Most fittingly described as city chic crossed with gentrified country pub, Andrew Pern’s river frontage restaurant, The Star Inn the City was the perfect location to escape the dreary weather and to capture my latest Food Story. Despite a busy guest chef evening ahead, Andrew’s effervescent and charming personality shone through as he escaped the kitchen to have a chat with myself and share a few laughs with some of his customers in the bar. Making the most of the hour gap between my hectic schedule of university lectures, I speed-walked (absolutely not running through town!) down to the restaurant to speak to Andrew about the highlights of his cooking career, the impact of the fire on The Star Inn the City, and the significance of Michelin accolades in the city versus in the countryside.
Where did it all begin for your cooking career?
I was born in Whitby to a farming family and we lived along the Eske valley. When I was eight years old, my mum sadly got multiple sclerosis and as a farmer’s son, my dad said I should stay at home and look after my mum by helping out in the kitchen. We used to entertain a lot and we have quite a big family, so I got used to cooking for dinner parties from a young age.
I was surrounded by the North Yorkshire Moors and the during the game season I would experiment and make things like woodcock terrine and pheasant fricassees from being just 8 or 9 years old. I cooked quite robust flavours from quite an early age and I look at my kids now and think, god they’d never touch half of the stuff I used to cook!
So how did you pursue your passion for cooking?
After school, I went to catering college at Scarborough tech. and all of a sudden, I was at the top of the class rather than being bottom of the class like I was at school! I felt like I had found my vocation in life haha!
I was a good student and college sent me off to Le Fontainbleur and Saint Emilion and then after some time abroad, I came back to England to become a head chef aged twenty one at a place called The Malvern Arms at Rosedale Abbey. I then went on to buy The Star Inn at Harome when I was twenty five.
Wow you were really quite young when you bought The Star!
Yes, I was! I played rugby with the bank manager at the time so it was quite handy really!
We’ve been at the star for twenty-three years now, five years at Star Inn the city, three years at Mr P’s and two and a half years at The Star Inn the Harbour. What I’ve always done is keep The Star Inn at Harome as the brand name due to it being one of the iconic establishments of the UK, but then used that name to build and create a few different places.
You do a little bit of everything then between all of The Star establishments!
We do, yes! We wanted to break the mould slightly with Mr P’s so we decided to incorporate small plates style into the menu. However, we found that some people in Yorkshire got it, and others didn’t. We therefore changed the menu to now incorporate larger dishes too which caters for everyone.
Do you still enjoy working in the kitchen?
I love it. I’ve been a chef for a good thirty three years now, but I very much still feel young at heart. I think it comes from working with young adults and having a young family which is great as I don’t feel like I’m 50! Work hard, play hard is our motto.
What has been you proudest moment within your career?
There have been so many great experiences and moments it’s difficult to pick a specific one! However, I would have to say that achieving the Michelin star was definitely one of my proudest moments as we were one of the first pubs in the world to get that. Before that though, I would say achieving my 7063 certificate in college that you normally gain through five years of work in the industry but I gained it by studying straight through, I was immensely proud of that as eighteen-year-old. Cooking at the great British banquet in 2011 too was an amazing experience.
How do you make your restaurants stand out from other establishments?
We are very open to ideas and I say yes to a lot of things and often don’t think about them until afterwards! It can be slightly chaotic but that’s my life and my personality! We go above and beyond with The Star chain, because at the end of the day, it’s hospitality and people come out to have a good time and to enjoy themselves. I think the food is only part of the package really and to make people happy, we have to tick a lot of boxes.
What do you think is one of the secrets to your success at Harome?
If you’ve got good service, good ambience and a good location then you’re onto a winner, and we tick all of those boxes at Harome. It’s one of those places that was busy before we even took it over and it’s got so much character, you can walk through the pub and around each corner is something different.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Probably buying The Star Inn at Harome, unbeknown to us at the time, but it was fairly ridiculous to do so. However, we were young and fairly naive, so we jumped in with both feet. It’s not until you open the doors that you realise that this is it and it’s down to you and only you. We worked for two and a half years with not one day off until my eldest daughter Daisy was born and then we had to have a day off!
Have you found that the uncertainty of the economic climate at the moment has had an influence on The Star chain?
The Star Inn at Harome is fine as I think quality always wins, and with the clientele that we’ve got, it is always going to be a special destination. If anything, we have got busier over the years and we’ve just got planning permission for another 11 bedrooms which is fantastic as we have been running at 98-100% occupancy.
York city centre, however, is always hard work. When we came five years ago there was nobody up at this end of town and everyone said we needed to be near Fossgate. Now we are here though, others have followed, and we’ve got places like Roots and The Ivy up this end too. It’s a good spot over this side of town with the river frontage and being so central, although with that comes higher rates and higher rents too so we pay for the privilege. It’s hard work to keep a lot of plates spinning at the same time, quite literally!
You had the fire at The Star Inn the City just before last Christmas, have you felt an effect on trade since reopening?
We had the fire in the second week of November last year which was a real blow as we had around 5000 people booked in for Christmas parties and celebrations in the run-up to Christmas which we felt really terrible about. We were closed for five months we were which is quite a while, and with other competitors coming along it’s been tough to get back on our feet. I think we’ve broken the back of it now though, and we are in a better place than we were before. We’ve got a new kitchen and better staff so through something bad always comes something good.
Reflecting on the Michelin Star, do you think that the accolade holds more significance for a restaurant further afield rather than in a city centre location?
The thing with a Michelin star is that the food has got to fit the place and our sort of food that we do in Harome fits the place perfectly. Here, in the city centre of York, there is a wide customer base with a variety of different cuisines that you can cater for, so it is harder within a city to create your own identity.
I think probably the smaller places in York like Le Cochon, Skosh and Roots have got a chance, but at The Star Inn the City, it’s not what we are aiming for. Here, the idea is to create quality food for the masses as we can do 3000 covers a week whereas some places might only do that in a month or even a year. It’s a bit of a machine here and sometimes drink sales can be more than food sales and for somewhere that is a high-quality establishment, that is quite unheard of!
If you were hosting a dinner party, what would dish would you cook?
I think it would have to be truffled pheasant with parsnip puree, York ham lardons, cep mushrooms and something like juniper buttered Cavalo Nero.
So, what’s next for yourself and The Star chain?
Well, I’ve always considered doing something in London, just as a challenge really but I don’t think it will ever happen. I want to consolidate what we’ve got now and to enjoy it. I want to try and make things as good as they can be, and It would be amazing to get two stars at Harome. I would also like to try and get back in the kitchen more now too as I’ve had to step back and do a lot of managing over the last few months, I don’t think I’ll ever have a chance to sit around twiddling my thumbs!
Andrew Pern, 25.9.19.
I would like to thank Andrew for taking the time to share his food story and wish him the best of luck with all his future plans!