Coming to the boil

I’ve never found anywhere with quite the same “If it’s good for our city, it’s good for me” attitude as the north east. It opens doors and allows ideas to grow.

I’ve been running the EAT! NewcastleGateshead festival for the last nine years, and when people ask me why I don’t do EAT! elsewhere in the UK I’ve often said it wouldn’t work without that attitude.

In my experience, food scenes fall into two categories – one is the well-established food landscape that is a challenge to break into. The other is where newcomers are welcomed and nurtured by those who already have a foothold. The north east is firmly in the latter group.

As a result, over the years, I’ve seen more and more creative and entrepreneurial people enter the food world here and that’s why there are so many great cafes, bars, pop-ups and food events happening all over the place. It’s incredibly exciting and it’s not going away.


Lindsay Brothers. Photography by Nat Wilkins.

There has been an incredible transformation. Back in 2006 it seemed that many young chefs felt that all the best opportunities were outside the north east, and there was a huge drain on our local talent. Now we’ve got really bright and enthusiastic youngsters coming up through the colleges who see the north east as a fantastic place to be. They don’t want to leave and are taking jobs with chefs at our many great restaurants.

Alongside that, people across the north east have been developing an adventurous spirit when it comes to dining out, encouraged by EAT! and many others. Customers now have much broader tastes and higher expectations, which is driving up standards all the time.

In any industry there has to be a benchmark, and a Michelin star is a benchmark from which everything else can be measured. But should everyone in the north east be looking to get one? No. Everyone should be looking to be the best they can at what they do – whether that’s the best fish and chip shop, the best bacon butty or the best truffled arancini with caviar.

We only really learned to dine out in Britain over the last 30 years, so in that sense we’re a century behind the rest of Europe. However, in many ways that’s working to our advantage: we do have a food heritage but it isn’t so strong that it prevents us from moving on. We’re adventurous and will try new things. There are fewer rules about how things should or shouldn’t be done.

Nowhere is this more true than in the north east and I think we are best placed to take the lead in creating new ways to enjoy great food – not forgetting our traditions like a good Pan Haggerty, but not allowing them to hold us back either.

Food culture is changing all the time, it’s not just a historical thing, and the north east scene is in a period of rapid change. Where there are barriers to us making more of our food culture there are people trying to remove those barriers.

However, while we now use the word “culture” a lot when talking about food, we don’t invest in it in the same way we do other cultural, or even sporting, activities. If we are to continue to experiment and innovate and change attitudes to food in the north east then we need to recognise that funding and support is needed for those of us who are exploring new directions and challenging current thinking. Huge commercial and social benefits have sprung out of such activities over the last few years. I hope this can continue.

Simon Preston is festival director of EAT! NewcastleGateshead. You can follow him on Twitter.

Do you agree with his analysis of food culture in our region? What more do you think could be done? Tell us in the comments section below – by clicking on the little plus sign.

(Views expressed on our website and in our magazines and emails are not necessarily endorsed by Northern Correspondent.)


3 thoughts on “Coming to the boil

  1. Sorry! I’ve really liked some of the articles on NC but this is pretty bland. Another ‘festival’ director calling for further funding!

    Funding into what exactly? There has been an explosion of ‘artisan’ restaurants, pop-ups yadda yadda yadda in Newcastle. ‘We’ are all foodies these days. Amazing! Everyman and his cat is opening an eatery offering ‘proper’ grub. Pub grub dining experience, thrice cooked-heart attack food amongst the swelling mid rifts on the barbor jackets. Bespoke cocktails served by barman who model themselves on Julian MacLaren-Ross.

    I just wonder who this is for? I see an aspirational class of people consuming this stuff, buying into that authentic experience. You can’t knock the effort of the entrepreneurial crew though.

    It’s interesting to note how the Grainger market is changing. Family butchers are being replaced creperies, food retail outlets that, to me, would only be of interest to Observer Weekend supplement readers (with prices to match!).

    The footfall of visitors/customers in the market has dropped right off. Speak to the managers, they are desperate to get more people in and keep the place alive. Is just more funding the issue? Yes, you could argue that the current ‘food revolution’ is doing just that and trying to buck the trend, offer a different experience.

    Is it just a matter of asking for more funding and support? Support from who exactly?

  2. ‘Funding into what exactly?’ Into initiatives that create change, that demonstrate how quality of life for all can be improved cheaply through food, that teach and encourage children to young people to cook fresh ingredients, that encourage conversation around food among diverse groups of people, that encourage positive change for people working in our food industry, that raise quality and expectations, that offer appealing alternative to mass produced fast food, that try to keep more money spent on food in our local economy, that connect people with the source of their food, that try out new approaches to solving entrenched problems and so on. The proliferation of artisan producers and foodies is one visible outcome of all this activity, but there is much more unseen work that goes on at community level aiming to ensure the positive change we’re experiencing reaches everyone.

    Hope that helps to clarify my response to the question I was asked by Northern Correspondent.

  3. Great response! That’s more like it! Apologies for what may have seemed a facetious first comment.

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