With his Italian good looks and Yorkshire-born manners, Joe Hurd is bringing a new cooler charm to cooking…
A self-proclaimed blue-collar cook, he is not afraid of getting his hands dirty and creating Anglo-Italian food all can enjoy.
The son of a sailor, Joe is just as comfortable in a fish market as he is in a fancy restaurant. Spending his childhood stealing vegetables from his Grandpa’s allotments, rolling out sheets of pasta with his cousins and letting his Mum teach him to make Southern Italian delicacies.
Fast forward 20 years and Joe is a the latest celeb Chef to hit the scene accumulating impressive TV credits such as teaching children how to cook in the kitchen of ITV’s prime-time Saturday morning show The Munch Box, travelling Europe to find his ‘5 Best Things’ for the Travel Channel, and most recently showing off his latest recipes on Channel 5’s ‘The Saturday Show’ and BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen.
This month, Rachel Ducker, Editor of Bounce Magazine, grabs the opportunity to ask Joe more about his career to date, upon the build up to his local appearance at Jimmy’s Farm in July.
R: When did you first get into cooking and how?
I suppose I had no choice. It sounds cliché now as everybody says “well my family were massive foodies so inevitably.” My family loved food, inevitable when half of them were greedy Italians, and the other half ravenous Yorkshire folk.
I always associated food and dinner with happiness as a child, so inevitably I wanted to be as much part of that as possible. My grandma used to make it a game for me and my cousins. We would roll out pasta, make the different shape, box it up, help with the sauces or potter about Grandpa’s allotment picking veg. It was fun for us, simple and innocent, so naturally something I wanted to keep doing.
R: You come from an Italian heritage, would you say this has been a big influence in your cooking style or do you think the ‘Yorkshire man’ in you is more present in your work?
Absolutely! The Italian in me comes out when I am with friends and family, or coming up with new recipes. I am relaxed, then excitable, sometimes irritable when cooking at home or coming up with menus. I will flick through countless pictures on my phone of “what we ate last Easter at Aunty Daniella’s” for inspiration or read back old notes from vacations down in Calabria. The Italian passion runs through my style of cooking, but this is checked by the Yorkshire stoicism, graft and observance of cost when in the kitchen. When I am in the restaurant, it’s very much head down, man up, grit your teeth and get through it. The two work well together.
R: Did you go to culinary school, were you trained?
I always say that when you grow up in an Italian family your training begins the moment you can form a Cavatelli (type of pasta) with your thumb.
I went to the University of Leeds. I wanted to go to sea like my dad, but my mum convinced me to go to uni. I wound up studying history and looked at how food was used in Italian hospitals for palliative care weirdly. It was after university and a period presenting Studentcooking TV, that I decided to get to grips with the kitchen, so my friend and mentor, Francesco Mazzei, let me come and train at L’Anima in central London. Personally, for my style of cooking and my heavily research-led approach to recipe development, I am not sure catering college would have suited me, though I am fortunate now to work with a lot of colleges who do some great work. Just recently I judged the Young Restaurant Team of The Year and do the occasional demo lecture at FE colleges.
R: Where was your first job?
Well my first job ever in the food business was at Birdeseye, freezing the nations peas back in Hull. It was a dream job really. I got to wear an arctic suit and spend my days ice axing my way through freezers full of frozen peas, plus the money was crazy. In terms of the kitchen, that would have been L’anima. On the first day I rocked up in a pair of jeans, brown cowboy boots and a leather jacket, think Bon Jovi rather than Bottura. The sous chef took me to the basement and put me into some shredded old whites, an oversized pair of trousers and a pair of huge safety shoes. I was marched upstairs and made to extract bone marrow from cow bones for 8 hours and they paid me in lasagna. I was very quickly humbled.
R: At what stage, did your career lead you into presenting and how did it come about?
I was presenting and developing short form web stuff before I went into the kitchen. I worked on StudentCooking TV in front of the camera and writing content when I left university. It gave me a good solid three years of production/presenter experience. When I moved to London, I got some work, alongside the restaurant, at Delicious magazine helping with their video out put. The owner of the magazine put me in touch with a production company and I started researching on long form shows for Channel 4. It wasn’t long after that that I got my first real job in TV; presenting The Munch Box on ITV.
R: At what stage, did your career lead you into presenting and how did it come about?
I reckon it would sound conceited to say it came naturally. I guess when you are the second child in a family like mine, being a showman is essential. I have never trained at presenting, but have had some great opportunities to cut my teeth, make plenty of mistakes and learn along the way… without too many people noticing! I think I love it so much, that it feels like a real pleasure. And when any job is a pleasure, it’s pretty easy…like Birdseye?
R: What is your favourite meal and why?
Homemade pasta with fried aubergines, fresh basil, hard ricotta cheese and good tomatoes. I have it, without fail, every single Sunday and if I don’t I get cranky. I used to eat pasta 4-5 times a week, but after 25 years, I started to realise I wasn’t appreciating it as much, so now I have it just on a Sunday and I look forward to it all week. I make the pasta on the Saturday night, hit the gym first thing Sunday morning and then have some antipasti, pasta and fried cutlets while watching the football with a cold beer. I love having mates round, but equally happy doing this little ritual alone; it’s the beauty of being a bachelor.
R: Is it hard to stay healthy when you are surrounded by so much amazing food? Do you ever struggle with temptation?
I have a natural tendency to pile on the pounds and up until a few years ago, I was slightly larger than today… Yes would be the answer. Every day, especially when I am in the kitchen or on a supper club tour, is a challenge. If it’s out and staring me down, I will eat it. Luckily, my style of cooking (which is predominantly Southern Italian) is pretty healthy, so I will find myself eating a kilo of octopus rather than a load of pate or French cheese.
I do fall off the bandwagon now and again, but balance it out with a fair bit of running and gym time.
R: Is there another chef you admire the most and why?
Francesco Mazzei has undeniably had the biggest impact on the way I cook. He showed me, and the UK, that you can cook the type of food we eat at home, make it really sexy and share it with a larger audience! He has an incredible flair and creativity I have rarely seen in other chefs, plus he is a great man to work for and this is reflected in the love his chefs have for him. Aside from Francesco, I think Anthony Bourdain is an incredible chef, writer and broadcaster. He has a very anti-establishment approach to the culinary world and marries up an incredible knowledge of cooking, with great skill in front of the Camera.
R: What is the most unique dish you have ever prepared?
Sweetened mozzarella is up there. I found a recipe from 15th century Italy that had a form of mozzarella with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. I hate cinnamon and nutmeg so that had to go. I reformed the mozzarella in a sweetened, bergamot infused cream, mashed it, added more sugar, manuka honey, grappa and dehydrated blackcurrant, before stuffing it into cannoli tubes. We made it on the supper club tour, it was very marmite… some people loved it, others thought it was an affront to the dessert trolley. I am working on a new version with Nutella and hundreds and thousands, I think it could take on the ice cream.
R: When are you happiest at work?
I am lucky because I get two jobs essentially. In my role on the TV, it’s probably when you plug your ear piece in and hear the gallery in your ear, that’s a great feeling. I have been told before to stop grinning like a dweeb at this point. In the Kitchen, I like early mornings when the order comes in, checking the produce, talking to the suppliers and checking everything off. I like a good busy service when everything clicks, we all get on and morale is high. The highlight is about 4 in the afternoon, just after a busy lunch and before dinner. There is an awesome serenity to the kitchen, everyone is briefly calm, exhausted and you really feel that teamwork oozing out. Ultimately though, its just hearing people enjoyed the food and we gave a good show!
R: You’re appearing at Jimmy’s Festival in July, do you like live appearances, do you ever get nervous? If so what is your trick to over come the nerves?n
Live shows are the highlight of the year for me, I’ve cancelled all my summer plans this year as we are doing quite a few and I cannot wait. I love meeting people passionate about food and good times and you can really do that on the live stage shows.
It’s a bit like an exam. You worry about it a bit going in, all the usual questions “did I do enough prep? do I remember all the recipes?” etc, then the adrenaline kicks in and I wind up loving every second of it. In terms of tricks, I’d say don’t distance yourself from the audience. I see a lot of chefs and presenters doing that and they end up having no rapport or connection. I like to spend a few hours wandering around the crowd chatting to people, telling them about the recipes, that way you know there a few friends out there.
R: What can we expect to see from you at Jimmy’s Farm?
I always like to do new recipes and a few old favourites, but always stuff people can do at home afterwards. My food is the kind of thing you should be able to nip into a local mini mart, spend a little bit of coin and replicate easily. I like to pack in a lot of stories as well, its got to be entertaining for people who may not necessarily be interested in the food. Audience participation too, I talk a lot so usually I need a couple of assistants to help roll out pasta, knead doughs and finish off sauces.
Thanks for your time Joe; we hope to make it over to the festival to catch your live show, good luck with everything to come.
Jimmy’s Festival takes place on 22nd and 23rd July 2017.
If you would like more information about Jimmy’s Festival please visit www.jimmysfestival.co.uk.
You can also follow what Joe is up to at: www.joehurd.co.uk
All photography By Chris Parkes: www.chrisparkes.photography