Why food and family are everything for Sunderland chef Kelvin

Kelvin Linstead, who heads up City Bistro in Sunderland.
Kelvin Linstead, who heads up City Bistro in Sunderland.

Family and food are the two simple passions of Kelvin Linstead, the man at the helm of one of Sunderland’s most exciting kitchens.

While Crunchy Nut Cornflakes is Kelvin’s personal dish of choice after a long day at work, the experienced chef, who heads up City Bistro - a stunning city centre restaurant that is celebrating its first year in business – dishes up food that is setting tongues wagging across the North East.

Formerly of leading Newcastle restaurants Pan Haggerty, Jesmond Dene House and Peace and Loaf, Kelvin has an impressive track record.

He is now using his 17 years of experience, passion and natural flair to lead an exciting new restaurant which serves up a mouth-watering menu of locally-sourced cuisine.

“Food is my life. Food and my family, anyway – I have a fantastic son and nephew, who live with me, and my wife of 12 years and – it sounds sad – but that’s my world. That’s all I am really interested in.”

Kelvin’s tattooed arms confirm that too. The skilfully drawn body-art is a sign of his creativity.

But not only that, one of the standout pieces on his left arm is a cuts of meat chart, along with a statement about food that reveals just how passionate he is about his career.

“I love art and design and my tattoos reflect that, as well as the things I care about most.

“I’m a pretty creative person; I actually planned to be a graphic designer when I was younger, but maybe it was impatience that led me to food instead.”

A long queue during college enrolment 18 years ago meant Kelvin took the life-changing step to pursue a qualification in catering instead of graphic design. And he has never looked back.

“It was as simple as that really. The queue was shorter for catering than graphic design, and I didn’t want to wait around, so I went for that and here I am,” says the 34-year-old.

And here he is – committed to growing the reputation of a restaurant that has been described as ‘Sunderland’s best’ by a food critic who attended City Bistro shortly after it opened last September.

Far from your standard kitchen though, City Bistro is one of a number of commercial outlets open to the public at Sunderland College’s City Campus.

The 80-cover restaurant is run by professionals, with more than a helping hand from the next generation of culinary and hospitality talent.

“It’s a training kitchen, so students from the college learn on the job, working alongside me and two other more experienced chefs, to get to grips with what it is like to work in a real-life restaurant.”

But far from being a place where customers get ‘trainee standard food’, City Bistro sets the bar high – it’s a restaurant where food is slick – every dish that leaves the kitchen is worthy of a ‘wow’.

“We expect a lot from the young people we work with, because we want them to go on to secure jobs at the best restaurants in the North East.

“While we’re a training restaurant, there is nothing amateurish about the food we put out. The menu is designed to be high end, and the food we serve is just that.

“It’s not pretentious food, but it is packed with flavour, beautifully presented and designed to offer something new and different to the Sunderland market, but without the jaw-dropping prices that would normally come with food of this standard,” says Kelvin, from Leamington.

“We believe in the food we produce. Every dish we send out of the kitchen contains food we are proud to serve – and the feedback we receive is excellent. We delight and surprise people – and that’s the aim.”

And that confidence is reflected not only by the creativity you see on the menu, but by the glass-fronted kitchen that allows diners to see their food being prepared in front of their eyes, as well as the fact the chef’s table – which can be booked every Thursday and Friday evening - allows diners to enjoy their meal just metres from Kelvin and his colleagues.

“The facilities are amazing, so we wanted to create something special – a different experience for customers to enjoy. And they certainly seem to do that.

“We offer a chef’s table tasting menu, so you get fantastic food, along with a really special experience – the chance to dine and watch the team at work.

“Our kitchen space – by anyone’s standard – is really impressive, so it’s a great way for foodies to enjoy their meal in a different environment,” says Kelvin.

Now celebrating a year in business, Kelvin hopes that the restaurant will grow to be more established in the city.

“I still think there are many people who don’t even realise we are open for business.

“We’re offering something so different – a really exciting menu, and a team of professionals who have a tremendous track record, and are using their talent and creativity to inspire Sunderland’s next top culinary talent.

“It’s a restaurant that is simply about the future – food that is ahead of the curve, made by tomorrow’s talent. And that makes it so exciting to be part of.”

City Bistro is open 12pm-3pm Monday to Friday, and 5.30pm-8pm on Thursdays and Fridays in the college’s Park Lane-based City Campus.

It will be taking part in Eat Drink Sunderland Restaurant Week, from September 9 to 17.

To find out more visit www.citycampus.site/bistro or follow _CityBistro on Twitter or CityBistroSC on Facebook.

To find out more about Sunderland’s Restaurant Week, visit www.sunderlandbid.co.uk/offers/restaurant-week.