on the Monday when the restaurant was closed, sometimes on Tuesday but I’d be straight back to the restaurant for service. When I had my Utter Nutter series we’d be closed for the first two weeks of summer and I’d film the whole series in that time. I was never really away from the restaurant. Good job too because we were rammed, bursting at the seams, you couldn't get a table. At that time though our shows were hitting about four to five million viewers.

Sounds hectic, did you enjoy all the TV stuff?

Yeah it was great, I was everywhere in those days. When we launched channel 5 with Utter Nutter we had the Spice Girls on there, I was mixing with everyone. Film stars, TV stars, Popstars, if there was a premiere I’d be there. I was sat next to Judi Dench at the GoldenEye premiere. I met Melanie Sykes at that kind of thing, we’ve been good friends ever since. My agent had taken her on and asked me to look after her before the show. Well I ended up getting her pissed, but it was the best show we’d ever done. The chemistry between us was great. We did Afternoon Live for two years. We did this satellite link similar to what Gordon Ramsey does now in his cookalongs but we were doing it years ago.

The Spice GirlsThe Spice Girls: Little did Posh know...

The money was silly. Some days I’d be filming quite a few episodes and be on six to seven grand for the day while they put me up in the Dorchester. The days were ridiculously structured. I’d have PR people hurrying me about, from makeup, to the studios, here for lunch, cars waiting, back in to makeup, back in the studio, over to London, Nottingham, Manchester. I just don’t think I could handle all that structure now.

Does the TV stuff appeal to you as much anymore?

I randomly do things now and then. I do quite a few breakfast things for the BBC at Media City now they’re up here. It works out quite well because I can do that at 8am and then get straight back to the restaurant. There’s always something in your head telling you that you can do something else with the TV stuff. I've got loads written down.

Crispy Lobster Fritter with BisqueCrispy lobster fritter with bisque

So back to Rochdale, your old building was struggling to cope…

Yeah we’d done about ten years in that place but it could no longer handle the amount of people that wanted to come and eat. I didn’t really want to have a number of places scattered about though, you don’t have as much control like that. The way we are here, it’s family orientated, Mum’s on admin, Dad is front of house, I’m in the kitchen. So we thought let’s keep it as it is but move to a bigger site.

You’ve just celebrated the restaurant’s twentieth birthday. How was that?

It was the most amazing weekend of my whole career as a restaurateur. It was madness, absolute madness. The event completely sold out six months in advance - 230 we had in here on the Saturday night.

I worked through it all, from 7am to 1am, then took all the guests from the private table back to my house; it’s a bit of a party pad mine. I couldn’t go too mad because we had 200 in for Sunday lunch the next day, but that all wound up about 4.30am. I got a taxi back to work at 8am, we had all these events and activities going on, then I had another 70 in that night.

NuttersNutters

By the time we’d finished there’d been over 500 people over the weekend. I finally thought it’s my turn to have a party. I had only one pint then fell to sleep. What a party.

Speaking of the Pied Piper, what’s this Monday Club I’ve been hearing about?

(Cracks up laughing) Mate it is brilliant. Nobody really knows what Monday Club is, that’s the whole point. It’s like a secret little society, there’s a clan of us, but it just happens. Everyone goes off the rails.

On a Monday… don’t these people have jobs?

Well, they all sneak off earlier than they should do. It’s very off the cuff; we just converge in different locations. You put the word out, see who’s out and about, you’ll meet some here and some there. Nobody else is out on Monday so we get the best service, really well looked after. I don’t know why more people don’t go out on a Monday.

Which has been the most raucous Monday Club?

It has to be my fortieth birthday. It was spectacular. It brought together all of my favourite things about the Monday Club. I have a bit of a relationship with Grey Goose Vodka, they love me, I love them, so I got them involved and brought in a local lad as barman…

Nutter was in the original line-up of 1DNutter was in the original line-up of 1D but fell out with Niall, over shoes

Hold on. You’ve got a bar in your house?

We had two that night actually. One up, one down.

Who needs two bars in their house? Anyway your fortieth…

We have this huge birthday party, there’s a celebrity chef, James Tanner, manning the bar downstairs and a big London bus outside full of gin and Pimms decked out in full Union Jack regalia. So then we have this full convoy from Rochdale to Manchester blaring out Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory on the way to the Mark Addy.

Whitebait headWhitebait headOne of the craziest moments was a couple of months ago for Peter Kay’s fortieth birthday party. We had all sorts of guests coming in, we’re cooking away in the kitchen and Gary Barlow walks through.

We’re greeted by some nude models and a dwarf with whitebait canapés in a hat strapped to his head. Then we all boarded a boat from the Addy, up and down the canal, back to the Addy half an hour later and they’d fully turned the place around into this big glitzy venue. The head chef Rob Owen-Brown had cooked up something special for around 100 people. Guess what is was…

Had he cooked the dwarf? Not sure…

Next thing there’s this fanfare and six of the chefs walk out with a whole roast cow thrown over their shoulders. They’d started it on the spit at about 4am that morning.

Nutter and Rob Owen-Brown with an entire roast cowNutter and Rob Owen-Brown with an entire roast cow

How moo-ving. Sorry. Your favourite food experience ever?

It has to be Hotel de Paris in Monaco. Two days after my fortieth I got flown back out there for a meal that was even better than the first one I’d eaten there. It wasn’t just the food though, it was the whole event. A mate of mine had seen on Twitter that I was in Monaco, so sailed his yacht from Italy to Monaco just to come and say happy birthday.

As you do. Your favourite meal?

My guilty pleasure is a crispy bacon sandwich. Good quality bacon cooked till it’s nicely golden, then get the bread in to the pan to soak up all the oily bacon beautifulness, dollop of crème fraîche, bacon on top, in your mouth and silence. The other is one my mum taught me as a kid, an omelette soufflé. You whisk up the egg whites, fold in the yolks, cook it that way and it doubles in size, bit of Lancashire cheese and frazzled bacon. The best omelette ever.

Do you have a favourite dish on your current menu?

We’ve got a great seabass dish on at the moment (I sample this later: It’s flawless). Bit of lime and garlic, a locally picked carrot salad with white, yellow, purple and orange carrots and a coriander dressing.

The flawless seabassThe flawless seabass

So you’re a big believer in local produce?

Definitely, it’s part of my philosophy on food. In France we’d be using locally sourced Gruyère or Emmental, here it might be Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire or ducks from Reg Johnson’s in Preston. I’m a great believer in the dishes being a taste of where you are. But, if there are products that are fantastic and aren’t local, like Kent cherries or our Dingley Dell pork from Suffolk, I’ve no qualms about using them because they’re just amazing products.

What’s your favourite meat?

Bacon. Easy. I did a gig over in Dubai a few months ago and couldn’t eat any pig for two weeks. I was devastated.

You sound like a rockstar. A gig in Dubai?

I did a pop-up at the Cavalli club. It’s the most extravagant restaurant setting I’ve ever seen, £40million that place cost. Then it kicks in to a night club with dwarves wrapped as mummies hanging from the ceiling. Imagine that. I’m doing the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next.

The Cavalli ClubNutters after-party at the Cavalli Club

What’s with you and dwarves? Anyway back on course, favourite dessert?

Cichetti used to do these local peaches a couple of years ago, slowly seeped in vanilla syrup with pure vanilla bean ice cream and a shot of amaretto. They were beautiful.

And fruit?

Peaches. Or Kent cherries right now.

What’s your favourite vegetable?

Jerusalem artichoke. It makes the most amazing soups and purees.

And did those feet in ancient timeAnd did those feet in ancient time...

Do you eat takeaways?

Chinese. Big time Chinese fan. I’ve got a thing about Red Chilli Chinese restaurant on Portland Street. It’s the arrogance of the staff that makes me laugh, they tell me, the customer, what to do and how to eat; they go mad at me if I’m eating at the bar or something. It’s great.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love seeing the cars coming up the drive. I still love coming to work every single day. It’s the buzz we get in the kitchen as a team. Secondly it’s the buzz our customers get from our food. Lastly it’s the social element within the industry. You go somewhere and get looked after and then return the favour. London hasn’t got that aspect, there’s much more of an industry community here. For example, we did a pop-up at Almost Famous back in November…

Your restaurant popped up at a pop-up restaurant?

Yeah Nutters at Famous, posh for one night only. We blew the whole of Northern Quarter away, they’d never seen what we did. The event sold out on Twitter in under an hour. We got Grey Goose to sponsor the middle layer and Jack Daniels honey downstairs. I set this whole thing up, people were stood outside shouting ‘Come on Nutter’ and ‘Nutter open the fucking door’. Then there’s this smashed glass and a woman screams ‘How dare you touch me’, then another ‘You shagged my boyfriend you slut’.

Nutter at Almost Famous with owner Beau and Liam FrayNutter at Almost Famous with owner Beau and Courteener Liam Fray

By this time everyone in the crowd is just looking around like, what the fuck is happening? Suddenly all the shouting turns into singing, I’d only gone and organised this whole flash mob thing in front of 100 people in the middle of Northern Quarter. We’d planted fifteen people in the audience, it went on like this for about eight minutes then they just disappeared and we opened the doors.

Are you into all of these ‘pop ups’ then?

I just like the strange random things we do. It’s like the Dubai gig, we turned up at this hotel and they handed us the key to the ambassador’s suite. We were thinking, ambassador? Suite? Next thing a whole entourage of people appeared and started grabbing all our bags. They opened the door to our suite and you don’t want to start jumping around screaming and shouting, but this was a £2,000-£3,000 a night suite. East wing, west wing, a bar, an on-demand chef, a panorama across Dubai. When they left us we had a real Pretty Woman moment.

NuttersNutters

When I think back to being a youngster, when I first got on that train on my own to London aged 16, little did I know I’d go on this journey that’d involve me being flown over to a £3,000 a night suite in Dubai, doing demonstrations in South Africa and cooking at a Grand Prix. It’s crazy and I’ve loved every minute of it.

What’s the least enjoyable part of the job?

I do grumble when the produce that I receive isn’t what I expect it to be. My suppliers know the standard of food I expect to be coming in, and if they don’t meet those standards I’m pissed off because they shouldn’t have let that go. That really annoys me. But apart from that nothing, I love it.

What has been the craziest moment of your career?

The small bottles wouldn't do, apparentlyThe small bottles wouldn't do, apparentlyEven after everything I’ve done, one of the craziest moments was a couple of months ago for Peter Kay’s fortieth birthday party. We were cooking away and Gary Barlow walks through the kitchen, "Alright boys. Evening. Evening."

He’d been shuffled through the back so that he didn’t have to walk through the restaurant. It was just weird.

But there’s been loads.

When Siobhan from the Manchester Food and Drink festival plied me with vodka and I ended up in front of a life drawing class, naked. My tackle was camouflaged by a bottle of vodka. It had to be the four and a half litre bottle though, the others weren't big enough. It was all for charity, we raised £10,000 that week.

Ever wanted to pack it all in?

No. There’s been moments, like when we had a big fire at the old building and when we had an armed robbery here in the early days…

You had an armed robbery here?

Yeah we used to have staff accommodation upstairs. They got in on the roof and smashed in the windows, glass spilled all over the chefs head and they tied him up. Then they tied my dad up and put a gun to his head. It was a horrific ordeal but from a PR perspective we were everywhere. We had all these breaking news teams at the bottom of the drive.

Wild mushroom soup with truffle chivesWild mushroom soup with truffle chives

Do you have a favourite place to eat outside of your own restaurant?

I do love popping in to Luck, Lust, Liquor and Burn in Northern Quarter for these chicken blasts with a blue cheese dip. Ace. They don’t even give us a table anymore, we just wait in the bar and grab them from the pass. I don’t go in for these huge burgers, I graze more than gorge.

Do you have any favourite chefs in Manchester?

Well there’s Chris Holland (Alderley Edge), my pal Aiden Byrne (The Church Green in Lymm, soon to be of Manchester House, Spinningfields) and Rob Owen-Brown (Mark Addy) for cooking me a whole cow.

I was at a private dinner by Simon Rogan (The French) one night down in London. This was another infamous occasion. We started eating and drinking at 6pm and were still eating by 2am. Twenty-eight courses, twelve of us eating, five chefs, 48 bottles of wine, three bottles of spirits and a case of beer. Sensational.

Simon Rogan talks to his vegSimon Rogan: talks to his veg

Is it true that chefs don’t like to cook at home?

My fridge is nearly food free. It’s just full of booze, lemons and limes. I never really eat at home, I’m always grazing or eating out so I’ve got next to no food in the house. I’ve got a beautiful kitchen though.

What if you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life?

BACON, bacon, bacon.

He bloody loves pigsThe third little piggy backed off

And to wash it down?

Grey Goose. The goose is loose. Grey Goose, ginger beer and lime is my thing at the minute, or Goose and Ting.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?

A Pyrotechnic. We’ve been doing our own displays for twenty years now. Any excuse for fireworks. At the old restaurant I fell off a high wall doing it. The idea was I’d let off a few fireworks for each car that came in but it was blowing a gale and I fell about 20ft.

Channel Five’s press office rang to say they were sorry to hear about my crash but the ratings had gone through the roof.

The thing was that nobody knew I was there. I was just lying there covered in blood thinking, fuck. I got myself back over the wall and everybody starts clapping because they think I’m part of the show.

What’s the most complex dish you’ve made?

It was probably the one we did for a Wedgewood competition. We did a duck dish with foie gras and truffle ravioli but we made the ravioli with black and white stripes. It looked beautiful but was so difficult.

Who’s the most famous person you’ve cooked for?

Has to be Prince Charles and Princess Diana back at The Savoy. You know when you have your graduation at school, well I’d been head boy at Prestwich High so was expected to be part of the evening, but an announcement had to be made: "Mr Nutter sends his apologises for not attending this evening, he’s cooking for the Queen."

Anyone seen Nutter?Anyone seen Nutter?

What’s your proudest achievement so far?

It’s probably my second book, Nuts About Food, because it was all me. The first book was a bit tied up with the TV series. I think you can get it for 1p on eBay now. I’d been doing a food column in the MEN for around five years and a publisher approached me and said we pretty much had a book ready to go.

So what’s next for Nutter?

I want some gardening plots around the restaurant. We’ve got six and a half acres here so I want to do some growing. We’ve never outspent ourselves. When we’d made enough money in the old place we bought this one on a shoestring. When we’d made enough money again we refurbed this bit and that. It’s something I had drilled in to me as a child; don’t buy in to things you can’t afford. Earn your money and then buy your Z3 car from James Bond.

I had a pretty bad crash in that actually, the roll bar saved me. Channel Five’s press office rang to say they were sorry to hear about my crash but the ratings had gone through the roof.

So you don’t fancy opening another restaurant?

There’s always talks going on but you have to be careful. I don’t want to not have control and get stung. I got stung once before in Blackpool. They were using different cuts of meat and lesser quality ingredients. They just wanted my name. It’s something we may look into, moving into the city. It was sad to see Kaleido at Urbis go under, I loved that setting.

I’d like to have a go on that, I could make it work.

Follow David on Twitter @david8blake

Nutters Restaurant, Edenfield Road, Norden, Rochdale, OL12 7TT

Menus here. 01706 650167

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