THEY say behind every great man there is a great woman. While I have no wish to elevate myself and claim to be anything I am not, it is true that I do have a fantastic wife whose continued support – even for my most hare-brained schemes – has definitely helped propel me in the right direction.
It’s also true that behind every great chef (and again, I am not trying to blow my own trumpet) is a terrific kitchen team working long and often unsociable hours day in, day out to produce fine food for an often highly critical dining public.
They are the normally unsung heroes of the restaurant world; the hard-working chefs who toil away out of sight and out of mind behind the kitchen doors but whose own high standards, cooking skills and innovative approach to food play an integral role in making – and maintaining – a restaurant’s first-class reputation.
In my case, they are, quite literally, the chefs behind the chef who help keep my name above the Food Social door.
Restaurant kitchens are supposed to be full of egos. But nothing could be further from the truth here at Food Social. We work as a well-oiled team. We think along the same locally-inspired food lines, all have exceptionally high standards and know when to have a laugh and when it’s time to knuckle down.
We enjoy each other’s company and I am pleased to say that unlike similar establishments the majority of us have been working well together for some years now.
It says a lot about the guys, however, that while I have become the “face” of Food Social they have been content to stay in the shadows beavering away. Their only ambition has been to keep producing top-notch food and bask in the glory of a full dining room. Repeat bookings are the only plaudits they crave.
But all that is set to change. David Kennedy at Vallum in Northumberland opened at the end of last year and is the third restaurant to bear my name alongside the BIB Gourmand recommended River Café down on North Shields Fish Quay and, of course, the flagship Food Social here at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle.
As the Vallum eaterie with its associated farm shop finds its feet, more and more of my time is now being spent away from Newcastle along the A69.
Increasingly, the Food Social kitchen is being left in the capable hands of head chef Andrew Wilkinson and his second-in- command, sous chef Andrew Tranter.
Now it is time for them to step out into the limelight themselves as I concentrate on establishing the David Kennedy at Vallum name.
So I am temporarily handing this column’s reins over to my protégée, Andrew Wilkinson, who will be giving his own unique take on the North East food scene alongside delicious seasonal recipes championing, where possible, the very best of the area’s local produce.
Andrew is well placed to take over the mantle. He too is a former North East Chef of the Year having scooped the title in 2009 the year after I took the accolade.
Just 26, we have worked together for at least eight years and like me he is passionate about producing food that is driven by the seasons and the best North East ingredients.
He is also a chef through and through. He was just 13 when he decided he wanted to cook for a living and just as I was inspired by my grandmother so he has his own mother to thank for instilling in him a love of good food.
He quickly discovered he had a real knack for cooking and after doing a year at South Tyneside College on the NVQ hospitality and catering course, hard work, dedication and skill has got him where he is today ... heading up the kitchen at Food Social.
Andrew Tranter is another long- time colleague of both of ours. The 24-year-old has worked with the likes of Terry Laybourne and Kenny Atkinson.
His ancestors came from Italy and he loves Italian food.
Needless to say, he is the first person we call on when we need any fresh pasta making here at Food Social! Both the Andrews along with the rest of the kitchen team are very focussed and driven.
David Kennedy is executive chef of David Kennedy’s Food Social @ The Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, 0191 260 5411, www.foodsocial.co.uk
HALIBUT, ROAST LANGOUSTINE, CRUSHED POTATOES, BASIL AND SHELLFISH CREAM
This seasonal fish dish is one from Andrew Tranter and is on our new menu.
4 portions halibut
400g new potatoes
Handful fresh basil, chopped
1 bulb fennel, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
100ml double cream
1 lemon, cut in half
Seasonal greens, steamed
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and drop the langoustines in for two minutes. Remove from the water and chill. When cool, take off the heads and shells and retain.
With a sharp knife, remove the veins from the langoustine.
To make the shellfish cream, roast the langoustine shells, heads and vegetables, including the garlic but not the tomatoes, in two tablespoons of vegetable oil at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 until lightly golden. Cover with water, add the tomatoes, return to the oven and simmer gently for 40 minutes.
Strain and retain the liquid and transfer to a pan. Reduce the liquid by two-thirds and then stir in the double cream. Put the winter greens on to steam.
Boil the potatoes in their skins until cooked. Drain and lightly break up with a fork. Mix in the butter and chopped basil.
Pan-fry the halibut in a little vegetable oil until golden. If the portions are large, place in the oven for a couple of minutes to finish off.
Remove from the pan and squirt over a little fresh lemon juice.
To serve, arrange the potatoes and steamed winter greens on a plate, place on the halibut and top with three langoustines before drizzling over the shellfish sauce.