2008 hardly started and I have had 2 trips back home already to see my family in Newcastle Upon Tyne. One visit was for pleasure, the other for more personal and painful reasons (which I will cover in another post when the time is right).

During this extended time in Newcastle I have been able to set in place the initial “stones” upon which I hope to build my first “post-CAP Cuisine” culinary experience. As I have said in earlier posts (I think), I have an overall plan to

  • qualify,
  • get relevant experience,
  • leading up to setting up my own restaurant in 3 years – in France.
  • All of this is being planned by myself at the moment, even though I would greatly appreciate advice from an experienced chef – someone who could play the role of my “mentor“. My general strategy (for gaining the experience that I will need to prepare me for setting up and running my own restaurant / kitchen) is to get a varied experience, in several different kitchens with different chefs and different styles of cooking. I am particularly interested in learning about the “products” – be they French or English. I will also make sure that I spend time delving into the accounts and running of a restaurant.

    So, my first step along this “post qualification” road will be to spend 2 months working in Michelin star chef Terry Laybourne‘s English kitchen back home in Newcastle. Terry was the first Michelin starred chef in the North East of England, and is now so well known and respected that he even has an OBE (special award given by the Queen), to go along with his 5 restaurants. Most importantly for me, this is the chef who feels so passionate about the importance of quality, local products that he states

    “everyone assumes that the chef is an artist. Let me tell you something. If the guy who supplies my asparagus does his job properly, and it arrives in perfect condition, all I do is sling it in a pan of boiling salted water, take it out when it’s ready, put it on a nice plate with a dish of melted butter and a wadge of lemon…and people fête me as a magician…..90% of good cooking is good shopping…..write a book about the asparagus grower. He’s the artist”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    The original idea was to spend 2 months, during the summer 2008, in his Jesmond Dene House kitchen – especially interesting since it is 5 minutes from my Mum and Dad’s house ! Take my wife and kids over for their summer holidays – me work as much as possible, they get out and about with their grand-parents and speak English as much as possible. The famous Ségolène Royale “Win-Win”, non ?

    Why so interested in Terry Laybourne ? Essentially because

  • he knows what it takes to provide top quality cooking
  • he’s already had a Michelin star
  • he’s passionate about sourcing local products, which is absolutely critical for me
  • I’ve heard nothing but positive things from other people in the area who know him personally
  • he’s an experienced chef / restaurateur who will have a wealth of knowledge to share
  • So, we met with Terry (I really wanted my wife and kids to meet him, create a contact and make sure that they are fully with me on this first step – which they most certainly are, I can happily confirm !) at Jesmond Dene House to talk about me working there. We finished with the suggestion that I work in several of his restaurants, notably :

  • Jesmond Dene House : from what I saw in the magnificent kitchen, this would be a great place to continue my apprentissage. A “text book” kitchen where they have clearly had the time and space to design an ideal working kitchen, respecting the latest hygiene recommendations for keeping raw and cooked, dirty and clean products separate.
  • Café 21
  • So, with a “gentleman’s agreement” achieved about working during the summer, I set about learning about the products from the region – being a formerly industrial (coal and ship building) region, this might not have been easy, one would have been forgiven for thinking. However, using Terry Laybourne’s book “Quest for Taste” (a beautiful book which talks about 13 different types of products within the North East region, focusing on 1 particular supplier in each case) as a starting point, I took off with my wife and kids to see various producers (oysters, kippers, flour and honey). As it happens, no one was open (well it was Jan 2nd, snow was lying on the ground and the festive period was coming to an end). But simply driving around the region and talking with some locals, I started to appreciate the richness of our local produce. For an idea of some of the great products that can be sourced on our own doorstep – well if I was back home in Newcastle rather than in Paris !

  • Lamb, Pork, Beef, Game
  • Potatoes, Asparagus, wild Mushrooms
  • Oysters, Crabs, Lobsters, Kippers and numerous fish from small fishing ports
  • Cream, Cheese, Honey & Flour
  • For a look at other products and suppliers in the NorthEast region, take a look at the Northumbria Larder website.

    During my latest visit to Newcastle I spent an afternoon discovering the little fishing port of North Shields. I’ll complete this post with some photos, but suffice to say that I was able to see “first hand” how the fishing industry is suffering because of “over fishing” by the big trawlers which stay out for 5+ days and use nets of over 1km in length ! Only 3 boats work out of North Shields, even though boats from other cities / countries stop to sell their fish. The locals complained particularly of Spanish and French boats, but from what I understand, overfishing is something that we are all guilty of – regardless of the nationality (even if some countries are suspected as being worse culprits than others !). The local fishmonger (Taylor’s of North Shields) confirmed that things would never be like they used to be – however, he also confirmed that he still has daily fresh fish coming in from small and big boats. When I was there I bought a lovely 1,8 kg Turbot (well, my Dad did !) and, at £15 per kilo, it was quite a lot cheaper than the turbot that I bought in Paris just before Christmas (approx. £19/kilo). During our visit, my Dad and I went to eat at a local restaurant – Sidneys – which takes its fish directly from the Norht Shields market, and which has a “bib gourmand” along with a recommendation in the latest Michelin guide (no star but “one to watch out for”).

    That’s it for now – got to get on with my revising for my exams which take place this week.

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