Feature – PIEB Meets… Andy Lynes
Brighton is awash with a diverse and eclectic mix of food talent. From award-winning chefs to passionate street food traders, our streets are awash with interesting food types. One of those is Andy Lynes, former Masterchef contestant and chef turned food critic, journalist and author.
For the third instalment of PIEB Meets… we talk to Andy about his career and plans for 2015.
Tell us about how you first knew you were interested in food…
When I left home at 17 I lived in a bedsit and I literally couldn’t boil an egg, lived on Beanfeasts – packets of dehydrated chili con carne. There was no real interest in food at home, my late mother saw cooking as a real chore and we were never encouraged to cook. I did take home economics at school but it didn’t really stick with me.
My girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, used to come and visit at the bedsit and I wanted to cook her something so I copied a recipe from breakfast telly of pasta with Danish salami, peas and cream which was the first proper thing I ever cooked. I then discovered the Roux Brother’s through their TV show and things went from there. My skills increased to the extent that I made it to the a semi-finals of the 1997 series of Masterchef.
What was your background before finding success as a journalist?
I worked for BT for over 20 years. My last position in the company was Internal Auditor. I travelled the UK and the world for the job which allowed me to dine out on expenses and I began writing about my meals on a very basic blog that I built from scratch with HTML code which I taught myself. This was late 90’s so it was one of the first food blogs in the UK.
That brought me to the attention of a New York based international food forum called eGullet.org which is still running today. I was their UK forum host for a number of years while still doing my BT day job. I met various journalists and editors through that position and made enough contacts that I decided to give freelancing a go when I took voluntary redundancy about a decade ago. It’s worked out OK.
What has been your career highlight?
There have been a few: seeing my name in print for the first time, a byline for an interview with Michelin starred chef Claude Bosi for Restaurant magazine was a real buzz, a year as food and drink editor for the Metro, reaching over 3million readers every week was fantastic, interviewing Jamie Oliver for the Times was great and my travel features for the Independent have taken me to some amazing places including India and across the States including Brooklyn and Chicago.
How have restaurants developed since you began writing about them?
There are many more high quality restaurants than a decade ago. There has been a palpable shift away from chef-led restaurants towards concept driven establishments – things like small plates and restaurants that serve a very limited menu like ramen noodles, barbecue food or steaks. Places like 64 Degrees and The Coal Shed in Brighton wouldn’t have existed when I first started writing. I think we’re in a golden age for dining out in the UK and there is a lot of very talented, passionate and clever people making a big difference to the scene at the moment.
What advice would you give to chefs, restaurateurs and those thinking of entering the food business?
Now is a great time to be entering the businesses, there has never been more interest in dining out, but equally there has never been more competition. Whatever it is you do, you need to do it to the highest possible standard you can and be consistent. Be aware of dining trends but don’t be a slave to them. If you do something you believe in and love, you’ll find a customer base for it, whether it’s a fashionable idea or not.
What are your favourite restaurants in the UK?
Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, Duck and Waffle in the City in London, Ox in Belfast, Blackfriars in Edinburgh, Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, The Red Lion in East Chisenbury and The Hand and Flowers in Marlow.
You are recently about to launch you first pop-up alongside your son, how did the idea for this come about?
I’ve done quite a few pop up events over the last couple of years with the Brighton Food Society, of which I am the co-founder, but I really wanted to do something under my own name. My son is 21 and has only been a chef for a couple of years but has come on leaps and bounds in terms of his knowledge and skill so I though it would be good fun and a good showcase for the both of us.
Lastly, what can we expect from you in 2015?
I’ve recently written my first book which will be published in May and I’m very excited to have just published by own ebook Kingdom of Cooks: Conversations with Britain’s New Wave Chefs. There are a couple of other book projects in the pipeline too. I’m continuing to write for the national press and I’m contributing editor to Seasoned by Chefs magazine which keeps me busy but I’m planning to do a lot more food and drink events this year both in Brighton and in London.
Find out more about Andy here.
Interview originally published in the Brighton & Hove Independent Friday 6th Feb 2015