Don’t think twice.  If you have ever made a nice dinner, you can easily do this

Don’t think twice.  If you have ever made a nice dinner, you can easily do this

Interview with Andrew Humphrey

As we head closer to the Festival of Thrift weekend and preparations start to intensify, we spoke to Andrew Humphrey, one of our most loyal Bistro du Van chefs, about what made him volunteer his culinary skills for the event and what menu he has planned for this year.

Andrew, who lives in London but is originally from Redcar, is one of the team of amateur chefs who will be cooking up a range of tantalising home-cooked treats for visitors to enjoy in the quirky surroundings of a camper van.

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How did you hear about Bistro du Van and what was it about the idea that grabbed your attention?

I visited the Festival in Darlington, I think it was in 2013, and I had lunch with my family in a Bistro du Van.  I think it was a Moroccan lunch.  I loved the lunch but also loved the idea. It’s an ingenious way to bring home cooking to the public.

– Did anything make you hesitate before agreeing to take the plunge?

Many things. I doubted my ability to devise a menu, to cook the food, to serve the food, to make it tasty, to be a good ambassador for the festival — I think I hesitated about pretty much everything! I think it’s the classic Imposter Syndrome we are all supposed to suffer from these days. But I know I can cook my friends a nice dinner, and I kept coming back to that.

– So you’ve taken part in Bistro du Van before – what menu themes did you come up with?

My menus have always been based on my own tastes and travels in Asia. I grew up in Redcar in an era when there was really not much of an eating-out culture in the town, and not much cultural diversity. It is way better now, but I have also deliberately made food based on cuisines people may not have tried before in Redcar.

So far my menus have been Korean, Malaysian and this year is Cambodian. It’s important to say I don’t have roots in any of these countries, so there is a definite “fusion” element to my menu. It’s not exactly what your Cambodian auntie would cook, but I think she would approve.

– How was your menu received and what were the challenges of cooking it in a field?

My Korean lunch mostly sold out, and my Malaysian lunch fully sold out.  I was happy with that. Without being intrusive and getting in the way, my helpers and I enjoyed explaining the dishes to people.

The field kitchen was a bit daunting at first, but if you are organised and do lots of preparation in advance, it is absolutely fine and even fun. And it is not at all as rough and ready as it sounds to be cooking in a field. You are in a tent or covered area, with a prep area, gas rings, a shared fridge. I get there a bit early to set up my kitchen how I like it, and I almost immediately feel at home.

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What were the most memorable highlights for you? Any culinary disasters?

I love meeting the diners, and try to add a bit of theatre if I can. With my Malaysian lunch I had a go at making “teh tarik” with their dessert — it’s a milky tea that you give a good froth by pouring it back and forth between two jugs. A bit like when my Nana in Redcar used to lift the teapot high when pouring the tea to “get the air into it”. At markets in Malaysia people do all kinds of spectacular moves when making their teh tarik, but I kept the choreography simple.

All the cooking went smoothly. I did cause a scene in the field kitchen when I was shaking the salad dressing and didn’t put the lid on the jar properly.  That was messy, but customers never knew…

I try to be educational with my menu, and not just about the food. With my Malaysian lunch people learned how the cultural diversity in that country has created a unique cuisine with blended Malay, Chinese and Indian influences. And for my Korean lunch we decorated the van with both South and North Korean flags and gave people a Choco Pie for dessert. It’s a shop-bought cookie a bit like a Wagon Wheel which at one point in the 1990s became a de facto currency in North Korea!

– What have you got lined up for diners this year? How did you decide your theme?

I am doing a Cambodian lunch, serving two classic Khmer dishes. Last summer I did a day at a cooking school in Phnom Penh, and I will be recreating the dishes that the French-Cambodian chef taught me.  It’s true — I will be displaying my laminated certificate in my van!

Cambodians don’t really do desserts but there still will be a sweet treat for my customers too, and it’s something people may not expect.

I have a Facebook Page with some information and previews of what I am doing at the Festival:  www.facebook.com/youruncleho

– What would be your top tips to other amateur chefs thinking of giving it a go?

Don’t think twice.  If you have ever made a nice dinner, you can easily do this. The Festival team is so supportive, all your costs are covered, and you don’t need to be involved in bookings, customer bills, etc. just with the preparing and serving the food.

Be organised, keep it simple, and do as much in advance as possible.

– Has being part of the Festival inspired you to live more sustainably?

I think I was fairly good anyway but yes that’s for sure. As it happens, I am also the country’s top seller of Tupperware products — permanent and infinitely reusable products to replace single-use and disposable plastics — and I bring that sensibility to my kitchen. Being part of the Festival encourages me that way. Find me at www.tupperwareman.co.uk!

– What things do you do to help you to live a greener life (every little helps!)?

I don’t waste any food. I am always amazed when I see the statistics about what percentage of food every household throws out. I don’t throw any out, so someone is throwing away my share as well as their own.