When the Beverley Food Festival takes place tomorrow some of the East Riding’s leading chefs will demonstrate the types of meals they serve at their pubs, hotels and restaurants.
Every single one of them will be extolling the virtues of provenance. Locally produced meat, vegetables and fruit have never had a greater profile than in the past decade thanks mainly to the plethora of TV cookery shows.
We all have our favourite farm shop or local pub that specialises in quality food and knowing where what we eat comes from has increased our awareness of local producers.
Ben Cox is the owner and chef at The Star in the Wolds village of Sancton where, with his wife Lindsey, he’s turned a run-down drinkers pub into a popular destination-dining venue. He’s been involved with the festival since its inception nine years ago.
“Beverley Food Festival is cram packed full of great producers, including local brewers, and has such a great atmosphere.
“This event really is all about the producers and you see the public going home with bags full of produce.
“It was David Nowell at Tickton Grange Hotel who dedicated his time to getting the festival together, along with Helen Watson of Beverley Town Council. There were no local food festivals and no local farmers markets in East Yorkshire.”
On one of the timber posts in The Star in Sancton there’s a list of all the local producers that Ben uses. It’s a formidable selection of quality growers, butchers, micro brewers and farmers.
“There’s no-one on my list that I wouldn’t trust with their food or drink implicitly. I’ve used Laverack’s at Holme on Spalding Moor for meat and pork pies since I started out as a chef at the Londesborough Arms Hotel in Market Weighton 20 years ago.”
Ben’s achievement at resurrecting a local pub in a village that has just under 300 residents, and transforming it into one of the East Riding’s most well-respected dining establishments started with a sandwich he made in 1994.
“I was born in Market Weighton just two miles away from Sancton. I started on a sports course at Hull College but shifted over to a chef’s course following on from working at the Londesborough Arms Hotel. It was Market Weighton’s best-known venue at that time and my dad had got me a part-time job as a pot washer.
“After I’d been there a while I helped out in the kitchen making sandwiches for a buffet. As I was making them one of the chefs asked me why I was putting accompaniments in to the sandwiches and also asked who had told me to do it. I just said that I liked sandwiches and accompaniments made it better. I finished off the sandwich thinking that I could do a better job than was being done on the sandwiches, but I got on well with all the chefs and it got me to asking them whether they would train me.
“What really gave me the buzz for a career as a chef was Christmas in the Londesborough Arms working under Joe Parkinson that year. He now has the Hotham Arms. It was such an adrenaline rush serving under high pressure with a team of five or six very talented chefs who all lived in.
“I ended up serving my apprenticeship with Joe at The Londesborough. I worked my way up to sous chef before spending five years with David (Nowell) at Tickton Grange.”
Ben sold his house to buy The Star in 2003 because he wanted to be his own boss.
“We opened up with a pie, a stew, some braised ox cheek and lamb bellies and people were loving it. We then worked on our specials board and kept putting on leaner cuts of meat. Once we realised how well the specials would sell it meant every time I wrote a new menu I could tweak it towards better dining. Eleven years on I still serve the same pie on our bar menu but on the restaurant menu you will find all the best cuts of meat from lamb saddles to venison loins, and duck breasts from local farmers Mathisons of Leven.
“I employ a team of nine chefs to keep up with demand and the quality I need and 30 staff overall. Lindsey runs the front of house team. Her granddad had the Dog & Duck in Walkington.”