My Christmas in food by award-winning chef Terry Laybourne

 

Chef and restaurateur, Terry Laybourne MBE, has won award upon award during his 43-year career, with the pinnacle being a Michelin star in 1992. His north eastern eateries include The Broard Chare, Bistro 21 and Cafe 21 at Fenwick. We asked him to share his tips on a deliciously festive Christmas.

 

laybourne

Where do you go to get into the festive culinary mood?

Christmas is the busiest time of the year for me so what we try and do traditionally is to get away at the beginning of December to Europe, whether it's Germany, Austria or Switzerland - there’s all sorts of traditional markets and lovely stuff going on. Last year we went to Vienna - it is a tremendous, breathtaking fairyland at Christmas. There are these big, traditional coffee houses that are very cake-centric - it’s lovely to while away an afternoon there drinking coffee. For dinner, the best formal restaurant in Vienna is Steirereck, in Stadtpark. It has beautiful food, wonderful service but if I’m honest, I much prefer casual, traditional places with a glass of beer.

Image: Rathaus Christmas market, Vienna

And where do you eat at Christmas?

Christmas day we always spend at my mam's. It’s a collaborative affair. I’ll take care of the turkey and gravy and stuffing, my sister will pick all the veg and I’ll bring the pudding and cake from work. Everyone will pitch in and do the dishes, which I will try to sidestep. If I do get to go out over Christmas it would be to The Rat Inn, in Anick. I’d go in the evening and order pepper steak and chips. It is lovely in the winter with the fire roaring and blankets on the chairs. It’s my kind of pub.

Image: The Rat Inn, Anick, Hexham

What is your favourite Christmas indulgence?

I have an incredibly sweet tooth - pudding, Christmas cake, Buche de Noel - I love them all. We tend to make them at work and I will bring a piece home. My favourite comfort food though is toasted sour dough which we make in Cafe 21. Sourdough taken just a little bit too far so the edges are just starting to burn with Dairylea cheese spread when there is just a little bit of warmth to the toast. You have to be quite precise.

Image: Buche de Noel, Cafe 21 at home

How do you make sprouts delicious?

Slicing them is the answer for me. It stops them getting water-logged. Simply sweat shallots and fatty bacon nice and slow, slice the sprouts and add a couple of tablespoons of stock, salt and pepper, then put the lid on with a slab of butter and let them braise slowly together. Take the lid off and what you will have is a lovely, buttery emulsion coating the sprouts. The butter brings a note of sweetness that counteracts the sprouts’ bitterness. Perfect.

Image: Sprouts with bacon

Where is your favourite city for food at this time of year?

Paris. I’m really into smaller, informal places. There is a wonderful traditional bistro on the Left Bank called Le Timbre, the postage stamp. There’s 22 seats; one guy cooks on his own and there is someone serving - it’s not the prettiest food but it’s got to be some of the tastiest. Otherwise one of my favourite cities for restaurants would be New York. I am a big fan of a pub called The Spotted Pig, which is one of the inspirations for The Broad Chare [restaurant in Newcastle]. I love the bustle of Mercer Kitchen, there is so much diversity and everything is at such a high level.

Image: Le Timbre, Rue Sainte Beuve, Paris

Which cookbook would you recommend for Christmas?

At home my River Cafe Cook Book, the original blue one, is well thumbed so I'd say that, it is also probably my favourite restaurant in London. I love the simplicity and absolutely blinding quality of the food. The product that they buy, we can’t get here, they have suppliers in remote villages in Italy, which they use - the whole ethos of the restaurant is wonderful. Another book I'd recommend is French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David. Every now and then I will sit and read it. It’s one of those books that you open at any page, read for 10 or 15 minutes and learn something.

Image: The River Cafe Cook Book

And finally, who taught you to cook?

I don’t have a romantic story where I learned tied to my grandmother’s apron strings. I learnt to cook professionally via a multitude of people. It was 1970, I was doing my O-levels in school and I was going to be an engineer. The economy was different at the time, people were working a three-day-week and there were power cuts, it was very different. My father, who was an engineer, said he didn't think it was a good idea, that there was not any real future in engineering in the North East and maybe I should think twice. I took his advice, explored a few other avenues and one of them was cooking. I decided I was going to be a food engineer - the principle’s the same, it was a craft, I could get involved with my hands and that’s what I liked. It was not the obvious route but I’ve been doing it for 43 years.

Image: Cafe 21, Quayside, Newcastle

By Claire Brayford