Having a Bit of a Do?

It’s always hard to recommend an outside catering company, as you only ever come across them at a wedding  say or a funeral. But we’ve sampled the cooking of Helen Lewis and Sally Duncan – Lewis & Duncan Outside Caterers and trust us, they’re good.


One of Lewis & Duncan’s Asian inspired dishes

Their new website www.lewisandduncan.catering tells you that Sally worked in Hong Kong for years – so you can order Asian inspired dishes like  her rice vermicelli and cabbage salad with almond, coconut dressing and coriander, radish salsa – and Helen is a pastry chef  who will knock up a chocolate torte or a almond and quince tart at the drop of a hat. They do imaginative veggie and vegan dishes too.

We first came across them at Cabra Verde in Peter Lane in York, followed them to the Fulford Arms, and later a dinner to launch their outside catering company and we can confirm that they will never send out cold quiche and curling sandwiches. So when you are next having a bit of do, pick up the phone. Lewis & Duncan Catering 01904 653561/07506 796291info@lewisandduncan.catering 


Roux Scholarship

Just to update you on the Roux Scholarship finals, (see below) which took place on Monday. Sadly Richard Pascoe didn’t win after all, that went to the delightfully named Ian Scaramuzza, head chef from Hibiscus. Congratulations to Ian who wins £6000 and would like to take his stage at the three star Benu in San Francisco. Commiserations to Richard.

Richard editedCongratulations to young chef Richard Pascoe from the Feversham Arms, Helmsley. He’s made it to the national finals of the Roux Scholarship, a prestigious competition for chefs under 30. For the winner it can be life changing as the prize is an all expenses paid, three month stage at any 3 star Michelin restaurant in the world. Chefs then invariably go on to positions in top restaurants.  One past winner is Adam Smith who chose Le Meurice in Paris, then got a job at the Ritz and is now head chefs at the Burlington restaurant  Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey. Good luck to Richard for the finals on 30 March.


Capital of Cake

Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Bake Off, Celebrity Bake Off – everyone’s at it,  baking cake, eating cake or watching other people making cake and now the North York Moors National Park are jumping on the cake stand. They claim there are so many regional cakes in the area that they are calling their patch – the moors and coast – the Capital of Cake.


Cakes made by Tricia Hutchinson of Real Staithes

I don’t know about the capital but Yorkshire does indeed have a long tradition of home baking. In the past it was the cheapest way to fill a hungry family, not with the lemon drizzle or the banoffee pies on the Capital of Cake list, but far plainer cakes: sad cake, fatty cake, suet cake, turf cake and nodden cake, all variations on flour, lard, water and maybe a few currants.


If you are looking for something a bit more indulgent then download the places where you can sample tea and cake from the Capital of Cake list


We can confirm delicious cakes from the link at the Ship Inn, Port Mulgrave; Tricia Hutchinson’s baking at Real Staithes, and the gorgeous find of the Middleton Post Office Tea Parlour, but there are dozens more we haven’t inspected or discovered. We’re on the case.


El Gato Negro Tapas Rises

We were sad to say goodbye to Simon Shaw; his Ripponden restaurant, El Gato
Negro had been thrilling us for a decade – it was hard to find more authentic
tapas anywhere in the country (and parts of Spain, as I found out on one
Mallorcan holiday. Long story.)

El_Gato_Negro_TapasGreat news though is that he’s finally found the
location for the new incarnation, soon to be reborn on King Street in
Manchester’s Spinningfields. I know it’s over there but but it’s got to be worth
running the gauntlet of the border guards for his terrific take on fabada,
croquetas and tortillas. Hasta luego!


Yorkshire Rhubarb

Yorkshire rhubarb

There’s nothing else like it in agriculture – the low wooden forcing sheds of Yorkshire’s rhubarb producers are quiet, warm and dark. As far as the eye can see, there are slender pink stalks topped with curly yellow leaves. Workers pick by candlelight – harsh light would cause the stalks to lose their colour. Caterpillars brought in on the roots are fooled into thinking it’s spring and hatch into butterflies to flutter around in the ethereal glow. Listen carefully and you can even hear the rhubarb growing. The tissue-like membrane that wraps around the leaves, a bit like a daffodil, pops when it unfurls.

These rhubarb sheds and the dozen or so farms that make up the rhubarb triangle between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield are all that remain of a once thriving industry that began around a hundred and fifty years ago when miners from the West Riding pit villages growing a few spuds in their allotment would also sport a few sticks of ‘tusky’ -  rhubarb grown under an old bucket to keep it pink and tender.

From these small beginnings developed Europe’s biggest forced rhubarb industry. The miners began by splitting a few roots, acquiring some land and building forcing sheds. Surprisingly, the unpromising setting of industrial West Yorkshire proved to be ideal rhubarb country. The night soil from thousands of privies and waste from local shoddy mills was used to fertilise the soil and provided just the right conditions the roots needed. In December they would be dug from the cold wet soil and transferred to the forcing sheds where devoid of food and light they would be watered and kept at  a constant 60°F by the coal that was available and cheap.

By the 1920s there were over 200 rhubarb growers in the ‘pink patch’, an eight-mile stretch between Leeds and Wakefield. A farm might grow up to 90 tons a year and a rhubarb train ran regularly from Leeds to Kings Cross. But devastated by cheap imports from Holland and usurped by fashionable fruits from across the world, the rhubarb trade declined after the war. The number of growers dwindled and the last rhubarb train left Leeds in 1966.

But some growers, like Janet Oldroyd at Hopefield Farm and David Westwood at Thorpe Farm near Wakefield kept the faith and despite the decline in demand and rising fuel prices, they battled on. Then a few years ago chefs began to rediscover the unloved stalk, Delia cooked with it and we all started buying, cooking and loving rhubarb again.

There are still only a dozen Yorkshire growers today, but sales have recovered and the Oldroyds say they can sell all they produce which has climbed from 300 tons a decade ago to 1000 tons of indoor and outdoor rhubarb today.

Rhubarb and pannacotta at the Bruce Arms

Janet Oldroyd has done much to champion rhubarb. She is a leading light in the annual Yorkshire Rhubarb Festival and runs tours of the forcing sheds and in 2010 was instrumental in gaining Protected Designation of Origin  (PDO) for Yorkshire rhubarb which means that only rhubarb grown in the rhubarb triangle can be called Yorkshire rhubarb.

There are lots of  Yorkshire restaurants serving Yorkshire forced rhubarb during the November to March season, but these restaurants have long championed the stuff. The General Tarleton, The Star Inn at Harome, Melton’s, The Fox & Hounds, The Bruce Arms.

Lord Stones Country Park

The Lord Stones, three standing stones on a Bronze Age mound high up on the moors between Chop Gate and Carlton in Cleveland has long been a favourite area for bikers, walkers, cyclists, horse riders, even hang gliders.

Chop GateNot only are there a network of footpaths and bridleways that cross the Cleveland Way, the Coast to Coast and the Lyke Wake Walk, but the views are breathtaking. On a clear day you can see to Roseberry Topping and the skyscape of Middlesbrough.

Until recently the Lord Stones café was owned and run by the colourful John Simpson who doled out sausage and beans to appreciative travellers, but the rigors of this remote spot and a falling out with some of the bikers led him to sell up to his neighbour John Reeve, owner of the adjoining Urra Estate where he operates a pheasant and partridge shoot and rears belted Galloway cattle.

Lord Stones ExtReeves has developed the site into what is now the Lord Stones Country Park. They’ve spent a shed-load, practically rebuilding the whole shebang and it’s looking pretty spruce with a shop, an all-day café and a restaurant and it’s now a cracking place to stay.

They’ve got a regular camp-site but the appeal for non-campers like me are the five cosy wooden camping pods each with its own loo, sink and wood burning stove. OK so you have to cross the yard for the  ‘his’ and ‘hers’ shower block (you didn’t think there were ensuite showers did you? Come on you have at least to pretend this is camping) with bags of hot water heated from the bio-mass boiler. Then you can sit on your own verandah with a picnic or an aperitif of beer and crisps from the shop that also stocks bread, cheese, chocolate, lots of Yorkshire produce and the farm’s fresh belted Galloway beef to take home.

Lord Stones podFor meals it’s a mere stroll to the café/restaurant where they serve all day (and evening) – soup, sandwiches, snacks, cakes and a lovely beef and ale pie, but their big thing is steak from those rare breed cattle cooked on a state of the art charcoal grill. After that it’s just a short stagger back to your tent or your pod.  Me? Forget a night under the stars I’ll be tucked up warm and dry in my hand-built, insulated pod. Now that’s what I call camping.

Open every day 9am-9pm Bookings 01642 778482

Lordstones Country Park

Eating in Iceland

Squidbeak’s Jill has been to Iceland. No, not the frozen food store, but the country. Eating in Iceland means you eat very well and often differently on barley, pickles, kale, beetroot, sorrel, herring, bacalao, Arctic char and tender Icelandic lamb.




We sampled a hearty fish mash pie in the northern village of Siglufjrdur and breakfasted on the yoghurt-like skyr. We declined the horsemeat in Rekjavik’s Foretta Barinn and the minke whale in swanky Fish Market. Their smoked puffin and guillemot was off, so we chose langoustines and edamame puree and lightly salted cod and spiced lime zest with a sweet celery salad. It was all very delicious, how could it not be with such wonderful fresh fish available.


Cowshed_RestaurantThe most original ingredients we found though were at the Vogafjos Cowshed Restaurant beside Lake Myvatn in the snowy wilds of northern Iceland. The restaurant really is in the cowshed. We were only separated from the cows and calves by a sheet of glass, and if you are there for milking at 7.30am you can have a glass of warm milk straight from the cow. Not something I relish after learning to loathe the sun-warmed bottles we were force fed at primary school.


Geysir_breadmakerEverything we ate here came from the farm: home made mozzarella and feta-style cheese, smoked lamb and Arctic char, smoked over cow and sheep dung which gave it a unique smokiness. Strangest of all though was the rugbraud or geysir bread, a rye dough that is packed into plastic buckets and placed in an underground hole for 24 hours to bake in the geothermal heat that warms Icelanders homes and keeps the amazing ‘nature baths’ at a comfortable 38ºC  so that you can bathe as we did  surrounded by the deepest winter snows.


When the rusty iron lids of the underground bread ovens are lifted and a plume of steam escapes, the thick sticky mass has cooked into a moist, heavy, dark and slightly sweet rye bread, best eaten, Icelanders say, with plenty of butter and topped with Arctic char and served in our case with a shot of the Cowshed’s own Angelica schnapps.


geysir_breadIt’s a traditional bread that’s been baked like this for generations but is increasingly rare. The small supplies made this way on small farms of northern Iceland are now snapped up by the smart delis and restaurants of Reykavik. Luckily we were able to buy a loaf fresh from the ground from one of the last bakers in Myvatn and at half the price it sells for in Reykjavik.




The World’s Most Prestigious Cookery Competition


Take a good look at this picture – it hasn’t been hijacked from a jeweller’s window, it’s a plate of food and was the UK entry in the Bocuse D’or, reputedly the  ‘world’s most prestigious cookery competition.’


It wasn’t even the winning dish. No, Adam Bennett, the Michelin-starred chef of the Cross at Kenilworth with his team of sous chefs and team president Brian Turner, came 10th out of 24.


We’ve written about this ridiculous pantomime before, the last time when Adam Smith, the executive head chef of the Burlington restaurant at the Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey, made it through to the UK team.


After I posted a rant about how daft it all was, Smith rang me, upset that I was less than enthusiastic about the competition.


I took his point (sort of) that it showed off the skills of top chefs and I can see that it might sit well on a chef’s c.v. (if this is what matters to employers then God help us), but if it’s about good food then this whole palaver is way off the mark. This is food as decoration. It’s for chefs to admire other chefs.


As far as I can make out, Smith didn’t make it to Lyon. He may have been disappointed, but I like him and I’d much prefer to see him in his kitchen making good food for customers at the Dev. than taking this circus seriously.


I can’t be the only one. Bocuse D’Or  is looking for crowd funding to the tune of £25,000 for the next competition in 2017. With 18 days to go they’ve raised just £155.


Beetroot, Blood Orange & Carrot Smoothie

This is a great smoothie to make while we still have blush oranges in the shops. This is not so much a recipe as an idea for a beautiful breakfast drink. As the three main ingredients go together very well, the ratio of one to the other can be varied.

Beetroor smoothie

Serves 2



2 medium sized beetroot

2 medium sized carrot

1 blush orange, juiced

2 tbsp rolled oats

1 tbsp sunflower seeds


Scrub the beetroot and carrots but don’t bother peeling.  Cut the carrots and beetroot into chunks, and feed them through a juicer collecting the juice in a jug.

Add the blush orange juice and a cupful of rolled oats to the beetroot and carrot juice. Process the juice and oats with a stick blender and taste.

Grind the sunflower seeds in a coffee mill or pestle and mortar and add to the blended juices and serve.



Not Valentines Day

Flat-CapEvery day for the last month my in-box has been stuffed with Valentine’s Day offers ranging from a ‘speed date with one of our hot cars’ from a hire car company, to a graphologist in a London hotel to analyse a couple’s handwriting, an aphrodisiac menu from an Asian restaurant and a Romeo and Juliet package at a Best Western. All of which I can happily turn down without FOMO*.

Rather less bizarre from Yorkshire come: ‘Liquor your libido’  with Raisthorpe Manor liqueurs; Café No 8 in York will deliver a three course Valentines dinner to your door and the Courtyard Dairy from Settle are offering heart shaped cheeses.

Call me a humbug but quite honestly I find the whole thing a bit desperate. By all means cook a meal for your loved one, take him/her out for dinner, but a graphologist … really?

There are only two invitations I have come across that I might seriously consider: if I were single, then a place at the communal table for singles at  the amazing ‘Man Behind the Curtain’ in Leeds, for an un-Valentine’s night special dinner of five Michael O’Hare courses (£50 a head) – on the un-Valentine’s day of  Wednesday 11th February. To book call: 0113 243 2376

The second is Not-the-Valentine’s dinner with the Flat Cap Cook, Sue Nelson who created Yorkshire Food Finder tours and also runs events from her home near York. Book now for a four course dinner £40 bring your own booze . Call 01904 448439.

*Keep up: Fear Of Missing Out

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