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An early taste for home cooking
As a child growing up in Wales, Andy Barbato liked nothing better than to harvest his home-grown vegetables and make a casserole.
“I was really into horticulture,” he recalls. “We grew our own fruit and vegetables, and kept chickens and goats. I helped my mum and nan to pick things from the garden and make dishes like lamb casserole, liver and onions, faggots and peas, and shepherd’s pie.”
He needed little encouragement to lend a hand. “If there was anything special that needed baking, such as Christmas cakes, I would be there. If there was any opportunity to get into the kitchen, I’d take it.”
That early passion still fires the 28-year-old, who is now wowing diners at the historic Fleece Inn on Haworth’s cobbled Main Street. Andy is head chef at the 200-year-old coaching inn, overseeing a three-strong team cooking a variety of mainly traditional dishes including Yorkshire pudding with sausage, mash and onion gravy, home-made shepherd’s pie, fish and chips and Aberdeen Angus burger.
“It is freshly-made pub food. Our mixed grill is very popular, and can beat some people – it is quite big.”
Old favourites such as spotted dick, Bramley apple pie and jam roly poly feature among the desserts.
Andy loves his job. “I like the buzz in the kitchen and love seeing people enjoying their meals. It is a really cosy, relaxed atmosphere; just how a village pub should be.”
The amiable chef, whose father is Italian, always knew he would follow a career in catering. “I knew I wanted to work with food, and didn’t really think about anything else,” he says.
During his school years, he worked part-time at a hotel in his home town of Port Talbot, turning full-time as soon as he got chance. He left Wales to join friends in Leeds and found work in a health and fitness club, catering for events. It was there that he met the club’s manager, Nick Hindle, who went on to buy The Fleece.
“He contacted me and I went to work for him,” says Andy, who lives above the pub. That was three years ago, and Andy has not looked back.
He admits his management style displays hints of Gordon Ramsay. “I must be like him – my name has been substituted with his on the staff rota,” he says. “When it is very busy I tend to shout a bit, but I also give praise where its due.”
Andy doesn’t have any culinary heroes, but enjoys cookery programmes, particularly Hell’s Kitchen. “I like watching Heston Blumenthal and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – they’re innovative.”
Andy’s own tastes in food are simple and reflect his Italian roots. “I love pasta with beef and tomato sauce, and I like fruity salad with grapes and cheese.”
Off-duty, Andy enjoys exploring the surrounding countryside. “I like going for long walks on the moors around Haworth,” he says.
- The Fleece, Main Street, Haworth. Tel. (01535) 642172