Two of the UK’s most popular chefs, The Hairy Bikers are known for their irresistible enthusiasm, down-to-earth outlook on life and their irrepressible love of good food.
They have created haute cuisine dishes with Michelin-starred chefs, have journeyed everywhere from Hollywood to the African desert on the back of a Triumph Rocket III motorbike each, and even knocked 50 Shades of Grey from the top of the bestsellers charts in the summer of 2012 with their first diet book. Now Si King and Dave Myers are going back to basics with their latest release: The Hairy Bikers’ British Classics – celebrating the delight that comes from simple home cooking.
‘It’s a bit like trying to do a greatest hits,’ says Dave. ‘We’ve been cooking on the telly since 2004, and it just seemed like the time was right to revisit some of our favourite recipes and rework them – because things have changed over the years. It’s quite an eclectic mix, but it is, we feel, representative of modern Britain and the food that we love.’
The book covers everything from savoury favourites to sweet treats – taking in prawn cocktails, Lancashire hotpots, herb-stuffed shoulders of lamb and jam roly poly (and not forgetting some Christmas classics). But since the pair first started cooking together, the idea of what makes a ‘British classic’ has changed dramatically. Of course, we all still love the old favourites – steak and kidney pie, roast chicken, and toad in the hole – but with chicken tikka masala voted the UK’s favourite dish in recent years, and delights like Thai curry and Caribbean jerk chicken now an expected part of many supermarkets’ ready-meal ranges, the Bikers believed it was important to reflect the increasingly international influences of our nation’s everyday cuisine in their latest offering, which sets out to capture the very essence of modern British culture.
‘We live in a multicultural society in the UK, and cuisine is part of that DNA,’ says Si. ‘There aren’t many countries in which you can eat your way around the world like you can in the UK. The book is representative of that.’
‘Chicken tikka masala is a British dish,’ reasons Dave. ‘It’s become a classic: in freezer cabinets, in hotels and restaurants, so we think that it’s worthy of a place in the book. This is a bit left-field, but every time we went to Ikea we both came out with a load of meatballs. And anybody who’s ever been to buy flat-pack furniture has probably come out with a bag of meatballs. And they’re great! But we went to Sweden, learned how to make really good Scandinavian meatballs, and that’s the recipe we’ve chosen for the book. So, to us, that’s a British classic – because we first had them whilst we were buying cupboards!’
A love of cooking and a playfulness with flavour has been ingrained in both Bikers from an early age. Growing up in Barrow, food was at the centre of Dave’s family life – with Mondays the designated ‘Baking Day’, when his mother would whip up everything from Victoria sponge cakes to bread buns. But when Dave was only eight years old, his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and by the time he was 12 he had taken over all of the shopping and cooking for the family. With a natural propensity to always look on the bright side, Dave turned the situation into a learning (and a business) opportunity, and it was clear from an early age that the future Biker was destined to make his living from his kitchen – inviting his friends over for curries that he’d make with eggs and sausages at a fraction of the price of the local takeaway.
But Dave officially marks the beginning of his culinary adventure from when he moved down to London in the 1970s – spending his time in between lectures looking for culinary inspiration in Chinatown, local food markets and traditional Asian spice shops, and eating his way rapidly through his grant.
‘I’d always been a greedy child, so whatever was put in front of me I did devour quite quickly,’ Dave laughs. ‘But when I came down to London, I remember going for my first Indian meal and thinking that it was just the most amazing thing. Pretty quickly I started making the food myself, and it’s just been a passion ever since.’
For Geordie Si, on the other hand, he attributes a lot of his passion for new flavours to his upbringing in the North East. Also born into a family of foodies, Si was brought up in a house that had only four topics of conversation: football, politics, music and food – and food was the big one. With exotic ingredients being brought back by a father who worked in the Navy, Si remembers constantly watching his mother experiment in the kitchen; after his father died, Si spent an increasing amount of time cooking with his mother as a way of connecting and comforting her in their grief and, by doing so, learned not only how to bake, roast, braise and fillet, but also what (certainly to him and his family) cooking meant at its core: love.
‘My mam was incredibly experimental, because my dad was quite well-travelled being in the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxillary and the Merchant Service,’ explains Si. ‘So in Kibblesworth, my mam was cooking with star anise and lemongrass in the early 60s! I’m the youngest of three, so by the time I arrived there was already a well-established, international cuisine within the household. It was great.’
For generations, Si’s family had cooked for miners from their pit village home – making big portions for hard-working men – but it wasn’t until he met Dave on the set of a Catherine Cookson drama in 1992 that he could have a proper conversation about food with someone outside his family.
And The Hairy Bikers combo certainly works. Each bringing something unique to the table, Dave’s approach is perhaps more delicate, while Si is prepared to go straight in for the kill – the former opting to diligently monitor slow-cooking meat in a sous-vide, for example, while the latter will get outside and dig a fire pit. In the kitchen, Si tends to handle most of the butchery while Dave takes care of the fish filleting and, when making pies for instance, Dave’s talent lies primarily in the pastry while Si will rustle up the filling. But, together, the Bikers create simple yet delicious dishes with a ‘good food for all’ mantra at their core and, as their latest literary instalment seems to prove, continue to go from strength to strength with their cunning creations.
But for those who are not content with simply reading about the Bikers’ wealth of culinary experience, don’t fret – we won’t have to wait too long before hearing from Si and Dave in person, with their return to Newcastle’s City Hall in March promising yet another entertaining evening of live cooking and conversation. So what can fans expect from the Bikers’ third theatre tour?
‘Si to be very nervous doing it on his home turf!’ laughs Dave.
‘True!’ Si agrees. ‘It’s just going to be like coming round to our house – a bit of music, a few giggles, and a bit of craic on. There’s a portion of the show that we’ll have roaming microphones in the audience, so they can ask us any questions they like. It’ll be a good laugh.’
‘It’s a fun show,’ Dave seconds. ‘We’ll be cooking live, it’s very interactive, and we’ll have a lottery for people who want to come on stage and eat with us. The first half will be hors d’oeuvres and beer, second half we’ll do mains and pud. Could be some speed-dating done! There’ll be a few surprises for sure.’
We ask The Hairy Bikers to pick out their favourite recipes from their new book
‘There’s a recipe for a pork and pistachio pâté, it’s a really simple one. I got the idea from some Italians, and you know the montbeliard sausages that you buy? Basically, you blitz them up with parmesan cheese, crème fraîche, some herbs, salt and pepper, and it makes the most wonderful, quick pork pâté, scattered with pistachio nuts. That’s a belter.’
‘When I was a kid, my mum used to make the most wonderful egg custard as well, sometimes using ready-made, instant custard. But if you take the trouble to make the custard fresh, and then if you add in some rhubarb, rhubarb and custard are a match made in heaven. So the custard tart with rhubarb, that’s a proper classic. It takes me back to my childhood – but, in some ways, I reckon it’s better than my mum’s!’
‘The one that I really like is, again, very simple. It’s a match made in heaven this – scallops, black pudding, bacon and mash. It’s so lovely.’
‘Pan haggarty’s in the book as well. That was a standard miner’s classic, the pan haggarty. It’s basically layered potatoes with onions and carrots and a bit of bacon with some cheese on the top. Add some stock and you just cook it easy. Lush!’
The Hairy Bikers will be at Newcastle’s City Hall on 31st March. For more information, visit www.theatreroyal.co.uk
The Hairy Bikers’ British Classics – published by Seven Dials – is available now at £22