I’m all for a steak and ale pie and I’ll never say no to fish and chips (whether beer battered or not), but beer as an ingredient is underrated. It’s changing with the work of pubs, bars, restaurants, brewers and of course chefs. With Good Beer Week coming up in Melbourne I wrote this piece for The Guardian, which I feel is a mere dip of the toe when it comes to beer and food. You can read it here.
In the second of the Esperance films that we made with Rich Keam and Tourism WA (see also the previous post on Coastal Roadtrip), Rich spent the day foraging and cooking with Doc Reynolds, a senior Aboriginal Cultural Custodian. He takes Rich on a tour through his area and his culture.
Word of Mouth is something I’ve been reading for quite a few years. With the move to Australia it’s been a link back to the UK and great food and drink writing. So, I was pretty chuffed to write about my tastes of home as I was headed back to the UK. There’s no better place to think and write than hotels, departure lounges and planes, To be honest (and slightly vain) I’m chuffed that it seemed to strike a chord with those in the same position. I’ve not yet read all the 1000+ comments but what I get from the ones that I have is the fact that the tastes that we crave are simple, homely and linked to memory, which is where I was coming from. You can read it here.
In the last of the four Perth films made with Tourism WA and Taste Master, Rich Keam, we go from beachside breakfast to the ‘burbs to a decadent Chateaubriand lunch in the city. Whitney Ng is Rich’s expert guide and proponent of #yolkporn. She does an excellent job and you must check out Dine Whit Me to get more of Whitney’s take on all things food. This series has been an eye opener. I already knew that Perth folk loved their city but it’s taken me by surprise that pretty much all feedback has been positive. The snide and the snark has been nowhere to be seen. A welcome and all to rare occurance online.
I’ve always had a fear of public speaking. Faced with an audience or a boardroom full of people. The staring, scribbling, yawning and muttering of an assembled group causes my heart rate to peak, my palms to dampen and my brain to think strange paranoid thoughts. So imagine being at a bloggers conference. The audience with iPhones grafted to their hands and last on the bill before the promise of free booze and food… this is my version of terror.
On Saturday last week I took to the stage at Eat. Drink. Blog in Perth. Speaking on a panel about my experiences, how I’ve ditched the corporate job and transitioned into freelance life. While they say there’s safety in numbers and that a panel discussion gives you some back up this isn’t always the case. When your fellow panel members are Emma Galloway and Adam Roberts it kind of ups the pressure. Emma, is the writer of My Darling Lemon Thyme, a staple of my blog reads. A trained chef, her knowledge and passion comes through in everything she does. With a book on the way next year, it’s sure to be a must have. Adam, it’s fair to say is part of the blogging elite. From starting Amateur Gourmet back in 2004 he’s gone on to book deals, the Food Network and more. He attributes part of his success to Janet Jackson’s nipple (yes you read that right), but really it’s down to his appetite to live a good food life, even if he just wants a tuna sandwich. And then there’s me. I’m not being all British and self deprecating but I got that moment of thinking, am I the weak link in this programme of speakers? The other sessions were a veritable who’s who of top-notch blogging. I rarely blog these days and feel a little unconnected from it. I’ve got over that feeling of insecurity. I didn’t have them rolling in the aisles, wiping tears away or whooping Oprah style, but I did get some great feedback and no one booed (a result!). It made me realise that we start out blogging. Some continue, some don’t, some move into other areas and interests. It’s a start so many things and shouldn’t be dismissed or simply boiled down to pageviews.
What it has really done is reinforced a few thoughts that have been with me for a while now. The whole blogger, journalist, Urbanspooner debate is useless. Not from the point of view that they all sit in a hierarchy and can be taken with a degree of seriousness as to where they sit. For me there is no hierarchy of position or platform. My hierarchy is one of quality and relevance. Bloggers on balance are as relevant as food journalists. The quality bloggers I read, write with an agenda based on opinion and not commercial pressure. Many are as or more passionate than a paid journo. I’ve met my share of food obsessed journos, but I think it takes a certain passion to get up at 5am and write a post before heading off to a full-time job. As for the ongoing debate about the reviews on Urbanspoon, Yelp et al, I think it’s becoming less and less compelling for restaurants to complain. Yes, it can be a business that grinds the soul and the ill thought out rant of a disgruntled customer can be sharper than any cut, but never have restaurants been able to gather so much information on what customers like and don’t. It’s a valuable commodity that should be used. As with any platform where content is user-generated you chose whether to be swayed by comments. There are Elite Yelpers for example, whose verdict I’d take over many professionals. So for me, as with food, it comes down to the quality, authenticity and provenance of the writing and opinion. I weigh them all, no matter who you are and where you proffer your opinion.
The new issue of Box has two pieces I wrote for them. One about eco-superyachts and the other on the 5:2 diet. I’m no oligarch, my sailing experience extends to smaller craft, half a crew qualification and the odd row boat. I do however know a bit more about the 5:2. I make the point in the article that diets have never really been my bag. I was for a time, shall we say, a little bigger than I am now – pushing 17 (and a bit) stone – before I quite literally got off my arse and did something about it. Back in London this involved swimming at the Lido, well into October, a couple of years in a row. Those early morning icy plunges became my morning wake up call. I continue to look for things that can make the difference and the 5:2 is one of those.
It’s not easy, as at times you really want that baked treat someone has brought to the office. And it’s worth saying that I work with some exceedingly good bakers… damn them. Somedays you fall off the wagon and the fast is postponed but usually you get through and interestingly food becomes more of a treat. Never being hungry and having food in abundance, I think dulls the senses somewhat. Going without, albeit for a very short period, sharpens the anticipation and the taste buds. You savour longer. It’s more of an event, you become inventive with the ingredients, to make your 600 calories not seem inadequate. I’m going to put a few of the meals on the blog. Don’t worry, beer and all that other stuff will still feature, it’s just that I’ve had surprising feedback on those wanting to know more and this is as good a place as any.
To say I’m chuffed with this piece is an understatement. There’s quite a few reasons. It’s The Guardian, a newspaper that I’ve been reading since I was sixteen and still have the utmost respect for, whether it’s food, culture or political coverage. That my thoughts on a clutch of cookbooks and the concoctions that I gleaned from their pages will be read in association to its banner is I’ll admit a bit of an ego boost. Ultimately you write to be read, but if my ego becomes too inflated no doubt the formiddable Guardian commenters will bring me down to earth and give me a slap as I bounce, for good measure.
What really pleased me though is that I got a small mention in there for my Grandma. She was a great cook and inspired thoughts of the 70’s and 80’s kitchen that I want to remember. Her food is part of my memory of childhood and I realise more and more that she is one of the reasons why I do what I do. Many peoples food icons are male chefs, enhanced by well oiled PR. Mine are mainly women, unknowns in the culinary world, who can or could turn their hand to most things. It’s the women like my Grandma, my Mum, my Mother in Law and the women from the pages of The Australian Hostess Cookbook… they are the true food icons.
Ok, another rundown on pieces making it into the press and online over the last week or so. A mix of beer and food in London, Florence and here in Australia.
The Jellied Eel is something I’ve been reading for a good couple of years now. Usually with a pint at hand. For a great view on sustainable food and drink culture in London there’s no better. I was really pleased to get a piece about Portobello Brewing Co. in the most recent issue which you can pick up across London now or view online here. Added to which, comment from Jeff Bell from The Gunmakers, one of London’s best pubs bar none was a bonus. Everyone knows how Jeff hates to give his opinion (*cough*).
Back over this side, a piece in The West with Kiwi chef Justin North who some will know from his previous restuarant Becasse, numerous appreanaces on shows like Australian Masterchef and cook books. There’s a part of the piece here.
For lovers of street food and travel there’s a short piece on London Street Foodie and the first of an on tour series. Florentine tripe roll is the subject. It makes me dream of Italy everytime I think of it!
More to come soon, with some great commissions that I can’t talk about just yet.
You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig…
I’m not confessing kinky porcine predilections. This is a phrase that’s come to mind recently as I eat out. Not merely a Perth thing, it’s widespread and really is quite tiresome.
I’m for well made food, by skilled chefs, using the best ingredients. Added to which a bar, pub, cafe or restaurant shouldn’t lose sight of what it is, where it is and its ability. There seems to be an ever growing trend for chefs to push out overwrought dishes, designed as much to say aren’t I clever than to please the patrons palate. Sometimes, thankfully, you have to agree that the result is as pleasing to the eye as it is to taste, but more often it’s just a disappointing confusion. Half arsed imitation is not innovation or originality.
Desserts are a case in point. My preference is often simple. I find myself scanning menu’s for that simple slice to round off a meal but invariably find it’s just not there. A slice of cheesecake with an element to compliment but not overpower it. Instead I’m promised the supposed hero of the dish with spun sugar, coulis, dust of this and dab of that. Four or five disparite elements smeared and deconstructed on a flat slate. I order in the vain hope that i’ll get one of the good ones but my heart sinks as i’m served what is essentially a pig smeared in lipstick.
I’d blame the TV producers and celebrity chefs who’ve perhaps had a hand in raising the sights of those who should perfect the basics before they attempt kitchen alchemy, but really I can only blame the chef, the owners and ultimately myself. If I didn’t order and then smile thinly when asked whether it’s ok, mumble and pay, then perhaps pig with lipstick would be off the menu.
The great thing for me about the Q&A is that i’m able to delve into the experiences, likes, dislikes and tips of those that I respect in the brewing, writing, blogging world and beyond. Leigh Linley is someone i’ve followed for quite a while now and is one of my must reads. As his blog drops into my inbox, it’s the cue to pop the kettle on and stop for a couple of minutes. His mix of good food and good beer appeals to my own sensibilities. I urge you to read on and then check it out…
I’ve been blogging about beer and food since 2007 – and enjoying every minute of it. Since then, I’ve done a little freelance work with stories featured in BEER Magazine, Leeds Guide and Food and Drink Digital. Last year, I was involved in the process to choose Leeds as the location for the European Beer Bloggers Conference and led the delegates on a ‘Best of Leeds’ crawl that weekend. My main interests are exploring beer and food – be it linking brewers and food producers and supporting each other in that wa, or recommending matches and pairings for others – and pub life. It’s not all just about beer tasting! I live in Leeds.
First pub experience…
Both my parents worked in a pub when I was born; a notorious one in Leeds called The Fforde Grene. It’s not there now (its a supermarket), but I remember it being smoky, dark and cavernous, with a large guard dog. It was a little scary at the time, to be honest, but now I’m older I can understand the relationship it had with the locals. First hand, I saw it fall into disrepute in the 90’s and eventually close. That was probably my first experience of how a publican and clientele affect a pub and a community, both adversely and positively.
In terms of Beer, I recall bravely ordering a pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in North Bar circa 2005/6…and the first taste was like the scene in Alice in Wonderland when it goes technicolour. Being a self-confessed lager drinker, it was unbelievable.
Best pub finds…
We stayed at The Watermill Inn in Cumbria at the end of last summer, using it a base to explore some of the lakes. It’s completely dog-friendly and brews its own beer and we spent a lovely evening in the last rays of summer warmth drinking really good, clean, tasty beers brewed all of 10 yards away. That was a great weekend.
At the moment: Seven Wonders by Fleetwood Mac, Gimme Shelter by The Stones and Private Eyes by Hall and Oates.
A friendly welcome, staff who can tell you a little about the beer, and a little pride in appearance. Not difficult, is it?
Rude and indifferent staff, bad toilets and bad beer – and by that I mean kept poorly, not range.
I’m lucky enough to have four really good, ale-serving pubs on my dog walk route along Leeds Liverpool Canal: The Abbey, The Owl, The Rodley Barge and The Railway. All have good beer gardens in the summer, serve well-kept, local real ales and are dog-friendly in the main. Those dog walks in the summer do tend to be long ones!
Favourite non local…
There’s so many, but a perennial favourite is The Grove in Huddersfield. It gets everything right; a staggeringly varied beer range, good staff, well-priced and a lovely space to drink in. The varied clientele it attracts reflects the pub’s range on the pumps, and there’s no pretention at all – you want a pint of Landlord? You got it. And a bottle of De Molen? Fine. That sort of thing. I really like The Rutland Arms in Sheffield, The York Tap and The Maltings in York, The Marble Arch in Manchester…wonderful pubs, wonderful.
Beer and food…
My all-time favourite would have to be simply a plate of Calamari and Whitebait, dusted in flour and deep-fried, doused in lemon and served with either a cold lager or what beer. I’ve been known to knock that up even in the depths of winter! I’m a sucker for Blue Cheese and Stout (the stronger the cheese and beer the better!), Pepperoni Pizza and Anchor Steam…all the classics, really. We eat a lot of fish at home; pan-seared served with Black Pudding and Minted Pea puree sounds odd, but it’s delicious with a crisp IPA such as Oakham’s Green Devil.
It’s all about participation, for me. If you become of a community, you’ll find blogging both interesting and rewarding. I think you’ve also got to work prolifically to maintain a semi-successful blog; people have short attention spans and if you don’t blog for a long time, often, people will drift away, no doubt. Saying that, bloggings what you make it; that’s the beauty of it – if you just want it to be a notebook of thoughts, then so be it. I’m proud to be a blogger.
Yorkshire beer is…
Incredibly varied and vibrant Yes, we have the traditional Yorkshire beer that we do so well…but hidden amongst that we have smaller brewers producing every style you can want. We have Yorkshire lagers, saisons and barrell-aged stouts. We have international award-winners. We have brewers forging strong links with communities and other independent food producers to bring great food and drink to your table. We have some of the countries best pubs, run by amazingly devoted publicans, for you to enjoy these amazing beers in. We have brewers pushing Yorkshire beer across the world and setting up links in Spain, Italy, America and Australia.
What’s on the horizon…
Well…Great Yorkshire Beer! The book’s out in May, and we are launching it on the 30th at The York Tap. I’m currently spending a lot of time working with the brewers involved to get the book promoted. Blog-wise, The Good Stuff will be focussed on beer from the UK, and my new year’s resolution was to see more of the country; so now on our little drinking jaunts we are getting on the train instead of the bus, and seeing more of what’s on offer around me. I’m also looking forward to more collaboration with Food bloggers this year, and trying to bring some fresh ideas to my own blog from outside the ‘beer bubble’.
How did you choose the breweries to feature in Great Yorkshire Beer…
It was difficult, to be honest. I clearly couldn’t interview every brewer in the region – the book would have been like the Yellow Pages otherwise. So, first and foremost, the book is about modern beer in Yorkshire; the brewers that have been the catalyst to amazing growth and interest that has then rippled out across Yorkshire beer as a whole. So brewers over ten years old were out in terms of specific features. Then I looked at the geographical area, and tried to get a selection from north to south, east to west. I looked at availability; the book had to be useful in terms of interested parties simply getting to your beer – the beer had to be widely available across Yorkshire and the UK, and also, in most cases, bottled. And of course, the beer had to be good!
That last part is obviously subjective, but I believe the line-up I’ve chosen to represent the region, overall, are incredibly highly -regarded – and the book being successful will be good for every brewer out there. The book mentions (such as in the food section) many breweries that don’t fit into that criteria, so hopefully I’ve been able to highlight as many in there as I can!
If you want to get hold of a copy check out this link