Equal parts rubber tyres and grizzly beards, there’s few chefs as instantly recognisable as The Hairy Bikers. Named after the subject line in a producer’s email way back in 2004, the Hairy Bikers live up to their titles by exploring the culinary world on their beloved motorbikes. The brand is strong, with an astonishing 13 TV series and books under their belt. Their engines have driven them to the edge, with episodes following their journeys through South America and Asia, alongside experiences like weight-loss, going vegetarian and discovering the pubs that built Britain.
But one of the Bikers’ latest stops isn’t in Mississippi or Mount Fuji, but at Sefton Park for the 10th Anniversary of the Liverpool Food & Drink Festival a couple of weeks back. Ahead of their anticipated appearance, we tracked down the charismatic Cumbrian, Dave Myers to talk Bake Off, crack and Bangkok… EJ
Essential Journal: Hi Dave, as we’ve got a bit of time I’ll begin with a personal question. With you being from Barrow-In-Furness, you’re not a Rugby League fan are you?
Dave Myers: On and off actually. I used to be when I was a kid, I was one of those kids that went down south to see Barrow [Raiders] play Featherstone [Rovers] at Wembley. That was about 1960-something for the rugby League Challenge Cup. Then I picked up my Rugby again maybe four or five years ago when we were doing Hairy Dieters, because Martin Ostler, the rugby player that played for Barrow was our personal trainer. So I think if I didn’t go the rugby to support them he’d beast me even more. I’ve lost track and moved down south now. How’s Barrow doing?
Yeah, there not at Wembley any more, but they’re still around which is good. There’s plenty of clubs at their level across all sports that have disappeared in recent years but they’re still there.
It’s always been popular, I always remember the floodlit Rugby League and Eddie Waring commentating: “The sun sets down over the terrace”, it was all very romantic but it really was just cream-crackers-and-bovril rugby. I think I went there about four years ago with Martin when he was playing and it’s good, it hasn’t changed.
I ask because I’m from St. Helens originally, big St. Helens fan, so if there’s ever a Rugby League town involved, I always have to ask.
It’s a big part of Northern life, in school Tom Brophy was my Chemistry teacher. He also played for Barrow and high-level rugby as well, but it was funny having a teacher as a rugby player. It made me have a bit more respect for him than the others really.
Anyway, let’s talk about food. You were asked way back in 2008 what the next big thing in the world of food and drink would be, which you answered “baking.” So congratulations.
You know what, we were talking to the BBC around then and they gave us four half-hour programmes called The Hairy Bakers, that’s all and we couldn’t get a book away with it. Actually it was funny because we did Mum’s Know Best after that and I think we were the first ones to have that countryside look; all the mums brought the baking and everything. So you can imagine what we think, looks like somebody somewhere put two and
When we did our research, it was the Federation of Master Bakers [Now known as Craft Bakers Association] that were pushing confectioners and people that supply cake-making material to up the ante and anticipate the baking explosion. In the previous two and a half years we’d been on the road all the time, and a lot of folks like making pies and bread but we never had an oven so coming back to the UK, it meant we had an oven and we were baking, but we were right about baking and Bake-Off’s proof.
So what’s going to be the next big thing that we might see in the next 10 years?
I don’t know what’s next, I heard through the grapevine that the next issue is Mexican. I don’t know in terms of food, I think more real Mexican rather than Tex-Mex – that’s different, when everything’s covered in mince and chilli cheese in various options. We filmed in Mexico in 2006 and if you go south of Puebla and Oaxaca the food is absolutely unbelievable. It’s healthy, it’s very corn-based, it’s good food, it ticks a lot of boxes in terms of flavour and health but it’s good food.
When we were researching the programme, we checked ourselves into a cookery school in Oaxaca. There we went to a market where there were 200-something varieties of chillies and each one had its purpose. It’s one of those cooking cultures that when it’s done properly, you know like Italian, it’s very simple but can be pretty pedantic. Real Mexican cookery is like that. It can be very complicated but when it’s done right, it’s fantastic.
Anyway for us the next one’s Mediterranean, so I’m going to say that Mediterranean is the next big thing. We’ve just done that, we spent three months in the Western Med and we’ve finished that and the book. The book’s [The Hairy Bikers’ Mediterranean Adventure] out in November and the telly’s on in February: A Mediterranean Adventure
We can’t say it on the BBC but it’s like culinary crack, you can’t stop eating it.
You’ve said that if you want to eat healthier you should be eating more Mediterranean dishes.
A Mediterranean diet is a balanced diet. The reason we picked the Med is because it’s on our doorstep and when we did the Baltic programme [The Hairy Bikers’ Northern Exposure] is because it’s accessible, you could take your motorbike down from Newcastle on the train to Amsterdam and then by lunchtime you were in the Baltic in Poland. Right there in Latvia and Estonia, it’s really on our doorstep.
With the air travel now and low-price airlines, you could be in the Mediterranean for less than 50 quid, so we tried to find the hidden Mediterranean. We started out in southern Italy, Bianco and Calabria and worked our way round to Sardinia, Corsica, the south of France, Menorca, Mallorca, and then to the coast of Valencia and Spain. [There’s an] Amazing food culture going back to the time of the Greeks, with thousands of years of culture going into what we have on the plate. It was fascinating and we learned so much. We think we know it, but we don’t so I’m quite excited about that, it’s been a good experience. We’ll be bringing some of that to Liverpool. We’re doing a sneak preview of our Italian stuff, we’re doing two stints with different food in each demonstration. We;ve got a Tandoori oven being true Notherner’s, so we’re going to use it for an Asian- inspired menu and then the second one we’re doing a Stuffed Squid and Burrata with Grilled Peach Salad. It’s a sneak preview of what’s to come in our Mediterranean series.
Can you remember the first time that you ate an Indian meal and more so the first time you ate Burrata and Parma ham?
With Indian certainly I remember I was a student that came down to Goldsmiths when I was 19 and I went to a curry house in Brockley in South London. That must have been in 1977; I went and recognised the smell of madras curry powder that was at the back of the cupboard in Barrow-In-Furness. I asked for the big crisps, the poppadoms and I’d never seen anything like it. Basically, the first two terms I spent my grant working my way through the curry house’s menu. Then I started cooking in South London, I went to the market in Peckham. In the Asian shops and most of those shops, like Liverpool, if you open your mouth and ask for advice people are more than happy to help. It’s cheap as well.
The first Italian food I ever had was when I used to work as a makeup artist at the BBC- my first job. When I was a trainee, one of the senior makeup artists took me for an Italian meal at a restaurant called Alatinos in Notting Hill, which for a lad from Barrow-In-Furness, a Notting Hill Italian was a bit of a one really. I had my first lobster that night and actually I had some of her chicken caprese, it’s like chicken kiev and spaghetti milanese – again it’s so good y’know. That was going back, 1980 for my first proper Italian. That old fashioned Catori food, so simple. I can’t believe just how good, simple Italian food is. I discovered this year, it can be any pasta basically with black pepper and pecorino cheese, you just get butter, put three tablespoons of cracked black pepper in the butter and leave it for a sec. Then, you put 150g of grated pecorino or parmesan and leave it there to set and you mustn’t stir it, that’s all it is. Cook the pasta, keep some of the pasta in water, add the sauce to the pasta, keep stirring, add the water, it’s like the ground zero macaroni cheese and it’s unbelievably good. We can’t say it on the BBC but it’s like culinary crack, you can’t stop eating it.
It’s so good but it’s so minimal, a lot like your pasta with basil, it costs nothing, but when it’s done right it’s the best. I went back to Italy this year with my wife, we went to Naples for the first time and she had Italian food and we stayed at the Agriturismo farm houses, you do wonder why you bother eating anything else. Then of course you go home and fancy a curry and you’re off again.
Where’s your favourite place to visit for food? A country or even a city.
If I had to narrow it down I think Bangkok is somewhere that is very exciting to visit. The markets are great but the streets and culture in Bangkok is stunning. It’s that balance, there’s really such a marvellous balance with Thai food, food on the streets is incredible. A lot of apartments now are built without kitchens in Bangkok because people just don’t cook, people eat out on the streets all the time. Especially youngsters, why would I want to sit and eat on my own when I could be in the street with my friends? There’s leases for a lot of flats where cooking is forbidden. That’s why you see people on long tables in the street, laughing together, having a good time.
I do love Bangkok, you set out, it doesn’t cost much and the curries and the food and the vitality in the streets is great. The Thai are so food obsessed and for greetings, translated roughly as “Have you had your rice yet?”, is their version of “Good morning.” Have you been to Bangkok? I have not, no. It’s great, the food never disappoints you, the people never disappoint you, it’s magic.
I think one of our great treasures is that we’re a multicultural country and obviously Liverpool’s a multicultural city, I think more so than Italy certainly, we can eat around the world fairly authentically on our own doorstep and that’s such a good treasure. A festival like this, myself and Si two white English men come to a festival in Liverpool and it’s quite normal that we’re cooking Indian and Italian. It’s our heritage as much as it is the original countries. I’m so proud of that with the UK and I hope it holds onto it.
You’ve got a radio show as well. (Yeah, The Hairy Rock Show on Planet Rock) and earlier this year you were on TV as the Hairy Builder. But what’s been your favourite non-food related venture?
I really enjoyed the Hairy Builder, it was odd not having Si there but, for me, it was great to indulge my interest. The big thing recently was Strictly, that was magic actually. Funny enough I was at the TV Choice Awards on Monday night nominated for Comfort Food, we didn’t win it but it was nice to be there. The Strictly lot were there, Simon Rimmer there’s now. How do you think he’ll do? I think he’ll do brilliantly – a dark horse, I love Simon, I like him very much, he’s at Liverpool Food Festival as well. I don’t know how he’s gonna manage that, he won’t realise it ‘til he gets there but I hope he gets with Karen [Clifton], the lady I was with, she’s brilliant. I genuinely did enjoy that very much, it’s nerve-racking, it’s scary, it’s ace but it’s one of those things, it’s funny. It tickles me really.
To finish, I recently took my mum to a restaurant in Liverpool called Maray and the they do this roasted cauliflower that she had and loved. She tried to replicate it at home and apparently my dad didn’t pass comment on it. Any tips?
I’ll be honest it’s something I never did, but I’ll tell you what, Michel Roux Junior does an ace one, he packs it first with yoghurt and spice and then roasts it. If I was gonna roast cauliflower I’d do it like that, he did it on Saturday Kitchen one morning and it’ll be on the Saturday Kitchen website. I could give you a load of bull but his is seriously good. It’s kind of like your GP referring you to a specialist!