More used to performing in front of television cameras or – last month – a live audience of 3,000 people, Geordie Si spent more than two hours preparing, cooking and presenting food with the help of 30 GCSE Food Technology and Catering students.
“I loved it. It’s my first day off in a while and to spend it with the kids here has been fantastic. They’re genuinely enthusiastic and it’s a great school. The whole ethos about food here is really healthy with teachers knowledgeable and passionate about their subject,” he said.
Si prepared white chocolate and cranberry scones, with a warm spiced plum compote, and tandoori chicken.
Fifteen-year-old Year 11 student Toni McDonald, who wants to be a professional cook, said she was “completely inspired”. All her family watched the Hairy Biker shows and she was taking home a bit of scone, baked by Si, for her mum. “I’d love to be a TV chef. I cook a lot at home and my speciality is chocolate cake.”
Ethan Thompson, 16, also has ambitions to have a career in the kitchen. He has been on work experience at the Café Royal in Newcastle and stunned the Hairy Biker by revealing that his signature dish was peanut butter and hot dog soup.
“Food is an expression of your creativity and who you are,” he said. “If you work with food there are only two things to remember: you do it with love and you do it with focus. There are no rules, just be creative.”
Si, whose youngest of three sons is 15, said his love of food began in the 1950s when his father – who was in the merchant navy – brought home spices like lemon grass and star anise and his mother used to cook “amazing food”.
He wanted to be a musician but had to take a variety of jobs – including building roads – before he got an opportunity to work on the BBC children’s programme Byker Grove, which was filmed in Newcastle. After that he worked for Warner Brothers Europe on major feature films, for example Saving Private Ryan and Harry Potter, before Warners Brothers stopped investing in European production after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He lost his job and house but teamed up with Dave Myers to become the Hairy Bikers.
As a result of his rollercoaster career, he urged the students to “look for opportunities and seize them.” Even now his success does not come without hard work – 16 to 18 hour days seven days a week were usual, he said. In January he heads off to Beijing and there is another Hairy Bikers series in the pipeline.
He told the students that, if they were determined enough, they should look to become professional cooks if that is what they wanted to do.
“With respect to hairdressers and mechanics, there are other options,” he said. “It’s a massive world. Just open your eyes.”
Food Technology and Catering teacher Lauren Spicer said: “The purpose of the visit was to inspire and encourage the students in their final year and for them to develop their skills in the kitchen by watching Si in action.
“The visit was a fantastic experience for both students and staff and the welcome boost needed just before the end of term. We look forward to welcoming him back into Cramlington Learning Village for further projects in the near future.”