From Local Chef To Masterchef
Chef Oli Martin was born and bred in Lytham. He’d always had a passion for food, having grown up on a farm and at 14 years old washed pots in an AA rosetted restaurant at weekends, writes Tracy Hargreaves
As soon as he’d done his last exam at school, Oli went straight into working in a kitchen. All the owners were chefs and came from mixed backgrounds, Michelin high end American brasseries in New York to top end restaurants in Australia and France and it was a chance to get a real grounding of different types of foods. “I was there for about five years and loved it. I worked under the head chef, who gave me the opportunity to go and work for a friend of his who was a chef in a small village in France for the summer. The chef was a classic French trained chef and it was my first introduction into fine dining and what can be done with food,” said Oli.
On his return, at the age of 20, he took a job at Northcote Manor for a year, where he learnt about provenance, working with local suppliers and the importance of connections and relationships. He then moved to Gilpin Lodge in Windermere where he homed in on classical cooking but also his pastry skills. “There was a constant buzz, it was a bit hectic and stressful at times, but I gained loads of experience.”
After working in a stressful environment for several years, Oli decided he needed time out and went backpacking around Australia for three months. “I ended up working in a restaurant and a fine dining catering company. The work was so varied,” said Oli. “One day I would be catering for an event out in the sticks, producing a fine dining taster menu for 10 people on the 25th floor of an amazing apartment, to organising the food for a wedding on an island. The cooking styles changed all the time and it certainly opened my eyes to where you can go in the world of catering and hospitality. You never stop learning and that’s one of the things I love about it.”
Back in the UK and in the years that followed Oli quickly worked his way through the ranks, and by 2013 he landed the role of sous chef at Hipping Hall in Kirkby Lonsdale, where after a year behind the stoves, at the tender age of 26 he was offered the job as head chef. With over 12 years’ experience behind him, Oli took it all in his stride, quickly making the position his own and bringing his own food philosophy to life.
Oli’s food repertoire draws on his classical training and progressive cuisine styles from his experience and travels. Add fresh local ingredients into the mix and you begin to get an understanding of the creativity displayed in Oli’s food, his passion and his natural ability to bring together flavour and texture and let them sing.
One day he received an email asking for participants to apply for MasterChef, The Professionals. “I’d been interviewed for similar things before and hadn’t got through, but I felt I was ready for it and had reached a point that if I didn’t go for it, it might be harder to do. So, I filled in the application form and the rest, as they say, is history.”
“Filming for the programme was full on, I was working flat out in the summer and getting the train down to London arriving at a hotel at midnight and getting up at 5.30am. My fiancé was also pregnant, and I was trying to decorate the house in any spare time I had. The biggest struggle was having to adjust my dishes for the competition. They wouldn’t be dishes I would serve in the hotel, but they had to show creativity and skill and in a way be over complicated.”
Oli made it to the finals and his unorthodox approach to cooking and unflappable spirit impressed both the judges and viewers with his cookery being vibrant, full of fun twists while at the same time being considered and intelligent cuisine.
“Without a doubt it’s been the biggest challenge of my career, but my cooking has developed and benefitted from the experience enormously,” says Oli. “To have the opportunity to cook for your culinary heroes and receive feedback, both positive and constructive from the judges has been an enormous privilege. Whatever comes next, I know I am a better chef.”
“MasterChef has really helped me to push the boundaries of my cooking. I’ve been brave, taken risks and given it my all. Although I’ve been working in professional kitchens for 15 years, I feel it’s just the beginning of my love affair with cheffing.”
Whilst Oli didn’t win MasterChef, the final four in the competition have become very close, in fact they all got an invite to his daughter’s christening and they have done pop up events together.
“Being on MasterChef has put Hipping Hall on the culinary map,” says Oli. “Customers are seeing us in a different light and are wanting to see more daring flavour combinations with unusual ingredients. My passion will always be local food and I want to build on that. I definitely see myself being at Hipping Hall for a few more years to come.”