‘Street Food’ kickstarts Bridge Town Canteen
Some of the latest trends in catering have been creating a British foodies’ ‘melting-pot’ like seldom before, suggests Iain Robertson, even though many of the recent inductees, however keen, or capable, are equal contenders as social signposts.
Only recently, the culinary scene mourned the untimely passing of one of its early renegades, with the death of Gary Rhodes. The spikey-haired chef was in the vanguard of a new generation of television-based perception changers, preceding ‘The Naked Chef’ (lisping Essex boy, Jamie Oliver) by a moderate margin, but following the likes of ‘The Galloping Gourmet’ (Graham Kerr) and the effervescent, chain-smoking and heavy drinking Keith Floyd.
Until the arrival of Mr Rhodes, who could have all but invented the art of guerrilla catering, British dining tastes were stuck firmly in the traditions of the restaurant trade, with the occasional Chinese specialist, pub-grub and fish-and-chipperies scattered liberally in our cities, towns and villages. Interestingly, he also introduced a curious but increasingly willing audience to the foods of other nations; it was a rolling stone that would gather much more than moss.
While ‘street food’, an agglomerative term that tends to possess roots in poorer quarters and has been epitomised by Rick Stein’s trips to Vietnam, the Hairy Bikers’ Route 66 epics and James Martin’s epicurean adventures, is aeons old, its voyage to London’s Covent Garden, where ‘pop-up’ eateries proliferated around a decade ago, has now spread ineffably to the regions. The concept is eminently sound: from a minimalist ‘kitchen’, produce food on a strictly limited theme, reduce the rudiments (cutlery, china etc) and round-up the prices.
Of course, it helps if the core produce is of fine quality and can tolerate marginally less than respectful treatment but the premise is sound, especially at a point in time, when obtaining premises of a culinary category can be no less than exorbitant, un-helped by runaway rates and avaricious landlords. While some chefs (as evinced by 90% of the contenders on ‘Masterchef – The Professionals’) seem to invest more time in their body art than food prep, the ‘street food’ scene, which cannot afford material errors, tends to be popularised by bandana-and-boots-wearers.
For time-served, 36 years old, Yorkshire electrician, Rob Taylor, a fascination with food that he shared with his father led to a life-changing decision that has only recently been realised, with the debut of Bridge Town Canteen, in the town of Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The innate burning desire to cook for others, hopefully not with burnt offerings, reached its zenith only around a year ago. Rob quit his electrical contracting business to spend nine months and £23,000 on a London-based Prue Leith semi-residential, catering training course. Amazingly, the drive within him is such that even time spent away from his supportive family, living in high-cost London, did not dissuade him.
While he already had the business concept, the formal training firmed-up his direction. Fortunately, his highly skilled career as an electrician is a practical fall-back zone, should he not obtain the commensurate pop-up bookings. Ultimately, Rob wants a bricks and mortar base, perhaps as a prep and storage facility to commence with, but with an eye on opening a restaurant/bistro in due course.
Attending his debut event, held at Horbury Junction, Wakefield, a carefully constructed menu of three chicken wings main courses (£6 each), with three side courses (£4 each), resulted in an ‘exorbitant’ £30 total food bill (for two). To be fair, sampling each of the dishes, served on recyclable paper trays, using the inevitable snap-prone wooden ‘spork’, is an expectation of the pop-up food genre. Allow me to explain the menu:
The Tikka Wing – finished over the charcoal grill and coated in tamarind and chilli-garlic, with a splash of coriander and mint, accompanied by makhana sauce, pickled ginger, pomegranate and coriander detailed, slim potato fries (side), was beguilingly tasty, with a gentle hit of spice for the generously meaty wings.
The Thai Caramel Wing (Veg) – made from deep-fried crispy tofu, with a soy glaze, fried garlic and spring onion drizzled in sesame oil, accompanied by red cabbage coleslaw, lemongrass and ginger mayonnaise, topped by coriander slivers and peanut oil dressing (side), was outstandingly flavoursome, with a delightful and delicious sticky umami finish.
The Kiev Wing – a boneless wing, stuffed with mushroom and tarragon butter, drizzled with garlic aioli and freshly chopped chives, accompanied by fries (side) topped by Parmesan shavings and a drizzle of truffle oil, was lip-smackingly luxurious, with a delicious, well-rounded after-taste.
Working from a large erectable gazebo, in the car park of the Calder Vale Hotel, a well-reputed pub possessing a strong local history and a six-barrel micro-brewery on the premises, ‘diners’ placed their orders with Helen (Rob’s sister), while Rob was assisted ably in the canteen by friend, Phil Newsome. Most of the prep had been carried out in Rob’s domestic kitchen. The management of the Hotel were delighted with the response, as the sheer sociability of the ‘street food’ exercise meant that beverage sales increased exponentially and they had zero catering overheads.
Rob’s approach to guerrilla catering has commenced in earnest, as he sets his goals for a future exploring enthusiastically his passion for food and the brand that he has created. He has travelled the world to gather recipes relevant to his style of cooking and I feel confident enough in his capabilities to suggest that it will be fruitful for him.
Conclusion: To be able to engage with a new chef working in a novel but increasingly hectic environment is a privilege. The street food scene continues to grow and adventurous palates will be entertained accordingly.