Tucked in behind Wallsend’s Church Bank Cemetery and overlooking the romantically named Willington Gut (a narrow inlet off the River Tyne) stands a row of neat, late Victorian houses.
The grandly named Northumberland Villas is an oasis of tranquillity and calm. Set among trees and with gratifyingly quiet neighbours, the narrow road just off North Terrace isn’t what you’d expect to find amid the urban sprawl that stretches for miles along the banks of the Tyne.
That’s not the only surprise that awaits those who find themselves in the quiet street.
Half-way along is the home Steve Peart shares with wife Paula, 48, and their whippet, Maisie.
From the outside it looks much the same as the other semi-detached properties.
But a surprise lies behind the door of the attached garage.
It’s from here that 50-year-old Steve has turned a near three-decade-long hobby into a tasty new career.
In 2012 he left behind life as a social worker and a year later launched Northumbrian Smokehouse.
It’s from the converted garage that Steve produces a mouth-watering array of smoked foods from piri piri chicken breasts to mussels in garlic oil, rainbow trout, salmon and mushroom pates, black pudding, chilli and garlic houmous and a range of relishes.
He even smokes cheeses, including Stilton and mature cheddar, as well as hard boiled eggs and roasted cashews and almonds, and will undertake bespoke orders for duck and game.
His pièce de résistance, however, is smoked salmon made to the same recipe once enjoyed by Prince Charles. Steve was taught the technique by smoking experts Jo Hampson and Georgina Perkins.
These ex-police chief inspectors in the Thames Valley area radically changed their lives in 2001, moving to Cumbria to set up The Old Smokehouse at Brougham Hall, near Penrith.
They supplied top stores such as Fortnum and Mason, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, and also worked privately for Prince Charles.
Eventually they sold the business and started the Smoky Jo’s Cookery School at Shap, where Steve went to brush up on his own smoking skills and learned some of the ladies’ regal fish and game techniques.
So it’s no idle boast when Steve says: “If you get smoked salmon from me it’s what Prince Charles would have enjoyed.”
Unfortunately, the heir to the throne is not a customer of Steve’s, but he cheekily adds: “I’ve often thought I should drop him a line and let him know his smoked salmon is still available!”
If the Prince of Wales is oblivious to Northumbrian Smokehouse’s existence, plenty of others have discovered Steve at the region’s farmers’ markets and food festivals.
Over the last 18 months he has built up a loyal clientele at Gibside, Ryton and Prudhoe markets.
Oddly, smoked salmon is not his bestseller. Neither is the spicy piri piri chicken. That honour, “without a shadow of a doubt”, falls to his black pudding. “It flies out,” Steve says. “It’s far more popular than I ever thought it would be. Why? Because it tastes as fantastic as it looks, of course!”
That comes down to the oak smoking dust he always uses. The garage houses a double smoker as well as a preparation area.
Running a smokehouse from a residential street might not sound the most community-spirited occupation.
But Steve says his neighbours complain they can’t smell the fruits of his labours.
“I’ve been very careful to ensure any smell is kept to a minimum, but the result is you can’t smell the smokers. I know it may sound odd, but I have been getting complaints because nobody can smell it.
“My neighbours were really looking forward to being able to smell the oak smoke. The oak dust gives off a lovely, slightly sweet smell and produces a fantastic light-smoked colour and flavour.”
Steve has been fascinated by smoked food since 1987 when he spent a summer working with Camp America on the shores of Lake Michigan.
He took time out to travel to San Francisco and fell in love with the Californian city’s plethora of barbecue and smokehouse restaurants.
“It’s a very traditional way of cooking in America,” Steve explains. “If I’m being honest, it was sort of already in my blood. I’m originally from North Shields and I can remember, when I was growing up, the smell of the smokehouses on the fish quay was always around.
“I have always loved smoked kippers and other smoked foods and I think it has just sort of grown from there.
“I am also really passionate about traditional but dying arts like thatching and recognise the need to keep them alive. Even before I became a social worker I had wanted to get into something like that.
“Smoking is the most ancient craft. It goes back to cavemen times. Virtually everything they ate would have been cooked on an open fire.
“We’ve progressed beyond that now, but smoking really enhances the flavour of food. There isn’t really anything that won’t benefit from being smoked.”
On his return from the US, Steve began experimenting with smoking techniques. His first efforts involved tea smoking using a wok.
“It’s actually quite easy and very effective,” Steve says. “You get a wok, cover the bottom with foil, mix together tea leaves of your choice, dried rice and sugar and toast over the heat.
“You then get a bamboo steamer, add your food, place that on top of the tea and finish off with a tight fitting lid. While the food cooks it takes on the heady, smoky scent of the toasted tea and rice.
“You can cook a piece of flavourful, tender, smoky trout in about 10 minutes. And it’s not just fish you can do. I was experimenting with all sorts of meats, like game birds.
“From there I moved on to barbecuing.”
But Steve never imagined he would be able to earn a living from his culinary sideline.
Then, in 2012, a call for voluntary redundancies at work coincided with a TV programme Steve saw on running your own successful business. “The thing that kept coming across was that the best ideas are often borne out of something you are already passionate about and know.
“I thought the time had come to take a leap of faith and to do something I love. So I decided to take up the offer of voluntary redundancy and I threw everything I had into getting Northumbrian Smokehouse off the ground.”
It has proved a wise move. More than a quarter of a century of experimentation and travel to some of the world’s top foodie hotspots has gone into the venture.
“I have travelled all over the world and I have always made a beeline for the barbecue places, especially in Australia and Asia. I have absorbed all these influences and they are certainly coming out in the smoked foods I am doing.
“In Asia barbecue street food is quite big. Vietnam was a fantastic place. The food is just so fresh, unadulterated and has just the right amount of heat to it. I like a bit of heat in my food, but not too much.”
Steve is aiming to make his mark by offering food that goes beyond the norm, such as his smoked mushroom pâté. “It’s one of my bestsellers and is a bit unusual. It’s not something you can get elsewhere.”
Having established himself as a regular on the North East’s artisan food scene, Steve has big plans for the next 12 months.
He wants to begin pushing his range of smoked foods out into delicatessens and farm shops and will be taking online orders via a new website.
He had toyed with opening his own high street outlet, but while smoking food is an ancient craft, it is ironic that nowadays it is viewed as a luxury item.
Not that Steve charges extravagant prices. A 140g pot of smoked chilli and garlic houmous comes in at £1.20, smoked and roasted cashews at £1.60 for an 80g tub and smoked chicken liver, brandy and orange pate at £2.60 for 130g.
That’s cheaper than most supermarket brands.
But there is definitely nothing mass-produced about what Steve is offering. He’s showing there is much more to smoked food than just salmon.
“The process is fairly simple: it’s just your raw ingredient and smoke. But out of that, something amazingly tasty and different is created.”
It’s no wonder Steve gets so fired up when it comes to smoking.
Find out more on Northumbrian Smokehouse’s Facebook page or Twitter: @NbrianSmokehse
A new website will be launched later this year. Email enquiries can be made to email@example.com