Tim Monkhouse has a lot to thank his mother for. Likewise, his own son, Tom, owes his father a debt of gratitude.
In Tim’s case, it was his mother’s insistence that she couldn’t be expected to do everything for him and his three siblings and the need to learn to fend for themselves’ on the food front.
Hence by the time the 55 year old left home to go to university, his mealtime repertoire extended far beyond heating up a can of baked beans or boiling an egg (which simple task is beyond a frightening number of today’s teenagers and twenty-somethings who have flown the nest).
Tim’s mother was also an adventurous home cook for her time. Family holidays to countries like France, Italy and Austria had opened her eyes to other culinary cultures and in an age when Pot Noodles and Vesta paella and curries were thought of as the height of meal time sophistication, it wasn’t unusual for the Monkhouse’s to be dining on colourful home cooked pasta dishes and Indian food.
From an early age Tim developed a taste for both the exotic and experimenting in the kitchen.
Fast forward a few years and for his eighth birthday Tim bought Tom not the latest gadget or must-have Lego set but a fine dining cookbook. From that moment Tom says he “never looked back.”
He read the recipe book from cover to cover in the way other people devour fiction novels. And he fell in love with good food, the gastronomic possibilities it offers and cooking in general.
It was perhaps inevitable then that after pursuing other careers, Tim and Tom would eventually decide to follow their hearts and stomachs rather than their heads and join forces to launch their own food venture – Papa Ganoush.
A play on baba ganoush, the gutsy smoke scented aubergine-based Middle Eastern dip, the papa part is the Monkhouse’s tongue in cheek reference to Tim’s position as the patriarch of the partnership. Not that it’s a hierarchical alliance.
Father and son have their own strengths and weaknesses and are happy to defer to each other should the need arise.
It perhaps explains why since launching just over 18 months ago, Papa Ganoush has taken the North East street food scene by storm. The pair have quickly established themselves as both a popular and welcome sight at the region’s growing number of food festivals, markets and other culinary events.
Today will see them setting out their stall at the third Tynemouth Food Festival, being held for the first time in the village’s priory and castle as its own popularity has seen it outgrow its former site in Queen Victoria Park and the Kings Priory senior school campus.
Tim and 26-year-old Tom are also regulars at Newcastle’s monthly Boiler Shop Steamer held in the historic and industrial surroundings of the Stephenson quarter just behind the Central Station, which has hit on a winning formula of its own with its heady mix of top quality food, live music and beer and cocktails.
Father and son have recently branched out into wedding catering and this week they took the momentous step of moving what has until now been a home-run operation into a special catering unit over the river in Pelaw from their Whitley Bay-base.
It means Tim’s supportive and it has to be said patient wife Terri, 59, will no longer have to arrive home from work to towering piles of dirty pots and pans cluttering up her kitchen following one of her husband’s and Tom’s mammoth cooking sessions.
If all goes to plan, the father-son duo hope by the end of this year to have their own high street outlet too somewhere in Newcastle serving both sit-in and take-out food.
And such is Papa Ganoush’s popularity that Tim and Tom are contemplating doubling their efforts so they can attend more street food and other events.
As the name implies, Papa Ganoush specialises in Middle Eastern cuisine – but given a Monkhouse twist.
Neither Tim nor Tom is a food purist. They believe in experimenting, adapting and fine tuning to their own tastes – and it seems the publics.
Tom says: “It doesn’t rule our lives; nor are we its masters.”
Neither claims to be serving ‘authentic’ (whatever that is) Middle Eastern cuisine. Tom states: “What is authentic? Food is constantly evolving. That’s one of its joys. Honestly, does it really matter if what we are doing is making people happy?”
It’s certainly noticeable at food events that some of the biggest queues are at the Papa Ganoush stall, although as Tim says dryly “that’s probably because I spend too much time talking to people.”
Father and son also like adding a sense of theatre to their activities. Flatbreads are made to order and the food is either grilled, chopped, baked or fried on the stall in front of customers, which means their ‘fast-food’ isn’t always as quick as their competitors.
But while their food may not always suit purists the smell and look is evocative of the Middle East.
Their staple dish and what Papa Ganoush is renowned for, is the Lebanese chicken, marinated overnight in spices, honey, garlic, lemon and ginger and served in a fresh flatbread.
They also do pulled lamb Shawarma, cooked slowly in a blend of spices and garlic. Their popular green falafel is a mix of spinach, chickpeas and green chilli with a heady dose of cumin and coriander, rolled into balls and fried until fluffy and golden.
Moroccan spices and minced lamb go hand-in-hand, and Marquez lamb kofte is another of the Monkhouse’s best-sellers.
Everything comes with a range of salads like carrot and pomegranate coleslaw, cucumber and harissa relish, beetroot puree and homemade hummous (a dip that like its spelling has many variants. Tim and Tom prefer to keep theirs plain and simple). They even make their own yoghurt and sauces.
It’s all a long way from Tim’s original vocation working first in pensions and then social housing (his wife’s profession). Tom too has stuck his toe into the social housing sector but has also worked with food, although he has never been formerly trained as a chef.
Tim admits he would have loved to have pursued a career in the kitchen after leaving university, but says: “My dad was a senior manager with Northern Rock and being the youngest of four I felt I had to be as good as my siblings rather than just follow my heart and do what I wanted to.
“The financial industry was a safe one to be in at that time so that was the path I decided to take. It’s not what I wanted to do but felt I had to. I’m not alone in that regard.
“Eventually I got fed up and fell into working in the housing sector and that is what brought me back to my native North East.”
It was a double father-son redundancy whammy and Tim and Tom’s shared love of cooking that brought them together with Papa Ganoush, however.
“We were both at a crossroads,” Tim explains. “I had been cooking Middle Eastern and Indian food at home for years and it was my daughter, Sarah, who said ‘why don’t you start selling it at the markets?’
“So Tom and I talked about it and thought it was a good idea and decided that Middle Eastern street food was what we wanted to do. It could have been Indian, but there is a lot of that type of street food around now while Middle Eastern is under-represented.
“Cooking food at home for pleasure and having a business doing it are two totally different things, and both Tom and myself decided early on that if things didn’t work out then we could always go back to our previous careers.
“But thankfully for us Papa Ganoush has just grown and grown.”
Why is no mystery to Tim and Tom. “What sets us apart is that we have a considerable knowledge of that type of food; we know how it is put together and we both have a passion for taste,” Tim says.
“We started doing this for the food rather than the money, but after three or four months realised there was something in it.”
Aside from identifying a gap in the market, why did they choose Middle Eastern food? For Tom it was reading about the political instability of the region that sparked his interest in the cuisine.
Tim was introduced to it many years ago after his sister bought him a selection of spices, something he had never cooked with. He took himself off to learn more and began pulling together his own Middle Eastern inspired food.
It’s a love that has stayed with him.
The final word goes to Tom. “We are very adventurous. We assess and adapt. We are not slaves to tradition. We take food and we take it on a Middle Eastern tour.”
And luckily for North East food lovers, that tour includes adding heat to the region’s street food scene.