Interview: British Street Food Awards co-founder Richard Johnson on the Northern heats in Leeds
Rich Jevons talks to internationally-renowned food critic and British Street Food Awards co-founder Richard Johnson about this year’s Northern heats taking place in Leeds this weekend.
Could you tell us what you find appealing about street food as opposed to dining out in restaurants?
Richard Johnson: There is something about being outdoors; I love going for walks with my dog; I like cooking outside; I like barbecuing; and music – and street food is almost a way of bringing all of it together. Increasingly it is not just about the food it is the whole party – djs, stuff for the kids to do, fairy lights, great beer and with the food it all comes together.
As far as the British Street Food Awards are concerned, what is it that you’re looking for in your competitors?
The food needs to be outstanding individually they need to push forward with their menus, so a straight-forward menu is not going to cut it. It needs to be something that really champions its providence, working with local farmers, meat that has been properly aged with sauces that use local ingredients because there is so much to shout about in this country. So it is traders who use the best of what is out there with a backstory that sets themselves apart. Plus it is to do with presentation, whether it is a really cool or trad old truck or trailer. Plus the way it looks in your hand, nothing sloppy.
Why do you think Leeds has become so popular for a food centre?
Leeds has always had a great market tradition, both on the streets and covered. So when we arrived there was certainly a lot of hot food being served indoors and out. Then Trinity Kitchen changed everything because it became a figure for street food from around the world. It has been copied now in Russia, France, Sweden and Germany, for people who want to have street food but know that for the three months of summer that’s okay but for the other nine months you need to offer places indoors. Trinity has now won all sorts of awards for the renovation. That has made a difference because traders have come from all over the UK to trade here in Leeds. They then also find out about places like the Belgrade, Leeds Dock, and places that are championing new traders. So Leeds has become increasingly vibrant and fresh.
What can we expect to happen this weekend?
You come down to Leeds Dock near Armories Square and there will be loads of entertainment, stuff for the kids,there will be dragon boat racing and water polo, djs and live music as well. In the middle of it all will be the food trading from 11am to sundown. The idea is you have all of these trailers doing competition dishes, taster portions of their signature dishes for about £3/£3.50. Then you try as much as you can and you are given a vote (a physical one though you can also vote on the British Street Food app) and you pop your vote in the relevant ballot box that the relevant trader has displayed. We will have regular updates on Twitter and then on Sunday afternoon we announce the winner. It is like Game of Thrones but we’re calling it Game of Scones!
Rich Jevons is one of Leeds’ leading food and drink critics, follow him on @richjevons or to request a review email firstname.lastname@example.org. He works with his creative partner Holly Spanner (photographer @amosquitobite) to produce reliable and interesting outlooks on the region’s food and drink venues and events.