Put any strangers together and I guarantee two things: the initial awkward silence will be broken by a comment on the weather and within a few minutes they will be talking about food. These are Lancastrian strangers, obviously. I’ve not tried, but I doubt it’d work as well in Yorkshire or London.
Food, round here at least, breaks down barriers, brings people together and starts conversations, as on the occasion years ago when we tweeted about a particularly good pie and almost broke the internet. The response was unprecedented; we were bombarded with messages from pie fans, suggestions for other great pie shops, recipes for pies and more. Since then, I think you’d be proud of the amount of research we have done on the subject.
Of course, food conversations can go wrong. Venture a negative opinion about Bake Off in the wrong company and you will be treated as if you have done something unspeakable to a beloved grandmother or family pet. Or both. At the same time. Trust me, I’ve done it so you don’t have to (the unkind comment, obviously. Not the grandmother/ pet horror show. That wasn’t me.)
But mention a favourite meal, a foolproof recipe or a much-loved restaurant and you’ll be met with misty-eyed reminiscences of what I have come to think of as Milestone Meals. Those occasions which leave an indelible memory – those flavours you can evoke from years ago, the family and friends you associate with certain dishes, the occasions marked by special meals.
Three stand out for me, and only one of them involves a pie. In each, I can recall the people around the table – some of them now long gone – the relaxed buzz of chat and laughter, the surroundings, the decor and of course, the food on the plate. None of these meals would trouble the Michelin judges (the Health and Safety Executive would probably be more interested in the shop that sold the pie) but they are special to me all the same.
And I created more special food memories this summer while touring the region as one of the judges of our prestigious Food and Drink Awards, which celebrate the best of the region’s hospitality industry. In this issue we reveal the shortlist.
And there is some seriously stiff competition.
Not that long ago there was much hilarity in the national media about the fact that Wigan had launched a food festival.
They sniggered about pies and mint balls and northern food wrapped in pastry and drowned in gravy. They’re not laughing anymore.
The kitchens in our restaurants, hotels, cafes and pubs now have fearsome reputations for quality and we have the restaurant that was judged the UK’S best. And our growers, producers and makers have upped their game dramatically in recent years too. Of course, there was always quality here – and we’ve been recognising and celebrating it for years – but even a decade ago you would have to hunt it out. Now, we are spoiled for choice and our judges had a phenomenal task to agree on the shortlist. At least now we have done that, they can all go home again. We believe the 29 venues on our list are the finest places to eat and drink in Lancashire and the Lake District. But of course, that’s just the start of the conversation.
“They sniggered about northern food wrapped in pastry and drowned in gravy. They’re not laughing any more”
It was special at the time, but it didn’t make our Food and Drink Awards shortlist