The Hairy Bikers talk food

Julia Shaw talks to The Hairy Bikers who will be appearing at the BBC Summer Good Food Show from June 10-14th 2009 at The NEC Birmingham.

The Hairy Bikers talk food

Everyone adores the Hairy Bikers. They were mobbed at last year’s BBC Good Food Show and with good reason. Simon King, the big blond, bearded one, and Dave Myers, smaller and dark-haired with glasses, are so enthusiastic about their food – and their bikes – that it just rubs off on everyone they meet. They aren’t professional chefs but are massive food lovers and became household names with their BBC series The Hairy Bikers Cookbook, Hairy Bikers Ride Again and The Hairy Bakers. Their new BBC series, The Hairy Bikers Food Tour of Britain, will be on our screens this autumn. The Hairies will be appearing at the BBC Summer Good Food Show at The NEC Birmingham from June 10-14. Here they tell Julia Shaw why good food matters.

A bit about Si and Dave… The lads met on a TV set. They both had behind-the-scene careers in film and TV before they got the cooking bug and became TV stars themselves. Si was an assistant director and locations manager and Dave, who did an art degree, was a make-up artist. Dave studied prosthetics make-up at the BBC and went on to do prosthetics for many films, including the Harry Potter movies. Si worked on Harry Potter too. Both Northern lads – Si is from Newcastle where he lives with his partner and three kids, and Dave is from Cumbria - they discovered that they both shared a passion for bikes and cooking when they worked together. Not two pastimes you’d normally marry up, but Si and Dave found themselves taking bike trips and cooking for each other. Their hobbies grew into that first TV series.

Your latest series The Hairy Bikers Food Tour of Britain is on the BBC this autumn. What inspired you to do that?
Si:‘We’ve spent two and a half years going around the world investigating other people’s cultures. We wanted to get back to our roots and celebrate the food culture we have in Britain. Everyone has a story about food – your mum, your Grandma, they love telling you what they cooked in their day. After the Hairy Bakers did so well, we wanted to do another British series but do it properly, very comprehensively. It’s just as much an exploration of wonderment for us as it is for the viewers to discover all these local foods. There are some amazing cultural dishes in the UK that have been cooked for hundreds of years that have nearly been forgotten about. We want to revive those great old recipes and produce. Have you heard of Shropshire’s Fidget pie, for instance? It’s brilliant! It’s based around gammon and cooking apples with potatoes, sage and onions. It’s really delicious. We’ve discovered lots of great dishes like that.’

Dave: ‘There are 89 counties in the UK. In this first series we cover 30 of them from North Yorkshire to Shropshire and Hampshire. We loved the Isle of Man. The standard of food there is fantastic. They have an amazing variety of quality produce such as their fantastic Isle of Man scallops, Manx Queenies and wonderful kippers. Eventually we want to do all 89 counties for the series. We talk about what local produce and recipes each county has to offer and find a traditional meal from that county using local ingredients. Then we go head to head with the best local chef we can find, often Michelin starred. He cooks his dish, we cook ours. Then we do a blind tasting. It’s good fun and challenging. Obviously we do it on the bikes, so we go all around each county finding good local producers. What we’ve found whilst filming this is that food in Britain is going bonkers. People are much more concerned now with what they’re eating, hence the popularity of shows such as The BBC Summer Good Food Show.’

What do you think people get out of the BBC Summer Good Food Show?
‘We love the BBC Good Food Shows. They’re so buzzy, there’s so much to see. We’re meant to be right in the middle of this credit crunch but the last show was packed. I think it’s because it’s aimed at everyone. It’s not posh and really ‘foodie’. You don’t have to go to the show and eat froi grois. It just brings together such a great variety of food producers and activities. There are loads of money saving ideas there too. People care about their food so much more now and I think the BBC Summer Good Food Show reflects that. There’s lots to see and do from watching celebrity chefs create gorgeous dishes to tasting food and drink you’ve maybe never tried before. It’s so inspirational for anyone remotely interested in food.’

Si: ‘Yep, the show’s a great marketplace. You can see and taste food from all over Britain and beyond and learn so much too. My dad used to say: ‘you only stop learning when you’re in the box’, and that’s what’s so great about the BBC Summer Good Food Show, it’s an education. There’s a huge amount of knowledge in one place. We’ve learned loads and met so many people. It’s like one big party. We have a right laugh with all the other chefs.’

Are people cutting back on buying often expensive local produce because of the credit crunch?
‘I hope not. Yes, local organic produce can be more expensive than cheap as chips ‘forced’ produce on the supermarket shelves, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s such a simple equation. The more we buy from local producers, the more successful they will be, so they will stay in business. What’s frustrating is that people are trying to make a difference locally, but then you get the big food giants flying food in. People’s attitudes are not going to change if the big supermarkets and manufacturers don’t try to support locally grown home produce too. We need more marketplaces – and they can be in supermarkets - where artisan producers can sell. Some supermarkets are doing well with local produce and that’s great to see. That’s how it should be, with your local supermarket selling local farmers’ meat, dairy produce, eggs and bread instead of the huge food conglomerates selling us everything. People will pay a bit more for a premium product, but if the producer can produce more it will get cheaper.’

Dave: ‘A lot of the farmers have wised up realising that they can do well if they sell direct. Where farmer’s markets can fail though, is on dependability. People will visit a farmer’s market every two weeks and buy a few treats, and then be down the supermarket buying the bulk of their groceries. We need that trend to change so that people buy locally more often, but to do that local produce needs to be much more easily available. Si and I opened a food and meat section in Romford market. It’s fantastic with really good quality meat and fish, but at normal prices. But it’s open six days a week so it works well.’

Any credit crunch tips?
‘If I’m skint I’d sooner have good mince than bad steak. That’s the sort of economies I make, or even leave the meat out and go veggie for a night or two. Home baking is not a cheap option, but that bread is precious if you’ve made it yourself, so you’ll use it all up.’

Si: ‘Yep, a good quality mince is so tasty and you can do so much with it from Shepherd’s Pie to home made burgers. It’s about changing your attitude. Although paying a little bit more for good quality meat or fish can hurt initially, you’re less likely to waste it. Don’t ever throw your bread away! Make a bread and butter pudding with it, or toast it for croutons instead.’

Are we doing enough to get the next generation interested in food? Si: ‘Cooking at school is taught much the same as languages is. It’s absolutely desperate. My middle son, James who’s 16, chose Food Technology as an option and he said ’Oh, it’s so boring.’ He passed with flying colours because he has a fundamental interest in food, but they only get a practical every three weeks, which is ridiculous. He’s so interested in food and he says ‘show me the techniques Dad. I want to learn.’ But he’s lucky, because he’s got me around to show him. All my kids are interested in food. When their mum has friends around we all make a fuss and help make them a meal. The kids will serve table. It’s a laugh. Food should be fun for all the family. We need to change how the kids learn. They need to learn more at home and school. The good thing is that more of us are watching food shows on TV, and yes, there is a level of food fantasy, but by the same token people’s attitudes to food and inherent food knowledge is getting better and that’s massively important, because if you don’t have the knowledge you can’t get interested in a subject.’

How did you both get into the food thing?
’I’ve cooked since I was a teenager. I was always making curries and things. My mum was a good cook, but then she got ill so my dad had to take over the cooking when I was about eight. He did his best, then I started helping out a bit with the cooking and really enjoyed it. I went to Goldsmiths art school to study fine art but probably did more cooking than painting there! I’d go down to the markets in Peckham and China Town to grab unusual fruit and veg and cook for all my friends. I’m fascinated by food.’

Si: ‘I’ve always been around food. Mum and dad were both really adventurous with food. My dad was in the Navy and travelled all over the place. He’d bring back amazing spices and ideas for dishes. He’d write little notes about how he’d eaten them abroad, and he and my mum would experiment at home. Mum was really up for doing that. My sister and brother are both great cooks too and I just learned from the rest of my family. So I had a very interesting food childhood.’

How did you end up as the Hairy Bikers?
‘I met Si on set when filming and we found out we shared a love of cooking and bikes. It all went from there. We each cooked for each other when we visited and then started doing biking trips together. We cooked as we travelled, so the show was really an extension of what we were doing anyway. We worked for 20 years behind the cameras and we thought, why don’t we do our own show?’

Si: ‘Because we’d both been involved in TV we knew a bit about how things worked and we got talking about the possibility of turning our hobbies into a TV show. We approached a producer with the idea and amazingly they went for it. The rest is history. We’re still the same mates we were when we started out with the cooking as a hobby. We do what we do from the heart, we are what we are and can’t quite believe we’ve become celebrities.’

You’ve travelled the world and the UK tasting anything and everything, but what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Dave and Si: ‘Without a shadow of a doubt it was goat’s willy in Vietnam.

Si: ‘Oh, it was really disgusting. It didn’t really taste of anything but it was chewy and rubbery and in a hot pot. I think they eat it all the time in Vietnam. They love it! That’s the first and last time either of us will try that. Give us a Shropshire Fidget Pie instead any day!’

The Hairy Bikers will be demonstrating recipes ideas, along with many other celebrity chefs, in The Summer Kitchen at the BBC Summer Good Food Show which runs alongside BBC Gardener’s World Live from June 10-14 at the NEC Birmingham.

Book tickets to the BBC Good Food Show