PROGRAMMES being recorded or broadcast live have “warm-ups” to relax the audience. The show goes on, then they winkle out the old adage, “leave ’em laughing”.
In not so much a programme, more a way of knife and fork, the combination of this column, plus one of the North-East’s best brewers and the region’s foremost young chef put on a little show of their own this week.
As an hors d’oeuvre, Garry Fawson from North Tyneside-based Mordue Brewery and myself lobbied two dozen adventurous diners on the merits of drinking beer with their food and briefed them on the characteristics and qualities of each beer accompanying a six-course meal, then stepped aside for the star of the show – the food at The Feathers Inn at Hedley-on-the-Hill, near Stocksfield in Northumberland – to justify top billing.
To be more accurate, the platters were a double-act; superbly-prepared dishes brilliantly researched and cooked by Rhian Cradock, the young man who took over the pub with his partner Helen Greer only in April this year. Rhian has made such an impression on the region’s culinary scene that he has reached the final of Gary Rhodes’ Local Food Hero production which is being transmitted on Sunday evening on UKTV Food.
Rhian says: “The competition is for people who use and champion locally produced food. We only prepare food produced from the North-East, especially Northumberland, and that’s how we got through to the final.” Celebrity chef Brian Turner visited The Feathers to watch Rhian at work before he travelled to Plymouth to film the show where he had to produce a three-course meal – and was named North-East winner. He won over the critical Rhodes and Turner with locally-sourced jugged grouse from the nearby Minsteracres estate, mashed Northumbria swede and home-made black pudding.
Rhian’s CV includes senior sous chef at the National Portrait Gallery in London and chef at Chez Bruce, which has several times been voted the capital’s best restaurant. Helen worked in neurophysiology and clinical physiology at Great Ormond Street Hospital and they – quite rightly – met in a restaurant.
Rhian had completed a degree in archaeology before swapping the trowel for the trivet but harboured a desire to move back to the region to cook traditional North-East food where he had been first inspired by a Michelin star winner. “I worked with Terry Laybourne for work experience,” he says. “You could say I got the bug at 21 Queen Street.”
So, how do you warm an audience in front of a roaring log fire (while it tries to snow outside), eager to get the show on the road? You talk to them about beer being the wine of this country – our national drink – and that it has far more subtleties and nuances than wine can muster to partner every style of cookery imaginable. Beer has four basic ingredients; water, malted barley, hops and yeast.
Water can be soft, hard, sulphur-infused or peaty; hops can vary from grapefruit-citrus to floral, earthy and spice-laden; barley can be malted (toasted) to produce flavours of toffee, caramel, bread and biscuit, and yeast accentuates these characteristics whilst converting sugars into alcohol. The combined effects are virtually endless. Wine, on the other hand, has a grape. (It may be a blend of three or four varieties but, put bluntly, it’s a grape).
You invite people to swirl their beer and breathe in the aromas and tell them “nose facts” such as the research by the Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia which suggests that the underarm odour of elderly women elicits feelings of benevolence – consequently, if you’re feeling depressed because you can’t get any beer, sniff your granny. And, if you don’t have a granny, sniff somebody else’s granny. Mordue’s Garry Fawson then let us into what to expect from a menu specially chosen to complement his impressive range of ales and to reinforce the message that beer is the perfect dinner companion. The fireguard goes up, we’re getting warmer, dinner is served:
Warm salad of wild mushrooms and Northumbrian bacon is accompanied by Mordue Five Bridge Bitter (3.8% alcohol by volume). The earthy woodland-like fungus aroma and the astringency of the salad leaves is a powerful concoction matched beautifully by the beer. In one mouthful it complements and in another it contrasts, which is quite a rare achievement.
Smoked haddock kedgeree is coupled with Mordue India Pale Ale. A clear Indian influence with the mild curry and the IPA – a 19th Century beer style shipped to troops serving in the sub-continent that had to be strong in alcohol and heavily hopped for preservation.
They travel extraordinarily well together with the beer and food flavours virtually an extension of each other, one picking up where the other leaves off.
Minsteracres pheasant cooked in Mordue Autumn Tyne with button onions. The accompanying beer has also been used during cooking and it holds its own flavour in the glass without overwhelming the pheasant (which reveals more delicate features than gamey ones). The parsnip and layer of mashed swede sweetness contrasts with the beer’s fruity bitterness.
Haydon Bridge pure pork chipolatas, Radgie Gadgie gravy and creamy mashed potato with Mordue Radgie Gadgie Bitter. The gravy has been cleverly reduced to release huge beer flavours but the sausage spiciness seems to alter the escorting ale and appears almost perfumed, as in Parma violets. It’s an unusual sensation.
Local roe venison stew and chestnuts with Mordue Workie Ticket. Malt flavours from the ale settle at the back of the palate and allow the delicate flavour shades of the venison to dominate. The barley in the stew forms a hearty rustic base whereas pine nuts add a moment of sharpness.
Poached pear caramel tart and liquorice ice cream with Mordue Coffee Porter. A caramelised edge coupled with the liquorice influence hits the palate like chewy Black Jacks. The beer’s distinct chocolate malt and liquorice nature circulates into the dessert’s flavours, interacting well and creates a memorable finale. “This is a bit more difficult than matching wine to food,” admits Rhian. “It’s been more interesting for me to match beer with food – wine is more formulaic and I would have a Chablis with shellfish – like scallops – for instance. I tried to do some quite traditional dishes without getting too fussy and used beer in some of the dishes where I wouldn’t necessarily use wine in cooking.
“The venison was marinated in the Workie Ticket and the pheasant in Autumn Tyne but not for long as the real ale can get very, very bitter. We have Radgie Gadgie gravy on all the time but you have to make sure you don’t get the hop bitterness coming through.” Rhian says the Coffee Porter made him think a bit more. “Normally the accompaniment has to be sweeter than the dessert or it works against it,” he says. “Chocolate is difficult to match and a coffee dessert would be too much of the same.”
Although gaining a reputation for its food, The Feathers Inn, a former drovers’ stopping-off point with commanding views over Northumberland, remains a centre for village activities and is a true community pub where events and associations are encouraged – its leek club, dominoes and quiz nights sit happily side-by-side with a wine club.
Helen says: “We've done our homework and this is what Rhian loves doing most; he’s passionate about the flavour of food and about using the best quality he can get.” Nutrition-wise, the cereal content of beer makes it a good source of B vitamins, such as niacin and riboflavin, but especially B12, B6 and folate, a substance known to protect against heart disease, strokes and cancer. Because of its rich source of dietary silicon it is also beneficial in protecting against osteoporosis; it contains no fat and no cholesterol and worthwhile levels of carbohydrate, protein and iron. The B12 vitamin is what Margaret Thatcher was reported to have had injected into her backside to sustain her famously high levels of energy.
So, think on when you come home after a bad day at work and threaten to go off and do something else for a living. The unfortunate who guided the syringe towards Maggie’s buttocks had an infinitely more distressing job than you’ll ever have.
But it was Rhian’s food and Garry’s beer that left ’em laughing.
The Feathers Inn, Hedley-on-the-Hill, Stocksfield, Northumberland, (01661) 843607, www.thefeathers.net
UKTV Food Local Food Hero final, Sunday November 18, 8pm (Sky Channel 259 or Virgin TV 260).
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Quality brews from the North-East’s Mordue
THE Mordue Brewery portfolio has gained a reputation for quality since its humble beginnings in 1995.
Five Bridge Bitter (3.8% alcohol by volume): A fruity amber beer with more than a hint of hops. The bitterness carries on in the aftertaste. A superb session beer. Geordie Pride (4.2% ABV): A well-balanced, hoppy bitter with a long, bitter finish. It has an amber hue and a hoppy, fruity aroma.
Workie Ticket (4.5% ABV): A tasty, complex beer with malt and hops throughout and a long, satisfying bitter finish. Well worthy of its Supreme Champion Beer of Britain award in 1997.
Radgie Gadgie (4.8% ABV): A strong, easy drinking northern ale with balanced hops, fruit and malt and a long, bitter finish. Champion Strong Bitter of Britain in 1998.
India Pale Ale (5.1% ABV): IPA is brewed with Horizon hops from the US, giving the beers a dry bitterness reminiscent of a traditional IPA. Strong Bitter Silver Medal 2004. Coffee Porter (4.7% ABV): Huge aromas of liquorice and coffee blend into chocolate-like flavours. An outstanding beer.
Seasonal beers include Spring Tyne (4.0% ABV) available March to April; Summer Tyne (3.6% ABV), June-August; Autumn Tyne (4.0% ABV), September-November; Millennium Bridge Ale (3.8% ABV), January-March; Al’ Wheat Pet (4.1% ABV), May-July, and Headmaster’s Xmas Sermon (5.2% ABV), a December special.