There’s a howling wind whistling through a gap in my faulty Velux window allowing the lashing rain to dampen, not only my kitchen floor, but my spirits too. If it were not for the unassuming morsel in front of me, I would be seriously questioning the wisdom of my recent south north migration. This edible source of Zen-like karma is a Frank Woods pork pie. Still warm from the butcher’s oven, it is a classic water-crust pastry encasing perfectly seasoned, free-range meat moistened by molten jelly. In a nut (brown) shell – it is an artisan parcel of free-range goodness, epitomising everything that is to be celebrated about local, passion-driven fare. Believe it or not, it is also the straw that broke the camels back in influencing the return to my native Yorkshire.
Having sold-up a thriving bar business in Harrogate some years previously, I had headed to London in search of streets paved with truffles – not for my own consumption you understand – no such small fortune. No, it was time for me to pursue my life-long passion on a new level: I was going to learn to cook ‘restaurant-style’. I hurled myself with sweaty abandon into the steamy, high-pressure kitchens that contribute to London’s new status as a world food capital, with the blind conviction of a lemming off a cliff. I had the full experience all right: those white Alba truffles were everywhere; seared slabs of melting foie gras oozed through labyrinth, sub terrain corridors like arterial cholesterol, while every variety of quail’s egg-garnished, finger-licking canapé was laboriously prepared around gleaming stainless steel tables. My previous passion for beer – no time to drink it anymore – had to be channelled into cooking with it, and matching it with food. Eventually, nice people in the media even invited me to demonstrate, broadcast and write about what I was doing with the amber nectar. But I was pining for the pies.
Don’t get me wrong here, there’s plenty of scope in the big smoke to enjoy great regional produce without pretence: The gastro-pub concept has been expanding exponentially for the last few years to the point where the band wagon has become more of a superstar tour bus. But the bottom line is: there’s a dearth of decent pork pies in London – butchers, pubs, gastro or otherwise, quite simply don’t do them. You’ll understand then, that after finally being forced to pay £3.50 in some fancy Traiteur to get a poor, French impersonation of the sacred pastry, I felt it was time to head back to the hills.
So, here I am, wandering the Yorkshire countryside like some epicurean nomad, in search of artisan produce served up by people with a passion for provenance. What’s more, I want to wash it down with a pint of golden-hued Yorkshire ale rather than a fruitified goblet of New World Chardonnay. As I set out on this rural gastro-exploration, I’m initially struck by an overwhelming sense of ‘where do I start?’ Fortunately, being ‘up north’ the folk are friendly, and after a couple of preliminary phone calls I’m inundated with generous offers of help and guidance on the subject of people, places and products. And what a wealth of talent there is: from spring blossom honey to herds of roaming buffalo and more hand-crafted beers then you can shake a stein at. And let’s not forget Yorkshire’s got a coastline – know what I’m saying? So, having firmly established the fact that I’m up to my armpits in top-drawer tucker and belting beer- I’m heading off to find it, cook it, and sup it. So, whether you’re in Timbuktu or Todmorden, watch this space and let me share my thoughts, passions, discoveries and inspirations. You know it makes sense.