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.


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


When Fodder, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society store set up stall in Harrogate, we thought it was the height of speciality food shopping and so it remains in Yorkshire terms, but a recent trip to Milan showed me the Fodder principal on a mega scale. Eataly, in the former Smeraldo theatre, is whopping great department store of good food – and it’s coming to England.




The first Eataly opened in Turin in 2007, the brainchild of Oscar Farinetti, a former electrical retailer and a member of Slow Food. His idea – hardly revolutionary you may think – was to connect people to wholesome, fairly priced, quality food.


Comparing Italian and British food prices was beyond me, but Farinetti claims he keeps prices down by cutting out the middle-man and going direct to producers. Whatever the price, anyone with an interest in food should visit a branch of Eataly. There are 31 stores across Italy, Europe and the USA. Our hosts were tight lipped about when and where the London branch might be, only saying it would open ‘soon’. Not a great PR move for a bunch of travel journalists with pens poised to write about it.


But when it does open in the UK, we are in for a treat if the Milan branch is anything to go by. At the entrance is a bountiful display of fresh fruit and vegetables and shelves of produce from small regional producers: quality mayonnaise, speciality pastas, truffles, anchovies and much more from kitchen gear to cook books. The second floor has the wine shop, butchery department and fish counter. They make their own cheese, ice cream, chocolate and pastries and make and sell 80kg of bread a day.


Demonstration kitchens host cookery courses and you can eat and drink here whether it’s a quick morning espresso, an evening cocktail, a freshly made pizza, a snack lunch or a full blow posh dinner at their Michelin-starred Alice. Or spend all day there and do the lot.


Real_shitAnd Fodder take note, here is the ultimate in clever marketing – Real Shit – tins of organic, chicken manure to spread over your window box vegetables!


Eataly, Piazza XXV Aprile, 10 – 20121 Milano

Fodder, Great Yorkshire Show Ground, Harrogate



Ampleforth Apple Cake

Joan made this delicious cake following a trip to the Ampleforth apple orchard in October, but it can be made at any time with some tart English apples.




Makes ten generous slices.

4 eggs
150g caster sugar
2tbsp lemon juice
1tbsp grated lemon zest
250ml sunflower oil
250g plain flour, sifted
2tsp baking powder
1tsp mixed spice
1tsp cardamom seeds, crushed (optional)
1tsp vanilla essence
100g sultanas
500g tart apples, peeled cored, sliced

For the topping:
50g hazelnuts or cobnuts, roughly crushed
50g Demerara sugar


Preheat oven to 170°C/Gas mark 3. Grease and line a 23cm baking tin with baking parchment.

Beat the eggs and 50g caster sugar with an electric beater for 5 minutes until the mixture is pale and foamy. Mix the lemon juice, lemon zest with the remaining 100g of caster sugar and gradually beat this into the egg and sugar mixture. Dribble the sunflower oil into the foam and continue to beat. Fold the baking powder, spices and sultanas into mix which now resembles a thick batter

Place half the batter into the baking tin and arrange with half the sliced apples. Cover with remaining batter. Arrange the remaining apples over the top and scatter with a mixture of crushed hazelnuts and Demerara sugar. Bake for 1 hour, turn off heat, partly open the door, and leave the cake to cool in the oven. Dust with vanilla sugar if you have some.


The No Problem Problem


I’ve no idea how many restaurants Mandy and I eat in each year, but with reviewing, inspecting, judging and Squidbeaking it’s a lot.

We often find ourselves discussing our irritations, irks and annoyances about restaurants and so to kick off 2015 we each decided to make a list of our top ten hates about eating out.

As it turned out, surprisingly few are about the food and the number one on both our lists turns out to be the same thing. Restauraters, read and digest.

1. Asking if everything is OK. Stop it, we’ll tell you if it’s not OK.

2. Not taking your coat or offering menu, water or a drink on arrival.

3. Tasting menus in pubs and mid-priced restaurants and chefs not equipped to provide. Please, just give us a nice plate of food.

4. Websites with no phone number or opening times. You’d be surprised how many restaurants don’t have this basic information on their home page.

5. Sous vide, foams, pre-desserts and amuse gueules in casual dining restaurants when the chef is not up to it. Stop watching Masterchef and know your limits.

6. Menus that list every ingredient and waiters who describe them. It’s just embarrassing, especially being told how much I’ll love it.

7. The ‘No problem’ problem. Adding it to every sentence is getting epidemic. My favourite was when they brought the wrong dish. ‘No problem’, actually it was a problem!

8. ‘Optional’ service charge added to bill. I never quite believe this goes to the staff. The staff invariably say it does, but sometimes, I suspect, through gritted teeth.

9. Topping up your wine unasked.

10. The wrong music. Sticking any old tape on repeat will not do, especially when you are seated beneath the speakers.

1. Too much service: absolutely number one. Don’t ask me how my food is. If there’s something wrong, I’ll tell you.

2. Indifferent service.

3. Sniffy service.

4. Being sat by the bogs.

5. Poor lighting and tiny print on menus.

6. Slates.

7. Boards.

8. Skidmarks, particularly chocolate ones.

9. Chefs who think they know better than you about whether or not your meat’s cooked.

10. Outrageous mark up on wine.



















Farewell Shepherd’s Purse


Walking through Whitby yesterday I was saddened to see a big notice in the window of Shepherd’s Purse saying Closing Down – Last Day. Shepherd’s Purse on Church Street – part ethnic clothes store, part wholefood shop – was established in 1975 by a bohemian couple Rosie McHugh and Pete Budd and developed down the years into a Whitby institution.

In the early days the shop stocked hand knitted sweaters, patchwork frocks and shoes and shawls inspired by Rosie and Pete’s time on the hippy trail around India and Afghanistan. But I remember it best for its wholefoods: rice, nuts, beans, lentils, wholemeal bread and spices sold loose. The shadowy interior with its rough wooden floorboards and intoxicating smells was an invitation to fill your basket with all manner of good things.

At Christmas, wooden barrels were heaped with dried fruit and if you didn’t want to make your own, there was Captain Cook fruit cake, singing with ginger and made at Great Ayton – they were supporters of local produce long before provenance became so fashionable. I remember them taking all she could make of Elizabeth Newton’s lovely fresh Grosmont Goat’s cheeses. They stocked Cheddar and Danbydale from Botton Village’s creamery and more recently the sadly extinct goat’s cheese made by Mrs Blyth of Boulby Banks Farm.

Gifts and clothes were at the back of the shop and beyond that the veggie café for delicious soups, pasta bakes and great cakes.

When Rosie died in 2004 her three children Michelle, Sophie and Kim took over and ran it with the same verve and spirit as their parents. I’m sorry to see such a precious independent shop go; now when I’m up on the coast where will I source asafoetida, harrissa, cumin, coriander and especially that throwback to my childhood liquorice root and coltsfoot rock? RIP Shepherd’s Purse.


Timothy Taylor Landlord Cake

TT Landord Cake  702It’s just the weather to hunker down and make Joan’s Landlord Cake.  It’s dead easy and uses Timothy Taylor’s Landlord for a lovely moist cake singing with spices.

Makes 24 pieces


75g raisins

75g sultanas

75g currants

75g dates, chopped

25g candied peel, chopped

175g dark muscovado sugar

25g tbsp black treacle

juice and zest from one medium orange

225g unsalted butter

200ml Timothy Taylor Landlord pale ale

3 free-range eggs, lightly beaten

250g self raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

½ tsp each cardamom, fennel and coriander seeds, ground

50g whole blanched split almonds to decorate

2 tbsp warm sieved apricot jam to glaze the top of the cake


Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line with baking parchment

Place the raisins, sultanas, currants, chopped dates, candied peel, muscovado sugar, treacle, orange zest and juice, butter and pale ale into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the butter has melted. Simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Leave for at least two hours or preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 150°C/Gas mark 2.

Stir the lightly beaten eggs into the fruit and beer mixture and gradually fold in the flour, baking powder and spices. Mix well. Spoon the cake mixture into the cake tin and place lines of almonds along the top of the cake. Bake the cake for 1½ hours or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If the top browns too quickly, cover with a sheet of foil or brown paper. Cool the cake in the tin and brush with warm, sieved apricot jam to make the top of the cake glisten.


A Special Food Historian

BrearsThis particular ‘Made in Yorkshire’ is actually someone made and moulded by Yorkshire.  Born in Thorne, bred in Outwood and with a career steeped in the social history of Yorkshire, Peter Brears is a man of many parts; food historian,  author, artist and technical drawer, an engineer and the world’s leading expert on jelly. Naturally he is one of our food heroes.

Author of 27 books with titles that include Traditional Food in Yorkshire; A Taste of Leeds; Images of Leeds; Leeds Waterfront Heritage; All the King’s Cooks and numerous monographs and pamphlets, all of which have been painstakingly researched, written in long hand, and illustrated by him at his dining room table.

At 70 he is still hard at work and spends his time, writing, drawing and lecturing on food and housekeeping and in the interest of research he’s been known to hail a taxi from Leeds Market with a couple of pigs heads in a carrier bag, part of his research into historic recipes.

For a lad who failed his 11+ he’s done pretty well. He gained a scholarship to Castleford Tech followed by Leeds College of Art where he learned engineering, product design and technical drawing. But history was his first love and one of his proudest achievements is the creation of Clarke Hall, near Wakefield as a living history museum where children could have hands-on experience of life in the 17th century.

Later he was appointed curator of York’s Castle Museum and then Leeds City Museum. Today he advises and works for English Heritage, the National Trust and the Royal Palaces. For a decade he lit the fires of Hampton Court Palace kitchens each Christmas (which until Brears arrived, hadn’t been lit since 1737) and in full costume cooked and baked like the Tudors.

In the 90s he was invited by the Gelatine Manufacturers of Europe no less to restore ‘the lost status of jellies’. He did so with knobs on, putting on an exhibition of 100 jellies at Petworth House with examples of jellies from the 1390s to the 1930s: milk jellies, blancmanges, quivering towers, jewel colours, sweet jellies and savoury jellies, jellies within jellies, jellies with fruit in and fruit with jellies in, even the traditional birthday rabbit jelly nibbling on jelly ‘grass’. It so delighted visitors that Brears spent the next five years lecturing and demonstrating the art and history of the jelly, becoming ‘the jelly expert’ with exhibitions at Harewood House, Syon House and for National Jelly Day in Ireland.

Besides hugely admiring Bears and his work as a food historian, I’m rather proud to know him a little. He was our neighbour for many years when we lived a few doors away in the listed, Victorian, Woodbine Terrace in Headingley with its rather special communal garden. On bonfire night Peter would bring trays of traditional gingerbread pigs to share and for our summer garden party one of his special jellies. We miss them still.

This is an edited version of a longer article that appeared in the Yorkshire Post

Traditional Food in Yorkshire (Prospect Books)

Peter Brears will be presenting a paper at the 30th Leeds Food Symposium on 25 April 2015 at the Friends Meeting House, Friargate, York on the theme of The Domestic Dairy


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.

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