Young British Foodies: London street food heats part 1
Last month I was invited, with my street food hat on, to observe the judging day for those nominated in the street food category for the Young British Foodie Awards, the results of which will be broadcasted from the @YBFs twitter feed during their awards ceremony on Tuesday 15th September 2015. Here is what happened…
It is 9am and a medley of street food trucks and stalls (see below for profiles) has assembled in the back car park of the Tate Britain, their owners pottering about preparing samples for the incoming team of judges: super baker and YBFs co-founder Lily Vanilli, KERB founder Petra Barran, Claire Kelsey, the creator of the Ginger’s Comfort Emporium ice cream van, and Nicola Smith, owner of the Healthy Yummies street food van and catering business.
As we are waiting Lily tells me that this year has been the most popular yet for street food applications, with people applying from all over the UK including London, Liverpool, Manchester and Cardiff. There is no formal judging process, she explains, and it’s more about them understanding the ethos behind a business “than whether they meet certain criteria. We didn’t want a whole load of boxes to tick, because there are other awards that do that. A lot of this is about quality and passion. And it’s always a good day – but really filling!”
Winning an award from The Young British Foodies tends to be a useful platform. Just think of the success of past London winners of the street food category which include Andy Waugh and his Wild Game Co business in 2012 (now also a Scottish restaurant called Mac n Wild, too), and BAO London in 2013 – now a packed Soho restaurant.
Back at the Tate Britain, tasting and interviewing begins in earnest. It’s an informal affair, but it’s clear that the street food traders are nervous at having such a competent team of judges evaluating their food. Today there are eight to choose from – double the number of short listers from last year – but there can only be one winner.
Three hours and four traders down and it’s time for the judges to take a break from continuously eating every item placed in front of them. After a quick stroll to prepare for the next round of menu tasting, four more go into the firing line. Come 5pm Petra, Lily, Nicola and Clare, now stuffed to the gills, huddle together to decide on the winner and runners up (I am also invited to make suggestions at this point). There are tough decisions to be made, as everyone agrees that the overall quality has been “far higher than in previous years” and there is something good to say about each business. Should they go for a crowd pleaser, or an up-and-coming team with potential?
To find out who made the grade, tune in on The YBFs Twitter page on Tuesday evening…
And the first four of the eight nominees are:
BLU TOP ICE CREAM
Founder: Richard Makin
Story: Recently left his job as a research manager to run his ice cream sandwich business full time in London, where he trades at Druid Street Market among other places. Having eaten a lot of ice cream as a child in Liverpool, Makin began researching how to make it, and fell in love with Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco, where he was amazed that it was possible to make it well without stabilisers. “We should be treating ice cream in the UK like a fresh product,” he says. Today he exists on four hours’ sleep in order to have time to make his supplies, but says: “it just feels obvious to me that this is what I need to do.”
Best thing about this job: “Talking to people about it, thinking about nostalgia, joy and happiness. People love the [Piaggio] van, too.”
Menu: Innovative ice cream flavours including bourbon and Old Fashioned / brown bread (made using rye bread toast with cinnamon) / Hedgerowberry Pie / Beer and Chocolate Pretzels – all made using a custard base, with a range of cookies. The idea is to eat them together.
Future plans: This winter he will working on more product development, looking at making ice cream floats and pre-packaged products “that don’t deteriorate in the freezer”.
Judging comments: “Ooo, those candied pecans are really delicious… This brown bread ice cream is gorgeous… This is a good vanilla… That’s a really nice cookie… brilliant story… This is a very convincing business… You could really see this taking off.”
Founder: Chris Brumby
Story: Grew up eating pies on the beach in Australia. Used to be a pub chef in London, tried to be a pastry chef in a Michelin starred kitchen but found the pay too low. Began making and selling fully encased puff pastry pies to businesses, including Jamie Oliver delis and Gordon Ramsay pubs but closed because he couldn’t cover the overheads. After a brief spell at a restaurant, he quit in March to begin his own business, and now has a 15-week-old baby boy. Has since had “a bonkers summer, doing five times more than we thought” trading at Kerb KX and with Street Dots in Broadgate.
Best thing about the job: “I’m not stuck in a basement anymore, or wired from having chefs shouting at me. I get to do something different every day.”
Menu: Hand made pies and sausage rolls, with salads and brownies. Meat comes from a butcher in Hampshire. Options include a steak and chilli, veggie, and chicken pies, with a roasted pumpkin, black bean, corn salsa and lime salad.
Future plans: Happy running it as it is, at the moment, and has a second van ready to go. “I’m super ambitious. It’s more than just a pie shop.” No plans to go wholesale.
Judging comments: “Properly made pies… Excellent pastry… Great fillings… Good range… He is clearly doing well.”
Founders: Shauna Guinn and Sam Evans
Story: Quit their jobs in 2012 to spend six months travelling through America seeking out barbecue food, whereupon they cooked 50 briskets, 300 chickens and 500 racks of spare ribs for a rodeo in Houston, attended master classes with their barbecue heroes, and were given spice rub secrets that they promised to hold onto. On returning, where there was no street food scene then in Cardiff – it has since “exploded” – and set up their smokehouse business for which they make the kit themselves, including the grill which they welded. After doing a pop-up in a pub, by month eight they were serving 200 people a night. Now trade at Street Food Circus and win the BBC Farming Award in 2015.
Best thing about the job: “We just LOVE what we do. We’re putting the butch in butcher… We’re doing something different every day, from brining, to curing, pickling, smoking. We ask customers what they want us to make, and go from there…”
Menu: Southern style barbecue, with meat cooked low and slow (including ‘Texan BBQ’ plates of hotlinks, brisket and burnt ends, plus beef brisket pastrami buns, ribs, and green chilli stew) with occasional dirty steaks and dirty chicken, which are cooked directly on to coals. The “vast majority” of meat comes from within seven miles of where they are. Also sell sodas.
Future plans: “There has been an option for a restaurant but for us it’s about being able to move where we want, and how you can collaborate very easily and quickly. We can control the quality of everything we do… We’re really into collaborating with other people, like Simon from Pipes craft brewery. We’d also like to look at doing fish in the future, as well as smoking classes.”
Judging comments: “Mmm…. Wow, that’s good. Phwoar, excellent meat… They’ve got the whole package really… I love their passion and commitment too.”
Founder: Tom Browne
Story: Having worked for STA Travel, Browne travelled to Louisiana as well as living in New York for a period. He returned to the UK two years ago, wondering why Louisiana cuisine was under represented here, and decided to start his own business, named after Decatur Street in New Orleans, “as a celebration of food I couldn’t get here. There were regional specialities I felt I should show off. His partner, a 3D design teacher, designed his banners and his father helped him with all the woodwork. Now trades with KERB and Druid Street Markets.
Best thing about the job: “It’s labour intensive but I love it. I’ve always thought I didn’t want to take shortcuts… I love the interaction too, getting to chat with people. We get a lot of Southerners at Druid Street Market.”
Menu: Regularly changing menu of Louisiana-style dishes, including chargrilled oysters, boudins (like a Cajun-style sausage stuffed with meat or fish, rice, and spices, which you eat by taking out the filling, spreading it into Ritz crackers and eating with pickles), homemade sweet tea and mint lemonade, crawfish boils, shrimp po’ boys, iced coffee and beignets. Meat from Godfrey & Son, a local butcher, with Maldon oysters, and crayfish from Billingsgate.
Future plans: There is new signage ready to go up, and Browne currently has a pop-up at Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green. “I think it would make a nice bar.”
Judging comments: “This is really interesting… the attention to detail is amazing… it’s quite messy! It’s good… there’s a lot to try.”
For part two of the Young British Foodies street food judging day, tune in on Tuesday. Follow @theYBFs on Twitter and Instagram here.