Top chef tackles new quest to boost Northumberland barn wedding venue
Renowned chef John Blackmore has taken on a new challenge '“ to put a north Northumberland venue on the culinary and wedding map.
John has taken on the role of head chef at Doxford Barns, a venture launched just north of Alnwick last year by Richard Shell and his farming family.The converted barns have already been named among the country’s quirkiest wedding venues and there are plans to extend the function offer beyond marriages.John, who was previously head chef at the Jolly Fisherman at Craster and The Plough in Alnwick, said: “My objective now is to get Doxford Barns on the map for wedding venues.“I know you’ve got Ellingham Hall, you’ve got Newton Hall, you’ve got Doxford Hall, all nearby, and many other places, but I think there is a niche we can fill. I think this place is more personalised.“When we meet the people we have a real objective to make them feel at ease and make them feel it is a special occasion.Also on the menu at Doxford Barns will be fine-dining evenings once a month.“We’ll have set menus of six or seven courses and it’s going to be a certain price and a maximum of 50 people – Doxford Gourmet Evenings, “ said John. “I still want to show people how I can really cook. It would be a good way to advertise the place and to carry on doing what I set out to do at Blackmore’s of Narrowgate. Everything’s got to be right.“With the Jolly, I could do it to a point but it was just so fast and so hectic.“I can do some really good stuff here at Doxford. I just want to show people what produce we have in Northumberland.“I want this place to take off, I want it to win awards, not just for Richard but for Northumberland.”
John said it had been very upsetting leaving the Jolly Fisherman, but he explained that wasn't very well last year.
"I've only got one kidney and the one kidney I do have has got a hole in it. I was working up to 15 hours a day - we couldn't have holidays in the summer because it was so busy."I woke up one morning and I said I just can't do this anymore, as much as I love doing it, I loved the place, but I've got to do something different."I still feel now that whether you cater for 10 people or 100 people, you can still have the same standard of food."And I felt this is a new challenge for me. I wanted to do it, a) because it's better for my life and b) I could also help put somewhere great on the map in Northumberland."
John began his training to be a chef at Bournemouth College in 1974. He originally wanted to be an RAF pilot but a medical discovered that he only had one kidney, which had a hole in it.He was under the wing of leading French chef Paul Bocuse at the five-star Bournemouth Carlton Hotel, before moving to the Intercontinental Hotel group, winning their prestigious Chef of the Year prize.He worked in Geneva, then Toulouse in France, and Berlin in Germany, then ended up in the North East, after moving to NorthumberlandJohn became head chef of Linden Hall, where he gained three AA rosettes.There he met his future wife Penny and went on to open his own establishment, Blackmore’s of Alnwick, which was voted County Restaurant of the Year.John had built a fine reputation and was headhunted by Sir John Hall to become the executive chef at Newcastle United’s Magpie Room."That was fantastic," said John. "It was the era when Alan Shearer came on board, and also Faustino Asprilla and David Ginola. It was very demanding though. We had a catering budget but we had to give some of the budget away to pay for Shearer."Under his guidance, Newcastle became the first football club to be voted into the Good Food Guide.He went to Kiev with the club in October 1997 for the Champions League game, where they also fed the fans who had travelled over.While at Newcastle, John was also chosen to cook for the Queen in the Magpie Room when she came up to open the Siemens factory, following a recommendation from Princess Margaret who John had previously cooked for while at the Intercontinental Hotel. "It was a lovely day and I felt very proud," he said.