Meet the experts who are preparing the Yorkshire Meal of the Year
PUBLISHED: 08:33 26 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:17 20 February 2013
Why settle for one top Yorkshire chef when you can have four? Jo Haywood talks rhubarb (among other things) with an unrivalled culinary quartet <br/>Photographs by Joan Russell
Take four locally-produced chefs, pop them into a snug-fitting kitchen, add a sprinkling of pressure and a pinch of expectation, turn the heat up to boiling point and serve immediately to 110 people at 125-a-head.
This might sound like a recipe for disaster but Yorkshires premier league chefs Andrew Pern, Stephanie Moon, James Mackenzie and Michael Hjort are confident they can pull it off. In fact, they are ridiculously laid back about the whole thing.
By the time you read this, they will have just finished the washing up after cooking what has been dubbed the Yorkshire Meal of the Year to raise 10,000 towards the 2 million rejuvenation of the Yorkshire Museum at the heart of York.
They were first approached a year ago to create a menu designed to showcase local, seasonal food. When we brought them all together at Jamess restaurant, the Pipe & Glass in South Dalton, before the big night, they were confident it would be a success.
Its about spreading the Yorkshire message, said James. This is a great opportunity to bring together very different chefs from very different parts of the county. We all do our own thing but we all represent Yorkshire.
The chance to work with these guys was also too good an opportunity to pass up, said Stephanie. I think people assume there will be a competitive atmosphere between us, but its more of a collaboration. That doesnt mean to say there isnt friendly banter though.
We all work hard in our own kitchens often in our own little worlds so its nice to work collaboratively once in a while, said Michael. It gets us out of our comfort zones and reinvigorates our cooking. The fundraising dinner was the brainchild of Margaret Millar, Angel Scott and Liz McNeil, who have spent the last 12 months endlessly slaving to ensure its success.
I suggested in rather a wistful way that it would be wonderful to have a grand Yorkshire dinner cooked by the countys best chefs, said Margaret. I didnt think it would actually happen though. Then, in typical Yorkshire fashion, I thought if you dont ask, you dont get. So I asked and they all agreed.
The four chefs have worked together to create a fresh, seasonal menu, with each taking a course and providing a range of canaps. Michael created a starter of asparagus and goats cheese; James a fish medley; Andrew a main course of locally-reared lamb; and Stephanie an assiette of rhubarb puddings.
So was it difficult to decide on a final menu? Choosing the menu wasnt hard at all because its all about seasonality, said James. Whats fresh and at its best right now? Thats the only question we really had to answer.
We have all the produce we could possibly want right on our doorstep, said Stephanie. When you compare Yorkshire to the other counties we win hands down every time. It really is Gods own country.
We are lucky in this county to have such a strong group of producers, said Michael. We are able to work closely with people from our own neighbourhood. This gives us a social cohesion that the chefs in London just dont have.
The London boys have to travel up here to get their hands on our produce, added James, who is writing a book about seasonal produce due out next year. We all have strong relationships with our suppliers its part of the job. Sometimes you feel you havent got time to spend with each of your 50 or so suppliers, but you have to. Its a two-way street. We need quality produce to create great food, and the producers need great food to showcase their quality produce.
All four clearly believe the county is unbeatable when it comes to the quality of its produce, but has contemporary Yorkshire managed to shrug off its old puddings, pies and groaning platefuls reputation for something more refined?
The image of Yorkshire food has changed dramatically, said Andrew. Weve moved away from enormous portions, where the whole point seemed to be to fill the plate. Our portions are still generous, but the dishes are stylish and thoughtful. The meals we produce now are much more balanced with layers of flavour and interest.
Yorkshire has got a name now as a serious foodie destination, said Stephanie. Tourists can enjoy a gastro tour of the region.
And they know a lot more about food we all do, said Andrew. Kids eat out in restaurants now and theyre not just having chicken nuggets and chips. People are much more demanding than they were 10 or 20 years ago, but thats a good thing. We have to keep innovating to make it exciting for people to eat in our restaurants.
The chefs passion for food is matched by their passion for their county. But could anything tempt them away? Their own flagship London restaurant perhaps?
Its just not relevant anymore, said James. Im interested in whats happening here, not 200 miles away. Its part of our job to fly the flag for Yorkshire. We were the first to get a Michelin star in East Yorkshire and its encouraged everyone to raise their game. Our success the success of everyone here around the table is good for the whole Yorkshire industry.
Why move to London when I can get a second Michelin star here? said Andrew. Of course its within our reach why not? Its always more difficult for Yorkshire restaurants to get stars because the London boys get extra points just for being in London. We have to battle a lot of prejudice as well as produce top flight food. But its worth it.
Most top chefs ply their trade in the capital at some point, but if these Yorkshire chefs are anything to go by, their homing instinct remains intact.
A lot of my students pack themselves off to London after their training, like most of us did, but the best dont stay there forever, said Stephanie. Yorkshire has real pulling power for us chefs we all come home eventually.
A short history of the chefs
Michael Hjort trained with the Roux brothers before returning to his native York to open Meltons now undergoing a major expansion and refurbishment and Meltons Too (www.meltonsrestaurant.co.uk) with his wife Lucy. Both restaurants share a commitment to home-cooking and Yorkshire produce and are renowned for serving quality food in a relaxed setting.
As if he wasnt busy enough, Michael is also managing director of the annual York Food & Drink Festival (www.yorkfoodfestival.com), a mammoth undertaking thats almost a full-time job in itself. This years event takes places from September 17th-26th.
Stephanie Moon cooked her way around the world from the Dorchester in London to Australia, Germany, Switzerland and America before returning to Yorkshire to take over the kitchen at Rudding Park on the outskirts of Harrogate (www.ruddingpark.co.uk). Over the years she has cooked for the great and the good, including George Bush Snr, Mikhail Gorbachev and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
She continues to act as consultant chef at Rudding as well as numerous other hotels, restaurants and Deliciouslyorkshire, she teaches at Leeds City College and is proud to be a Wild Cook, blogging recipes, foodie facts and general musings at www.thewildcook.co.uk.
James Mackenzie made history by becoming the first and only chef in East Yorkshire to secure a coveted Michelin star at his rural restaurant The Pipe & Glass in South Dalton (www.pipeandglass.co.uk)
He took over the 15th century property with his wife Kate four years ago, transforming it into a warm, welcoming, contemporary bar and restaurant where the emphasis is placed firmly on high quality, local, seasonal produce.
James is originally from Filey and trained at Scarborough Technical College before venturing into kitchens across the country, including the
Nailers Arms gastropub in Worcestershire and The Star Inn at Harome.
Andrew Pern, Jamess former boss at The Star Inn (www.thestaratharome.co.uk), who was the first pub chef in the country to receive a Michelin star.
Hes a keen champion of local produce and enjoys combining cheap and refined ingredients, such as foie gras and black pudding, in hearty yet stylish quintessentially northern dishes.
Andrew, whose new hunting, shooting and fishing recipe book is due out this autumn, bought The Star with his wife Jacquie in 1996 and they have not looked back since theyve been far too busy opening their own deli, butcher, fishmonger, tearoom, accommodation and, of course, winning even more awards.