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Masterchef finalist Dave Coulson opens new restaurant on Tyneside

The mood board in the window of 217 Jesmond Road shows a trendily cool and contemporary restaurant

Masterchef finalist Dave Coulson
Masterchef finalist Dave Coulson

There are exposed brick walls, lots of wood, pale colours and quirky touches such as old bicycles used as basin pedestals in the washrooms.

The impression is of a buzzing and chic eatery that makes the most of what is an industrial-sized space over three floors, but which will still offer comfort and cosiness.

The reality behind the whitewashed windows is somewhat different. The building that was once home to the acclaimed Barn Under a Wandering Star restaurant has been gutted.

In its current state it takes a big leap of imagination to marry the architect’s concept with the day-to-day reality.

Thankfully, Dave Coulson seems unworried by the dust, dirt and chaos as he cheerfully explains the idea behind his soon to open Peace and Loaf restaurant. It may still look like a building site, but work is moving apace and everything is on track for an October launch.

When it opens, Peace and Loaf (Dave says everyone in the North East likes bread, and if everything was peaceful, things would be much nicer) will seat a modest 56 diners, create 16 jobs and offer a Northern-inspired menu with plenty of innovative and modern twists.

Launching his own restaurant is a dream realised for the 28-year-old – but one many expected him to have achieved long before now.

It’s been three years since the chef, who was born and raised in County Durham, shot to TV culinary fame.

Alongside fellow North Easterner John Calton from South Shields, he found himself in the final three on the BBC’s popular MasterChef: The Professionals competition. The pair were pipped to the prestigious crown in a tense finale watched by millions of viewers by Claire Lara, a catering college tutor from Liverpool.

But while the diffident Dave didn’t win, he impressed with his creativity and skill.

The next logical move for the chef who has no formal qualifications, would have been to cash in on his newfound fame and open his own place.

So why has he waited so long? “I didn’t have a backer, it’s as simple as that,” he says, before adding: “And I suppose I didn’t feel ready either. When I got on MasterChef I was working at Wynyard Hall and I quit that job to go on the show.

“Then, when I got back to the North I got a job at the Castle Eden Inn (in Castle Eden near Hartlepool and the village where Dave still lives with long-time girlfriend Lindsay Harrison) and I just got on with my life.

“People expect a little bit more when they have seen you on the telly. They have high expectations, but then so do I about myself. I had thought I could reach the final of MasterChef or I wouldn’t have done the competition.”

But now he has a patron – the team be- hind Sachins, the successful Newcastle-based Punjabi restaurant.

He has gone into partnership with Sachins’ owner, Bob Aurora, his wife Neeta and sister-in-law Geeta Ral, a former business manager at Santander who was looking to launch her own firm.

While Bob and Neeta are sleeping partners, Dave and Geeta are working closely together on the £250,000 project. Dave is heading up the kitchen with Geeta working front of house.

The pair have pulled together a “cracking team”, including David Lieu, fresh from Pan Haggerty in Newcastle, who Dave has worked with before, and who will manage the restaurant.

They’re also offering three apprenticeships to catering students from Gateshead College. “There is a lot of pressure on youngsters to perform well in exams,” he says. “I don’t have any formal qualifications, I’ve just been fortunate to gain invaluable experience.

“Being able to share my knowledge and vibrant career history with young chefs is a dream come true.”

Dave Coulson and Bob first met at a food festival in 2011. Later, Bob ran an Indian food night at the Castle Eden Inn.

“Bob liked the way I worked and when I told him I wanted my own place he said straight away ‘let’s do it.’

“Two weeks later he came back to me and said he had found a place that would be ideal. It’s taken six months of planning but now we are on the verge of opening.

“I’m very excited to be able to show people what I can do. It is my chance to do what I want. I will be cooking good food, but people can expect a few surprises, too.

“I don’t think of recipes, I think of ideas and combinations. “

Dave is in the enviable position of being allowed to develop the food offering as he sees fit. Peace and Loaf will not be a clone of Sachins – although Dave is a fan of their food and likes nothing better than joining the team at the restaurant for a staff curry.

Many of the dishes are based on the sort of food Dave himself grew up eating, with Northern classics given a 21st-century (and extremely artistic) makeover – such as homemade beans on toast puree and an English breakfast served with brown sauce jellies.

Fish finger sandwiches may even make an appearance “but not as you know it,” Dave says.

It’s all a long way from his first love – football.

Growing up in the pit village of Wingate in County Durham, Dave had hoped to turn professional.

He had trials for Sheffield United and also played for the junior team at Hartlepool, but realised just before he left school that he was never going to make the grade.

So he turned to his second love – food.

“I used to rush home from school to watch Ready Steady Cook. I watched every cooking show going when I was a kid. I really liked Gary Rhodes and then Jamie Oliver came along when I was about 14 and I thought he was so cool as he had a Vespa.

“So when I didn’t make it as a footballer I went to work at the Castle Eden Inn – I had already worked there as a pot washer when I was still at school – and stayed there for about 18 months in the kitchen. I took to it straight way.

“Eventually, they said I needed to broaden my scope and go and work elsewhere. That was the game change really. I worked at the White Room at Seaham Hall with Steve Smith when it had a Michelin star.

“Then I worked down in Helmsley for a bit, and Blackburn, and then after MasterChef briefly at Michel Roux Junior’s La Gavroche. Then I ended up back at the Castle Eden Inn running the kitchen eight years after I had left.”

That’s not to mention a three-day stint at one of the world’s finest restaurants – the two Michelin star Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, as part of his MasterChef experience. “That was really special,” Dave enthuses. “They use the freshest ingredients that you pick yourself. If you pick it yourself you have to use it. I am very fortunate in that I have learned everything I know from some of the best chefs around.”

It’s not all been plain sailing for Dave though. Incongruously for a chef, he is allergic to shellfish! Even touching it with his bare hands causes his skin to redden and itch.

When he cooks it he has to either trust to his culinary instincts or call on a taster.

Dave also revealos that he has no desire to leave the region to further his career.

He believes, despite some cynics’ views that the North East is a culinary desert, that we can hold our heads high. “John and I were both in a MasterChef final and we have some of the best suppliers around.

“We have some really talented people cooking and some really talented people producing. Ken Holland with his vegetables is fantastic, and I have been using him for five or six years and will be continuing to do so here at the restaurant.

“We will be using the best ingredients we can here at Peace and Loaf and I have even bought myself a little van so I can go and pick stuff up.”

The food will be truly seasonal too, so don’t expect to see tomatoes or strawberries being served up in the middle of winter.

Dave says: “We won’t have tomatoes in the kitchen when they shouldn’t be available. My view is if it’s not meant to be around, don’t use it.”

Peace and Loaf, 217 Jesmond Road, Newcastle. See www.peaceand loaf.co.uk; Facebook: www.facebook.com/Peaceandloafjesmond ; Twitter: @peaceandloafjes

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