We Grill – Spencer Burge

Spencer Burge is a director of Crow Wood, in Burnley, Lancashire. The family-run business is home to the award-winning Woodland Spa, an equestrian centre and Bertram’s Restaurant, an adult-only venue. Spencer is nationally recognised, having won Best Sunday Lunch at the Observer Food Awards, Dessert Pub of the Year, and Best Local Produce Award.

Tell us about Crow Wood…

Set in 100 acres of unspoilt woodland just on the edge of Burnley, we have over 3,000 members. Our award-winning gym is equipped with an Olympic-size swimming pool, children’s area and The Lounge; perfect for family dining. The spa has been voted Global Day Spa of the Year 2016 for the second year running. Our five-star unique and modern adult-only Bertram’s Restaurant not only serves guests consistently good food but the views are spectacular. After their meal, they can treat themselves to a cocktail in our new Terrace bar. We listen to our members and customers so we’re constantly improving and I think that’s what makes us so successful.

What is your career history?

After leaving school, I studied at Halton College before starting my first job at the Adelphi Hotel in my home city of Liverpool. I then moved on to the small but busy a la carte restaurant The Admiral House on the Isle of Man; part of The Admiral Hotel. The premises were also home to a tapas restaurant, so I was fortunate enough to spend a few years gaining experience in the different kitchens before being promoted to head chef. Then, after working all over the UK, including a stint in a Roux brothers’ kitchen, I made the best move of my career by going to Bertram’s in 2014 as head chef, and one year later I was made a director of Crow Wood and Bertram’s Restaurant.

Where did your love of food come from?

My mother Shirley. She used to be Cilla Black’s hairdresser before downing the scissors and picking up a knife! She was a very successful sous chef but told me how the head chef at the time didn’t want to hire her and made the excuse that she wouldn’t be able to lift the bins! And after many years of service he didn’t want her to go. My mother not only passed on some great tips and recipes, she inspired me to put 100% effort into everything I do, even in the face of adversity.

How important is it to use seasonal, local produce?

You could argue that everything is always in season, given how fast produce reaches the country as air freight nowadays, it’s just a matter of how much you want to pay for it. However, it’s not just about money, it’s about supporting local farmers and local businesses and buying British has never been more important. We have some of the best foods grown right on our doorsteps and it is important to buy them at their best and take advantage of what this great nation has to offer.

What is your favourite restaurant?

At the moment I prefer casual dining so I really like Neighbourhood and Albert’s Shed, both in Manchester. But if I was to treat myself to something special then I would go to the Freemasons at Wiswell in Lancashire. Chef-proprietor Steve Smith and his team really know how to put on a show in an intimate yet spectacular setting.

What chefs have inspired you?

My mum when I was starting out, but later in life it was Mr Hamill who owned the Idlerocks Hotel in Guernsey. I worked for him on a sporadic basis over a period of four years. Once I fed more than 1,000 people in an aircraft hangar to celebrate the D-Day landings which involved prepping over 500 lobsters! Mr Hamill moved to Guernsey from Ireland with nothing and built a fantastic, successful business. Sadly, he is no longer with us but his passion and determination continue to inspire me.

What is your favourite food to cook?

Desserts – and anything that involves chocolate! I get the most satisfaction from seeing a customer devour a dessert. We have submitted two dessert recipes for The Great British Cookbook and one – Toffee Popcorn – is currently on our menu. Layers of white and dark chocolate marquise on a sticky toffee sponge base with salted popcorn ice cream, toffee sauce and bitter chocolate crumb, it is delicious!

When do you start planning for Christmas?

In January we all float ideas around – and by 9 January this year Christmas Day in Bertram’s was fully booked! In March we produce our menus; one for the run-up to Christmas – which runs alongside our à la carte menu during December – the day itself and New Year’s Eve. Turkey is as popular as ever on our Christmas menus but we also offer sea bass and grass-fed fillet steak. We hold party nights in Bertram’s which include a three-course meal, and these were almost entirely booked up by June this year. On New Year’s Eve we host over 160 people for a set five-course meal.

Can you describe a typical day?

Being responsible for all the catering at Crow Wood means I don’t have one! We have so many projects on the go that no day is ever the same. The company has just invested over £500,000 in the Terrace Bar, complete with retractable roofs, fire pit and a huge jacuzzi, so there is a lot of planning in that alone! We are also in the process of building a tapas kitchen for the Terrace Bar so I need to get that up and running. Not to mention our involvement in charities, cookbooks and outside catering events. The only problem I have is not having enough hours in the day!

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