Dean Bailey gets a taste of Texas courtesy of Lizzy Hodcroft
There are cowboy boots by the door, country music on the stereo, and chilli on the stove. If I hadn’t just turned off Osborne Road in Jesmond on a rainy day in October you could mistake Lizzy Hodcroft’s flat for a little piece of Texas.
Lizzy, the girl behind The Sweet Beet Tex Mex streetfood brand, is preparing for Jesmond Food Market when we invade her kitchen – a space filled with momentos of her life spent between Texas and Scotland, Coca-Cola bottles sitting beside cans of real ale, and cosy slippers replacing her boots.
The Sweet Beet, which pops up at food markets and has branded jars of Habanero lime jelly and maple bacon jam in at mmm…Glug in the Grainger Market, is inspired by Lizzy’s school years in Texas, summers in Scotland, and training in Newcastle’s best kitchens.
“I suppose my passion for cooking wasn’t sparked until I enrolled in college aged 17,” says Lizzy in her soft Texan accent.
“My mom wasn’t a cook and my stepdad was ok at it, but I didn’t grow up in the kitchen. Then I arrived in the UK and my dad pushed two prospectuses in my hands. Chef training stood out and everything followed from there.”
There followed time in Terry Laybourne’s 21 Group kitchens in Newcastle, until Lizzy realised she didn’t want a restaurant chef’s career. “At 18 years old I found kitchens intimidating. It’s a really macho atmosphere and I think I lacked the confidence to work in that environment,” she says.
Nine years on, having gained a degree in criminology and worked front of house for leading Newcastle restaurants including Artisan, Hotel Du Vin, and Blackfriars, Sweet Beet is growing rapidly. Based in a workshop at Blackfriars, where Lizzy still covers the odd shift, 2016 has included a series of food events and a pop-up at Fenwick in October.
Her Tex Mex menu is inspired by her hometown – Arlington, Texas – and informed by local produce. Her beetroot and herbs are grown in her back yard, meat and poultry is sourced from Blackfriars’ suppliers and cheese comes from the Grainger Market.
“Tex Mex food allows me to be creative,” she says. “I start with the basic ideas, do a bit of research, then start working on it, seeing how I can get local produce in or make things healthier. All the vegetables, cheese and meat are as local as possible, though there are a few secrets from back home in there.”
Every dish is based on a vegan recipe and then meat, fish or dairy added. “So many places still see vegetarian or vegan options as add-ons to the menu, with something taken out of the recipe, but I wanted to do things differently, so all the recipes work great without meat, poultry or cheese – you just add them in if you want them,” says Lizzy.
In August, following a Dragon’s Den-style pitching process, Lizzy won a place on NatWest and Entrepreneurial Spark’s Business Accelerator programme, giving her access to business advice and support. Her plan is to grow into her own restaurant/café, sell branded products through retailers, and pass her food ethos down to the younger generation.
“I’d love my own place where I can set my own schedule, treat everybody I work with well and support their dreams, and teach kids where their food comes from and how it becomes what they eat,” she says. “Right now I’m looking at growing the products for retail. The maple bacon jam is really popular. We love mixing our sweet and savoury in the US and it goes in all sorts of things,” she adds, handing over a bowl of nachos topped with the maple bacon jam, which is also fantastic on toast, on a bacon sandwich or in sauces and stews.
And with that she’s onto the next recipe – a never-ending cycle of experimentation which, she admits, is not easy, but is compelling. “It’s taken over my life, but I wouldn’t want to trade it,” she says.