Chefs are renowned for being highly strung and throwing tantrums at the drop of their tall white toques.
It says much about the pressure cooker world of your average restaurant kitchen that many of today’s top chefs (mentioning no names) are as famous for their fiery eruptions as they are for their pioneering culinary skills.
How much truth there is in some of the horror stories dished up in the media is debatable. But there is no denying that once the creative juices start flowing, your average chef can be a difficult beast to handle. They like everything to be in its place, understandably dread any nasty surprises, and most certainly don’t want to be forced to step outside their comfort zone (unless it’s on their terms, of course, and comes with skillet-sized cast iron guarantees).
It is certain that few would be willing to take on the gastronomic challenge that Anna Hedworth is this summer. On paper the 34-year-old’s collaboration with the National Trust is both unique and mouth-watering: the chance to dine at two of the North East’s most iconic landmarks, Lindisfarne Castle and the wildlife-rich Farne Islands.
Four of these special Supperclubs have been planned, starting tomorrow with Lindisfarne on Holy Island. This will be followed on July 27 and August 3 with the Farne Islands off the beautiful north Northumberland coast, and end on August 31 back at Lindisfarne, the picture perfect 16th century fortress near Berwick that was much altered and enhanced by the Edwardian arts and crafts architect Sir Edward Lutyens.
Each Supperclub promises to be a potent mix of good food and entertainment against spectacular backdrops not usually utilised in this way.
As pop-up dining events go, all the ingredients point towards each being a huge success.
Logistically the recipe isn’t quite so clear cut, however. Holy Island is tidal, a good 120-mile round trip from Anna’s home on Tyneside, and while the castle does have a kitchen, it wouldn’t pass muster with a restaurant-trained chef.
The Farne Islands pose an even greater problem. Inner Farne, where Anna will be holding her two supperclubs, is around three miles off the Northumberland coast, midway between the fishing village of Seahouses and Bamburgh with its own magnificent castle.
Of course, it can only be reached by boat and even on calm days the waters between the mainland and Inner Farne can be choppy.
Once Anna reaches the island, which is inhabited by thousands of seabirds, puffins, seals and a handful of National Trust wardens during the summer months, cooking facilities will be even more meagre than at Lindisfarne.
Her only option is to take everything across ready-made so preparation is kept to the minimum. All the plates, cutlery, glasses and napkins will also have to be transported.
It is going to be an interesting journey north up the A1 in her VW Golf.
It is one of those madcap ideas that sounds good discussed late on a Friday night after a few vinos with your closest friends – and would normally be forgotten about in the cold light of a Saturday morning.
Any self-respecting chef would almost certainly walk away from it, which makes Anna’s decision to embark on the summer dining project all the more remarkable – because she isn’t professionally trained.
She is a very good home cook, though, who through her admired food blog, The Grazer, and popular Supperclubs she launched last year and has run in various weird and wonderful locations, from a wine shop to a shipping container and even a bowling green, has built up a reputation for her tasty locally-inspired food.
But ironically it is this inexperience that drives her to stretch herself in the kitchen. Where others would see hurdles Anna pictures only opportunities.
That’s not to say she hasn’t been suffering a few first night nerves. A designer and architect by day, based in Newcastle’s trendy Ouseburn, she admits: “Sometimes I have woken up at night and thought, ‘What am I doing?’
“My Golf will be packed to the roof with stuff. I have got to take all the plates, napkins and knives and then I have to get everything out to Inner Farne on a boat, unpack it all and serve the food.
“This is the most ambitious thing I have ever done by miles. It does all seem very mad.”
But not as mad as the first time she took herself and her food over to Inner Farne on a not very dry-run for the summer Supperclubs. The National Trust had invited a group of benefactors on a visit to Inner Farne. Anna was asked to provide lunch as a surprise.
But to ensure her role was kept secret, rather than go over with the rest of the party on one of the large passenger boats that sail out from Seahouses, Anna was taken over by inflatable speedboat.
“I felt like I was moving house,” she recalls with a laugh. “I had everything, including flowers, vases, bowls and sharp kitchen knives.
“Speeding over to the Farnes with spray going everywhere I had visions of going overboard and having to be rescued before serving lunch soaking wet! Unloading the boat was equally interesting as I was attacked by Arctic terns.
“Everyone seemed to enjoy it though. I got a round of applause at the end of the meal and some very nice things were said.”
That first foray proved the concept worked and Anna came back enthused. “It was amazing. When I got on that boat and came home I couldn’t have been happier, because it had been such a great day.
“Both Inner Farne and Lindisfarne Castle are such amazing and unique venues to hold something like this. Visitors don’t usually get the chance to dine on the Farnes or at Lindisfarne, so the Supperclubs are a really different way for people to enjoy these two places, the beautiful Northumberland coast and the warm summer evenings.”
The planning and execution of the events has shown Anna where she hopes her Supperclubs will be heading in future. “I like curating dining events. I am not a chef and I don’t want to work in a professional kitchen.
“But I love small-scale events like this held at different and beautiful locations that people can’t usually access, that I can organise myself or in collaboration with other people.”
Supperclubs diners are certainly in for a treat before they even sit down to eat. The Inner Farne experience includes a late afternoon private boat trip across the water, arriving on the white sandy beach to be greeted with aperitifs and tasty treats.
This will be followed by a private tour of the island with its beach, lighthouse and garden and thousands of amazing birds.
At dusk Anna will serve a communal dinner either in the lighthouse garden or at a long table in the island’s 14th century chapel loaded with platters of fresh seafood including lobster, langoustine, samphire salad, potted shrimp, smoked salmon, Scotch eggs, braised rosemary Northumbrian lamb and seaweed panacotta.
At Lindisfarne, canapï¿½s and aperitifs will be served on the Lower Battery looking back over the coast. The evening will continue with a tour of the castle’s rooms and end with supper on the Upper Battery – a spot that offers one of the finest views in Northumberland as the sun sinks over the distant Cheviot Hills.
The tie-in with the National Trust came about by chance. Simon Lee, the National Trust’s property manager for the Northumberland Coast, and David Steel, NT’s head ranger on the Farne Islands, came along to one of her Supperclubs earlier this year.
“Simon already had an idea he wanted to host some dinner events in amazing locations, but had been thinking about linking up with a well-known chef or a restaurant,” Anna explains. “Then he came across me. It is the unusual locations, conviviality and good food that is the charm of the Supperclubs. Both Simon and David liked that mix too.”
Anna’s fascination with food goes back to her childhood but her passion for cooking didn’t really start until she studied architecture at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. She lived with a girl who also enjoyed cooking and while fellow students were surviving on beans on toast the two flatmates were experimenting with more exotic combinations.
She set up her blog as a means of keeping track of all her recipes and as her interest in food grew, organised a series of local food fairs in Newcastle. Wine merchant Carruthers and Kent in Gosforth then asked Anna to host a pop-up dining event and this eventually led on to the Supperclubs and now the National Trust link-up.
Anna knows many find her love affair with food perplexing. “I know people at work are confused by me. They keeping asking why I can’t just go home like everyone else and sit down in front of the TV. But that would be far too boring.”
Places at Anna Hedworth’s four National Trust Supperclubs tomorrow and July 27; and August 3 and 31, are limited to 20 places each. Tickets cost £99 per person and can be booked by calling 01289 389244.
The price includes unique private access to the Farnes and Lindisfarne, history and nature talks from the National Trust, food introductions from Anna, welcome aperitifs, a three-course meal with wine to match, digestifs and coffee.
Read Anna Hedworth’s The Grazer blog at www.the-grazer.blogspot.co.uk