King of the road

Does Si King ever get sick of food? Don’t be daft… Rosie McGlade is bowled over by the Geordie Hairy Biker


Si King has a refreshingly upbeat view of British food and the way we cook. He considers our traditions proud and our culinary techniques terrific, and he’s not just talking restaurants but also honest home cooking.

It’s nice to hear. The Geordie half of the Hairy Bikers, Si was born near Chester-le-Street and, despite an increasingly global profile, would still be black and white if you cut him in two.

“Dave [fellow Hairy Biker Dave Myers] and I are of the opinion that we have as much seasonal and artisan food in the UK as they do in France, Italy, or anywhere in the world,” he says. “It’s second to none. You can eat your way around the world in the UK, and nowhere more so than the Newcastle area.”

A true enthusiast, one remark is all you need and off he goes, chuckling his way through the conversation. He’s a big star these days with an eager fan base worldwide, but he’s down to earth as ever and full of zeal.

“The bottom line is that every mouthful of food you take has a character behind it; someone who’s worked on a farm, a processing plant, or who’s cooked it.

“Food isn’t just about the taste, but the husbandry, the background, the people who cook and share it. I love it all. That’s the reason I’m this shape,” he says, looking down ruefully at his comfortable girth.

Have they ever thought of doing a Hairy Bikers diet series? “Have I nothing,” he says, or words to that effect.

“We’re shapely. Mind you, Dave and I have shed two-and-a-half stone each. The mums on the first series of Mums Know Best nearly killed us with kindness. There were days I couldn’t get my leathers on.

“You just need to stop eating rubbish when you’re on the road. It’s simple – just eat regularly but smaller amounts. I’m happy with how I am now.”

When he says ‘on the road’, Si is talking proper distances; the 15,000-mile Hairy Bikers Tour of Britain in 2009, for example, which took them to the food and folklore of 30 counties.

“That series was a lot of food,” he says, “and there are only two types of people in the world; people who live to eat, and people who eat to live. And even the people who eat to live want to eat good food. Our food is defined by the landscape of this country.”

Last year, Mums Know Best was seen in 17 countries. This year has seen six new episodes, with the Bikers on a mission to recover food gems handed down through generations.

Is it campaigning TV? Not in the way that Jamie Oliver might do it. People serving their kids crisps for breakfast because they don’t know how to turn the cooker on is the stuff of extreme broadcasting, Si says, and that’s not what he and Dave do.

“There is that minority, but there are also a lot of people in the middle who cook and enjoy it,” he says.

The aim of Mums Know Best is to entertain, of course, and to preserve old recipes. “It’s important to keep your traditions alive and remember them,” he adds.

“I’m 44 and I remember teatime at the homes of mining and heavy industry families; my mam cooking massive stottie cakes, or ‘yeasty cyaks’ as she called them, and big pots of pan haggerty. In those days it was unheard of to buy cakes or biscuits. They were always home made.”

But times have changed, and he’s happy with that, too. “If you’re coming in from work at 9.30pm, the last thing you want to do is knock up a cake,” he acknowledges.

Some might say that the Hairy Bikers’ real campaign is never being off the telly. We’ve had The Hairy Bakers, The Hairy Bikers’ Twelve Days of Christmas, The Hairy Bikers’ Food Tour of Britain, the Cook Off, and that’s not even counting their first two round-the-world series.

But whatever it is they’ve got, it works. Who wouldn’t fancy sharing a pint with them (just apply that same thought to Hugh, Nigella, or, heaven help us, Gordon…) – two ordinary, genuine blokes who love food and love people.

Si and Dave first met behind the TV scenes; Si a location manager for Byker Grove and the early Harry Potter films, and Dave a make-up designer specialising in prosthetic limbs.

Their mutual love of motorbikes and food prompted the obvious conclusion (to them, at least) that they should tour the world by bike, cooking and eating with interesting people.

It worked, and part of their own recipe for success is that they are close friends on and off screen. For Si, the most enjoyable things about Mums Know Best are – guess what – the people and the food.

“Recipes always have a story behind them and some are very touching. For people to feel comfortable to have Dave and I share that is lovely.

“Sometimes, sitting down and eating a dish is to share a memory of a loved one perhaps, and it’s a fantastically privileged position. And you get to eat some bloody good food.”

It also highlights the fact that we can still cook in the UK, and have a rich heritage, albeit having embraced the ready meal with gusto, he adds. But we’re getting back on track.

So how does Si practise what he preaches? “Our house is like a feeding station,” he says, though he won’t quite disclose his address. Word on the street is it’s in Blaydon. “Somewhere not too far from there,” he acknowledges.

You can’t blame him. The days of sneaking out for a quick pint without being disturbed are long gone. “But people are very good. They usually say something like, ‘alright Si, my wife thinks you’re great’, or the opposite, and that’s it. That’s lovely.”

The oldest of Si’s three children, James, is a drummer with the band Let’s Buy Happiness, who played at Glastonbury last year and at Dave’s wedding in January.

“They’re a fantastic outfit and they’re always here at weekends when they’re not touring. We usually cook for 12- 14 people, but we love it.”

On the horizon for the Bikers are book signings for their sixth book, Mums Know Best 2, and then a new project, Hairy Meals on Wheels, which looks at meals on wheels for the elderly. “It’s been eradicated,” Si adds, sadly.

Then there’s ‘Bake-ation’; a baking tour of Europe, which sounds delicious, even if it is hard to spell.

Towards the end of the year there will also be a trip to the Mississippi Delta to check out the area’s enormous diversity of cooking traditions, from Cajun to jerk, catfish to chicken wings, and hundreds of things in between.

“I’m really looking forward to that,” Si says. “Then I think we’ll have a bit of a rest.”


Si King’s North East

Si King lists among his favourite producers, Northumbrian Quality Meats in West Woodburn, Northumberland; Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes near Berwick-upon-Tweed; Robson & Sons oak-smoked kippers in Craster and Swallowfish of Seahouses, which is the oldest working smokehouse in the UK; and the Beef Jerky farm off the A1 in Northumberland (see page *** ).

He also lauds Greggs, which hails from Gosforth. What, apart from perhaps a bacon sandwich, can comfort a hangover like one of their hot pasties?

He admires the 21 Group’s Terry Laybourne for championing great producers, and loves Nigel Kennedy’s new place, NE2 Food Social, at Newcastle’s Biscuit Factory.



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