HAIRY Biker Si King has called for the region’s leaders to better promote the food heritage of Wearside and the North East.
The Washington-born celebrity chef said he wants to raise the profile of top-notch nosh offered by suppliers, restaurants and chefs in the region, which he says would boost the economy and increase tourism.
Masterchef finalists Stacie Stewart and Leon Dodds have shown Sunderland’s cooking skills are worthy of national praise, and other foodies such as Paul Clark of GH Pickings Butchers, in East Boldon, have proven our produce can be top of the class.
There have also been calls for Wearside to look at developing its artisan food-making industry to provide jobs for young people.
But Si said Sunderland, Durham and the rest of the North East lag behind the rest of the country when it came to food tourism marketing campaigns.
“For seven years now I have been appearing on mainstream high-profile cookery programmes, and yet I have not had one serious approach from anyone about promoting this region and the wonderful stuff its food producers can offer the nation.
“From the south to the Borders, we are a diverse food region, but for reasons I just can’t understand we do not have a strong food voice in this country.
“I travel all over the UK filming, taking part in high-profile events and food shows and I am constantly struck by the fact there is no food profile for this region at all and it saddens me.”
The 44-year-old, busy filming BBC Two’s Best of British programme with fellow Hairy Biker Dave Myers, said: “We have to give people a reason to come and visit us here in the North East as part of their own food tour of Britain – that link between food and tourism is huge.
“I believe the current laid-back attitude to selling the region is stifling the growth of the industry and is an insult to the artisan producers in the North – the people who live and breathe food, on all levels.
“We have great, eloquent champions of local food, like Kenny Atkinson at Rockliffe Hall and the great Terry Laybourne, to name but two, but there seems to be no regional body backing up people like them.
“The region needs to be organised to tell its food story because it is a brilliant one and I want to shout about it from the rooftops, given the chance.
He added: “We have the best salmon river in the country – we know that, but does the rest of the country? It is all about perception and my perception is that whatever is happening isn’t working.”
Si called for an action plan to support and market food producers, which he said would help the region to flourish.
He said he wanted to see medium-scale regional centres promoting great food and acting as visitor attractions in their own right, citing centres such as Fodder in Harrogate, or Rheged in Cumbria, as examples of artisan suppliers coming together.