“It’s how we like to eat ourselves,” says Stu. “Just eating something pleasing, talking with friends without worrying about the food.” Judging by the honours and the feedback, their customers like it too. With no formal training, Stu learned his trade first at Leodis in Leeds under head chef Steve Kendell and then at Harvey Nichols under Richard Allen.
“I watched everything they did, then went away and taught myself.” In 2011, Stu and Jo took on a sandwich shop on North Street in Leeds. “It was all we could afford.”
But from all-day breakfasts they began serving adventurous evening meals; a parade of small plates featuring buttermilk chicken, offal ragu, fabulous pies and pear and cardamom sponge made by Jo.
To avoid sharing during the pandemic, they served three courses and have also operated a takeaway and put on bi-monthly pie weekends.
“It’s not cheffy stuff, just tasty, comforting food,” says Stu, crediting their success more to Jo’s front-of-house skills than his cooking. “It’s easier for me to do what I do because of Jo. People come for the food, then they come back for the experience and that’s down to Jo.”
What’s the first dish you remember cooking? A burger when I was 11 or 12. Later I roasted a chicken rubbed with a lot of butter and then I ate the lot.
Who or what is your culinary inspiration? My mum cooked, so we always ate fresh food but it was also my grandad who travelled a lot in India, Malaysia and Thailand. I was eating fiery curries very early on. I’d had sriracha before it was famous. My grandad cooked pigeons and eels and his goose was a life- altering experience: juicy, salty, fatty; roast dinners were changed forever after that.
What were your first cookery books? At 16, I’d never eaten out in a restaurant so I’d no idea what restaurant food was. I picked everything up from books: Rhodes Around Britain, Floyd on France. I also ploughed through Prue Leith’s Cookery Bible. They were good solid dishes.
Who would you like to share dinner with? Steve Kendell and Richard Allan who is a brilliant chef. He’d find a pig’s head or a chunk of veal and prepare something for the Saturday night specials. I was at Haley’s with Jon Vennell. I’d love to chat with them now that I’m not working for them.
Where do you like to eat out? Me and Jo take little trips to London. We like Quo Vardis, Moro, Duck Soup, Margot Henderson’s Rochelle Canteen, even better than St John.
What’s your favourite food or guilty pleasure? Things in bowls. Wobbly noodles, punchy with salt, garlic and chilli. Pork belly, rice pudding, prawn cocktail. Cheap chocolate like Twirls. As a student, I ate rounds of toast with butter watching Ready Steady Cook. Maybe that’s what set me on this road.
What ingredient could you not manage without? Anchovy. I try and sneak it into everything. Also garlic and potatoes. I love doing things with potatoes.
How did you cope with lockdown? There have definitely been good bits. We were lucky to spend time with our son. He’s 17 and he’d been largely looking after himself while we were working. We made pasta together and did some baking, but then we were back at work after four weeks doing takeaways – we needed to pay the bills.