WITHIN a year of opening on the ground floor of the splendid Gateforth Hall near Selby, Restaurant Martel scooped three Restaurant of the Year awards.

Now Martel Smith, the mere 22-year-old head chef and proprietor of that illustrious place beyond the pillars and portico of the 189-year-old hunting lodge, plans to dazzle the judges of the Evening Press Business of the Year 2001.

No sooner did Martel start serving up the likes of his caramelised sea scallops with herb risotto and roast salsify with cabernet sauvignon vinegar for starters when the honours poured in from Yorkshire magazines.

For main course he gained new listings in the Michelin Guide (no doubt impressed by his pan fried fillet of beef with braised beef shin, caramelised shallots, mousseline potato and red wine sauce); and for pudding - alongside his famous desserts like assiette of chocolate feuillantine of raspberries with creme vanille - came his restaurant's appearance in the AA Guide.

Now, with the completion of his new heli-pad in the surrounding acres to welcome airborne customers to "heli-lunches" he is pitching to become the Evening Press Small Business of the Year.

Of course he did not do this all alone. The building, which was erected as a stopover for Humphrey Osbaldeston, former Sheriff of Yorkshire (whose home was at Hunmanby Hall in Filey) is now an opulently comfortable family home, bought and lovingly restored by his parents Michael and Gloria Smith, while his sister Zoe runs front-of-house. Then there is his talented sous chef Simon Silver.

But it is the restaurant which is the focus of public attention and the canvas for young Martel's amazing talents which first became obvious when he completed a three year course at Scarborough Catering College six months ahead of time, the only one of 45 other students to do so.

At 16 he went to work with James Martin at Hotel Du Vin in Winchester and at the Michelin-starred Chewton Glen for a month.

While at college Martel worked at the Star Inn, Harome, near Helmsley, one of the country's most famous food pubs.

In January, 1997, aged 18, Martel moved to Leeds to work at the Michelin-starred Rascasse and then joined Marco Pierre White at the three Michelin-starred Oak Rooms in London.

By then his parents had concluded the deal and he was ready to create the kind of food which is attracting connoisseurs from all over the region. They are also impressed by the decor which is a classic mixture of Georgian style and modern art.

In its former life the building was an hotel, but the Smith family reasoned that the restaurant was where they would concentrate their interests, although they offer three "stopover" rooms at £85 per night for those evening visitors who want to savour their wine and rural surroundings and would prefer not to drive home.