In the time that you’ve been in Hull, how’s the food scene changed?
There’s more people, there’s more places opening up, and I think everyone’s stepped up their game a bit because there’s just so many people visiting the city and we want to make sure we deliver on the whole City of Culture thing.
You must want to show off Hull in its best light.
Exactly. So the whole scene has changed, and everyone is doing better food in my opinion. Hull has often had this reputation where, if you were coming from the west villages, you wouldn’t go to Hull for dinner, you’d maybe go to the surrounding areas and country pubs. But now Hull is giving a reason to come into the city and to make a day and a night of it.
So the new openings have changed how people relate to the city at large?
Absolutely. There’s destinations like Humber Street that are as good as any city – people think, ‘I’d love a weekend in Manchester or Liverpool or Leeds’, but Hull’s up there now.
What was your first kitchen like?
I remember my first kitchen 10 or 11 years ago was at the Manor House in Walkington. That was, at the time, a country house with bedrooms and we had two AA Rosettes. That first kitchen was great: as a commis chef, straight into two-AA Rosette level, it was a really good grounding. I’d swept and mopped my mum’s floors and got away with leaving bits behind, but I swept the kitchen once and obviously didn’t do a good enough job, because the Head Chef said, ‘If you’re not going to do it, I’ll do it,’ and I followed him around like a little lost dog while he did it. From that day on, I mopped much better. I like to get involved and get my hands dirty. I’ll do the deep clean, it doesn’t bother me. It’s my restaurant, so why should I not be on my hands and knees on the floor, scrubbing?
Looking at your CV, accessible gastropub food is your wheelhouse.
Yeah, there are places like Gidleigh Park which go against that – they’re fantastic restaurants and the food’s amazing but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. It’s not the ethos that I like to work with, you know: ‘If a parsley leaf doesn’t have three points on it, we won’t use it,’ ridiculous things like that. That, to me, is not what food should be about. It’s about presentation, of course, but it’s about flavour and using things in the right way so you get the best yield out of it – for one, it makes good business sense and makes a sustainable business, but two, just morally. It’s wrong, in my opinion, to bin things that don’t need binning. And that’s what the fine dining industry does, that’s how it works. Everything’s so precise and is marked on that by specific guides, and they look for that. Whereas in a gastropub, you’re allowed a little more leeway and that was something I wanted to represent in my cooking.
What did you learn from Heston Blumenthal and Tom Kerridge when you worked at The Fat Duck and The Hand and Flowers?
From Heston it was more the scientific influence and, in a nutshell, that food doesn’t have to be as it appears. That’s something that I still do to this day. We use a citrus gel on our mackerel dish – it’s something else. Rather than putting a lemon on there, we do a lemon, lime and orange gel. It tastes better and it’s a bit different. Working there, you can do things a little bit differently. You’re encouraged to experiment. The Hand and Flowers is just phenomenal. There, I learned respect for ingredients and allowing them to just shine through. For example, the duck dish that we did, uses all of it: there’s confit on the side, there’s the duck breast, they use the duck fat to fry the fries in. It’s that ethos that’s then mixed in with the whole experimental Heston-style thing which is essentially what we do. Our lamb dish which we do on the street food side, it’s lamb belly, which no-one really uses. But we take three lamb breasts, press them together, put rosemary, thyme and mint between each layer, vacuum-pack them and cook it sous-vide: we apply a modern technique to a nose-to-tail style of eating, using cuts that people don’t. We cook it for 36 hours and then it’s pressed again, sliced, crisped and served with minted cucumber salad and a cumin and pistachio salad, and we put a mint powder on too. It’s something different, a bit of a show, and it puts that extra fresh mint flavour into the dish.
Why decide to leave these prestigious kitchens and do street food with Shoot the Bull?
The big thing for me was the whole street food revolution. Every decent city was doing it, and there were events popping up. I did go and look around a country pub in North Yorkshire, but the money would have just been crazy. Starting a street food company was just much more financially doable. And, essentially, as much as it’s branded as street food, I kept telling myself was that we’re a restaurant on the street. We’re not table and chairs, but we are doing restaurant food on the street. The fact that we’re not within four walls and you can’t sit down on seats is irrelevant; the food will still be what I would be doing if I had four walls. That’s what sets us apart and is essentially why I was happy to go down that street food route.
Most people just think of burgers when they think of street food.
People have an expectation of burgers, as a street food thing, so what we did was choose something a little bit different, the flatiron steak. We developed a butter which is based around classical French steak butters like a Montpellier or a Café de Paris – we’ve created our own signature steak butter that’s got 27 ingredients. No-one knows the recipe unless they’ve worked for me, and even then they probably can’t remember it either! It’s down on one piece of paper and it doesn’t leave the kitchen. Doing things like the blowtorched fillet of mackerel is very restaurant-y, but delivered on the street people were loving us. We had a plumber’s welding torch doing a mackerel fillet – it creates entertainment, and that makes it feel like street food with the theatre on the street.
The Old House
5 Scale Lane, Hull HU1 1LA
Food heroes? Heston and Tom Kerridge.
Favourite bit of kitchen tech? A Bamix hand-blender – it’s got a grinder attachment for grinding our salt, it’s got a foamer for making meringue. It’s basically a Swiss army knife, but a blender.
What always puts you off a restaurant? Someone trying to get you in the door.
Best advice you’ve been given in the kitchen? Work hard and don’t give up. Any successful chef will tell you that.
Guilty pleasures? When you’re on the way home from work and everywhere else is closed, it has to be a double cheeseburger from McDonalds. It’s so terrible. I’m well aware of that.
Favourite can’t-be-bothered meal? Stir-fry with noodles. Something simple like that can be knocked up in three or four minutes.
Last supper? I’d have to have an Indian banquet of street food.