A SOURDOUGH baker and a head chef making "pub cooking like you’ve never tasted it before" have struck gold in Olive magazine's Chef Awards 2019.

Aidan Monks, of Lovingly Artisan, Kendal, won the title Best Baker.

Meanwhile, chef Nina Matsunaga, of The Black Bull, Sedbergh, was joint winner of The Innovator category. Daniel McGeorge, head chef at Ambleside's Rothay Manor Hotel, was a runner-up.

Commenting on Aidan's triumph, Olive's editor and head judge Laura Rowe said: "The strength of this category, standalone for the first time this year, was staggering but it was Aidan’s experience and knack for flavours - from an umami-bomb of cheese and Marmite, to a sweet spiced apple - that really shone for us."

Of Nina's success, Laura said: "Nina couldn’t be more humble - saying that she’s only doing “what everyone does in the Lake District” - but she’s truly carving her own path.

"From jellyfish fritters with rhubarb ponzu [Japanese citrus sauce] to cured beef powder used as seasoning for steak, this is pub cooking like you’ve never tasted it before."

Lovingly Artisan is an eight-year-old business based in a converted barn at Plumgarths, specialising in naturally leavened bread made from stone-ground heritage grains from Gilchesters Organics, two miles north of Hadrian’s Wall.

“Heritage grains bring taste and flavour, and the flour is never the same because it’s milled on the farm, so weather affects it and water percentage varies," said Aidan.

"We have to change everyday to react to the flour, so maintaining a consistent product is the skill. You never know until it comes out of the oven but that’s what makes it so engaging and why we are constantly chasing perfection."

Lovingly Artisan's loaves are fermented for at least 24 hours and flavours include cheese and chilli, and Kalamata olive.

What started with a domestic oven and a small mixer at home has grown into a thriving business, and Lovingly Artisan supplies high-profile restaurants such as Grasmere's Forest Side and Moor Hall at Aughton, Lancashire, as well as selling over the counter in Kendal and at Altrincham's food market.

Aidan says increasing awareness of sourdough’s health benefits has helped the business’s growth. He says heritage grains contain twice as many vitamins and minerals as modern varieties. One of his most popular sourdough loaves is made using emmer grains and kombucha, the acidity of which aids the quality of the dough and the additional nutrients and minerals.

Meanwhile, at Sedbergh's Black Bull, Nina creates a fusion of British, European and Asian dishes, such as Mansergh Hall pork trotter, cardoon and cobnuts; and chocolate and red wine cake with quince layers and blue-cheese ice cream.

Her ingredients include North Sea fish, native-breed meat and vegetables dropped off by villagers or from her own garden.

Nina makes everything from scratch, such as Danish rye bread using beer ferment, and her own tofu and miso with coffee-bean waste. She pickles and preserves seasonal produce and writes her menus depending on what arrives in the kitchen that day.

Nina grew up in Germany to Japanese parents, and moved to London was she was 18 to study culinary arts management, going on to do a master’s in food policy.

After stints at a bakery in Germany and restaurants in London, she moved to Manchester, where she met her husband, James Ratcliffe. As well as holding down day jobs, the couple started a weekend street-food business selling pies, preserves and chocolates at local farmers’ markets.

Nina would bake everything, and when they appeared at game shows they specialised in unique game and meat dishes such as pulled rabbit with chipotle mayo or braised brisket with sorrel fritters, using local produce and ingredients they foraged themselves.

With a new baby, two dogs and five ferrets to look after, the couple opened The Three Hares in Sedbergh, where Nina’s food has won several awards and gaineda place in The Good Food Guide.

Nina and James still own the café and bakery, but split their time between there and The Black Bull, across the road.

- For all the winners, see Olive magazine's Christmas 2019 edition.