Star turn


Chef Dave Coulson has room to celebrate now that his restaurant, Peace & Loaf, has gained a mention in the Michelin Guide, just 11 months after it opened. Is he on his way to a star? He hopes so…

Across Dave Coulson’s chest is a tattoo of a stag. It represents the moment he realised his dream of opening his own restaurant, a copy of the stag’s head which peers down on diners at Peace & Loaf.

Unfortunately, one-time TV Masterchef: The Professionals finalist Dave has been so busy creating works of art on a plate at his Jesmond restaurant that he hasn’t had time to go back to his tattooist to have the body art finished. It’s a surprise, then, that we manage to prise him from his kitchen to take these pictures. But we don’t venture too far from his foodie comfort zone, heading out to visit some of his suppliers and indulge his passion for foraging.

33For Dave is obsessive about the provenance of the produce he employs, while his culinary artistry adds more than a touch of panache to his Northern-inspired dishes.

“We’ve been open since last November and it’s flown over,” he says. “As a chef, the menu is all you think about. I like to take something that’s already there and make it my own, so we’ve got a chicken parmo on the menu at the moment. It features the same ingredients as the traditional Middlesbrough dish, but the chips are cooked in duck fat, and there’s truffle oil in the cheese sauce. It’s about adding an element of luxury to a dish we know and love. I’m thinking about doing kebabs next, and we do a ham terrine with pease pudding that looks like foie gras. Geordie foie gras, of course!”

Peace & Loaf has entered the Michelin Guide just 11 months after it opened and now Dave and his team hope they are working towards their first Michelin Star.

“It was always our intention to gain Michelin stars, so we’re delighted that we’re right on track, even after such a short time,” he says, grinning from ear to ear.

Dave’s plates are full of little surprises and touches that delight, and you won’t find anything on them that is out of season. “You have to wait for produce to be in season, and when you have, you want to do something really special,” he says.

Dave has used Country Valley in Darlington for his meat and Hodgson Fish in Hartlepool for more than a decade. “I’ve also used veg from Ken Holland, who has Vallum Kitchen Garden on Hadrian’s Wall, since he came on the scene. In London, you might get fresh French vegetables, but here we’ve got Ken. There are some other nice little suppliers at Vallum. I used to get fish from Bywell Smokery at Vallum, though I’ve started to smoke my own now.”

As we pull up beside the raised beds and polytunnels at Vallum, which is a community of producers with a tea room and ice cream parlour, restaurant, and shop eight miles west of Newcastle on the Military Road, Dave is in his element. “Here, try this oxalis,” he says, thrusting a leaf at me. It tastes like fizzy, sour sweets, I proffer. “Just imagine that in a pudding,” he says.

I’m then offered a tiny oyster leaf, which packs a major flavour punch with the salty taste of the sea. Dave doesn’t scrimp on quality ingredients, even on his £22.95 three-course prix fixe menu, and this premium leaf often appears.

34There are purple kohlrabi, a couple of which Dave pops into his apron pocket to use later. “It’s a treat being able to come here and look round at produce which is about to be ready in the next week, so I can see what’s going to be on the menu, like the Jerusalem artichoke, ready for autumn.”

While onion stalks might be discarded by some, Dave asks for some to be added to his next veg box to use for tiny onion rings and salads. His is a culinary inventiveness which started at an early age. “I used to run home from school to watch Ready Steady Cook – sad, I know,” he says. “At first, I wanted to be a footballer and I did go to a football academy, but it wasn’t for me, while the idea of being a chef had always been there.”

Dave is self-taught, honing his skills and developing his unique style along the way. “It’s been about finding the right chefs to work for, learning from the right recipe books, and most importantly, caring about good food. I’ve learned a lot everywhere I’ve worked.”

Dave dresses his dishes with finds you or I might overlook. “I know all the good foraging spots in Jesmond Dene opposite the restaurant and in Castle Eden in County Durham, where I live. I forage sloe berries, brambles, chanterelle mushrooms, elderflowers, which have just gone, and all the fruits.”

Stopping off by the side of the Hadrian’s Wall path en route back from Vallum, Dave picks up pods from wild alexander, which looks rather like but is not to be confused with cow parsley. He says you can use it as you would cardamom pods, which is a good tip. “The produce available changes all the time,” says Dave. “And you don’t get the same ingredients every year, so it never gets boring. I want to keep doing this for at least the next 20 years, and keep the restaurant busy. I’d also love to open another restaurant at some point. I did look at a venue in Darras Hall, Ponteland, but I think it’s too soon to open a second place just yet. It was the right location at the wrong time. A really good burger restaurant would be good, too.”

For now then, Dave is concentrating on Peace & Loaf, which he co-owns with Bob and Neeta Aurora of Sachins, and Neeta’s sister Geeta Ral, who runs front-of-house. Having wolfed down a sandwich made with smoked pastrami picked up from Bywell Smokery at Vallum, Dave returns to the kitchen to create crispy lamb belly with gooseberry, anchovy, and cucumber and dressed with Ken Holland’s flavour-packed salad leaves.

His unique take on the full English breakfast follows, transformed into a picture-perfect starter portion featuring a tiny quail’s egg alongside quirky touches including tomato ketchup meringues. A chocolate and carrot torte comes next, served up with carrot sorbet and carrot jam.

When I tell him I feel (only slightly) guilty that he’s labouring over these wonderful dishes for us to try while he has only had a sandwich, he just shrugs. “It’s what I do,” he says.

And if he were in danger of forgetting that anytime soon, another of his tattoos is there to remind him. “I have ‘chef’ tattooed within a heart on my arm,” he says. “I look at it and think ‘I’m not getting out of this anytime soon’.” And somehow, we can’t imagine he would want to.

Peace & Loaf, Jesmond Rd, Newcastle NE2 1LA, tel 0191 281 5222,

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