Rockstar Cooking


Former chef to rock stars and musicians like Sting and Van Morrison, Gary Dall talks food, dog biscuits and music with Dean Bailey

Pigs’ cheeks, chesterfield sofas and comic books, dog biscuits made in-house, The Roxburgh could easily be the talk of the town in Newcastle’s trendy High Bridge or Ouseburn Valley.

Hidden behind a bed of herbs and edible flowers just outside the centre of Whitley Bay, it takes a couple of laps around the block to find it. Inside, chef and owner Gary Dall is prepping while his Staffordshire terrier Lola Bean keeps watch at the back door, taking in the three of us packed into the tiny, one-man kitchen.

“It’s much like the set-up of a touring kitchen,” says Gary, as photographer Nicky and I dance around one another so she can take pictures, before we all move out of the way as a delivery of pigs’ heads and pork belly arrives.

A touring chef for five years, Gary travelled the world with musicians and bands including Sting, Muse, Kasabian, the Sugababes and Girls Aloud, cooking for artists and their crew in tour bus kitchens and serving Sunday lunches for 60 from tiny dressing rooms.

“I started out helping out a friend at festivals and ended up living out of a suitcase for five years,” says Gary. “I got to cook for one of all-time favourites Van Morrison and saw some amazing places, from dive bars in St Petersburg to smart French bistros.

“We usually served comfort food – English breakfast, light lunches and some brasserie-style dishes. What you read in the press isn’t what these guys were like – there wasn’t any weird white food diets or diva behaviour.”

Gary’s kitchen at The Roxburgh isn’t far from those tiny travelling kitchens, but as he says, “it’s amazing what you can do once you’ve learnt how to cook. I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of different experiences and it’s all gone into setting up my own place.”

Having trained as an engineer with Siemens after school, he was made redundant aged 21 and had his lightbulb moment standing over a barbecue. “Next thing I knew, I was accepted onto a Jamie Oliver-inspired training initiative and was at the Copthorne Hotel learning how to cook,” he says. “It was a hell of a learning curve, but I loved it. I worked all the hours I could and it sparked my imagination. I found my passion there.”

Then he went travelling in the US, Asia, New Zealand and Australia. “The food was great and the travelling opened my eyes,” he says. “Our first stop was New York and we went into a little chicken and cornbread place in Harlem. From there we looked for those less touristy places. Tom yum soup remains my go-to hangover cure.”

On his return, he headed for Terry Laybourne’s 21 Queen Street. “It was the place to work in Newcastle, as you can see by the number of guys who have gone on to open their own successful places,” explains Gary between answering the phone, checking the lamb and ox tongues, stepping between Nicky and I – all without breaking sweat.

“It was the perfect time. Terry asked me to go into the kitchen at Jesmond Dene House. We had an amazing team – a breeding ground for so many top chefs.”

His 18 months at Jesmond Dene House taught him how to be organised, to make everything in-house, and the benefits of growing your own where you can.

But if Jesmond Dene’s kitchen taught him how to be a chef, Gary learned how to cook in Australia. “I worked there for a year and spent time working under Colin Fassnidge in Sydney. He cooked nose-to-tail, with a little bit of glamour, and I knew that was how I wanted to cook.”

The nose-to-tail style cooking sums up Gary’s menus perfectly – second and third-best cuts, cooked slow and with care.

“I love working with different cuts, using what hasn’t traditionally been on a fine dining menu. I think British food has always been searching for an identity and chefs are being a lot shrewder and realising that the best cuts are the cheeks, tails, snouts – things you need to show love and care to get the best out of.

“Geordies aren’t all eating fillet and foie gras so it really works for a North East palate.”

The Roxburgh’s décor and ethos matches Gary’s food perfectly. His dad washes pots on Saturdays, while the furniture and artwork here is from his old flat in North Shields. “I planted the beds, painted the walls and wired the place,” says Gary, becoming a smaller and smaller part of the kitchen as it builds and fills around him. “It’s very much what I wanted for my own place, and the music is a big part of that.

“When I started, I said there was nowhere cooking bone marrow and playing The Velvet Underground. The playlist is eclectic, from The Beatles to Brit Pop to some old-school jazz and some RnB. Music gives the place so much character and I couldn’t spend so much time in a place that plays Coldplay on repeat or the Ultimate 80s.”

The pig three ways he makes for us is exquisite, the black pudding, pork belly and serrano ham finished with garlic and saffron aioli and pickled pink onions and served on a carrot and Ximenez sherry purée.

“Things are changing,” says Gary. “We saw it with the nightlife – people went from Whitley Bay to Jesmond to Tynemouth and with the regeneration coming up in Whitley Bay I hope you’ll see more quality places to have a drink and get an interesting plate of food out here.

“There are more chefs bringing quality food out here to the coast and I think the palate is becoming more sophisticated, which gives us scope to use the different cuts of meat and stretch the food experiences people are having.”


Goat’s cheese custard

Mojo verde

Pig’s head terrine

World food
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