Dave Coulson has two passions in life: his family and his food. Savour editor Georga Spottiswood chats to him about his new spring menu and the apple of his eye: his eight-month-old son, Thomas.
There’s something refreshingly real about Dave Coulson: a salt of the earth kind of guy.
Yes, he may have been a finalist in MasterChef: The Professionals and he’s now head chef and director at one of the region’s most popular restaurants, but he loves nothing more than spending time with his eight-month-old son, Thomas, down on the Quayside eating noodles.
“There’s this little white van that’s knocking out Pad Thai for a fiver and it’s beautiful stuff. I couldn’t be happier just sitting there with my son,” says Dave, 31, who pops home between 2-4pm every day to see him.
“He’s my world. I’m knackered most days. I didn’t sleep much last night,” he confesses as he makes me a coffee. “Well, Thomas didn’t sleep much. I’ve been awake most of the night. I tell you what though, I’ve got a cracking lass,” he says, as he shows me a picture of his other half, Laura, on his iPhone.
“Thankfully she’s a really good girl. She’s done nothing but support me. She’s really traditional, she even irons my boxers before
I go to work. I mean, I didn’t even iron them myself before I met her,” he laughs, but there’s a real glint in his eye when he talks about them both.
“It’s tough running a business and having a family. I’m fortunate that I get to zip home for a few hours every day to see Thomas. When I get home late at night I just climb into bed.
“I don’t even think about getting in and eating, I’m that tired, although I did make steak and mash the other night for me and our lass. She’s doing Slimming World at the minute so I’ll not tell you what extras I put in the mash!” he laughs, “She’ll kill me. I like what I like in life, cooking in the restaurant is different.
“Have you seen those Warburtons Toastie Pockets? Those with ham and cheese inside are lovely,” says Dave, who’s just bought a house with Laura in Low Fell, Gateshead.
SPRING HAS SPRUNG
On his new spring menu you’ll find nothing of the sort. Dave takes his cooking in Peace & Loaf’s kitchen very seriously.
“Octopus is flying out at the minute. We launched it last week and people are loving it. We do it as a bolognese. I hate the word deconstructed but that’s what it is.
“We’ve just added Carabineros prawns [a large deep-sea prawn species that hails from the East Atlantic and Mediterranean] which we do with Thai pork, olive and nam jim mayo. It’s from all over but it works.
“Yesterday I had a venison saddle, cut out the two tendons, braised them, sliced them, dehydrated them and fried them this morning. They puffed up like prawn crackers. They were sticky and meaty. They’re not on the menu but I just love experimenting.”
Covered in tattoos and with a big, bushy beard, Dave has a rock ‘n’ roll edge about him.
Under his white, V neck T-shirt I can vaguely make out the words ‘light that’ tattooed across his chest.
“It says, ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out.’ I got that tattoo the day I came back from London. I’d quit my job at Le Gavroche and I was on the train coming back with my headphones in when that song, by The Smiths, started playing. It meant something to me: that I could make it here in the North East. That I didn’t have to be in London to be a good chef.”
Since opening the doors to Peace & Loaf three-and-a-half years ago, he’s gained a huge following and is now well respected by foodies and national food critics.
“Jay Rayner [The Observer’s restaurant critic and author] loved our Parmesan and truffle chips. We’ve just taken them off the menu actually and instead have triple cooked chips with dripping. We’ve had loads of great national reviews, it’s the local ones that p**s me off. They can be quite cruel. I got a lot of stick for a 50 ingredient salad I did when we put a photo on social media.
“Those ingredients came out of the ground that day, that’s why it worked. They should grow some nuts and open their own restaurant. What gives them the right to criticise me when I’m passionate about what I do and I’m doing it to look after my family?”
BEING THE BOSS
It’s this passion for cooking which is undoubtedly key to his success. He’s a grafter and his brigade hold him in the highest regard.
Assistant manager, Rosie Oswin, is prepping the restaurant for lunch service while Dave and I chat. “He’s unbelievably driven,” she chips in. “I’ve been with him almost since the beginning, just over three years. He’d get emotional in the early days but that’s because he cares so much.”
Dave doesn’t deny it: “You want to get it right, but getting it right takes time. You make mistakes, but you learn from them. I’m about to start reading Alex Ferguson’s book [he’s referencing The Boss: The Many Sides to Alex Ferguson].
It’s important to keep pushing and learning. I’ve got about 300 books at home. You should have seen me carrying them up the stairs in our new home!
“The French Laundry Cookbook blew my mind when I read it about 12 years ago. It was the first time I had seen three Michelin- star food that wasn’t French. The pictures are so arty and pretty.”
So how does Dave describe his own food? “I’d say it’s canny, it’s getting there. We have a good team now, front and back of house. They’re all here for the same reason: to make our customers happy with good food and drink.”
Lamb breast with artichokes, goat’s cheese, linseed and tongue; stone bass chow mein; and hay roasted celeriac with black garlic and wild rice all feature on the spring menu.
“I made lamb with mint, buttermilk and red cabbage yesterday which I served as an amuse bouche. It was a bit like a posh kebab. I rolled the lamb the shape of a hot dog, covered it in cumin crumb, and served it with tzatziki and pickled cabbage.”
For Dave, there’s nothing better than a portion of mince and dumplings and a pint. “I say a pint but I don’t really drink, I’ve only had one since new year – and I’m still 17 stone! IneedtobeabletorunsoonasI’llhavea toddler,” he laughs.
When it comes to eating out, he loves visiting Red’s True Barbecue, in Grey’s Quarter, at intu Eldon Square.
“It’s a chain, but the food’s good. I love barbecued meat. Sachins is the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted and the food at The Staith House, in North Shields, is just delicious. I met John [owner and head chef] on MasterChef: The Professionals, cracking guy, I’m team Staithy all the way.
“House of Tides is class and obviously The Raby Hunt, although I’ve got a shellfish allergy and barfed up £380 when I visited. I was violently sick – but I didn’t tell them I had the allergy.”
So what are Dave’s plans for the future? “The bigger picture is to retire when I’m 40 and open up a funky little pie shop. There’s no way I’m done with cooking now though. Cooking is in me, in my heart.”
Check out Dave’s Spring menu at www.peaceandloaf.co.uk