Cooking With Fire: Meet Andi Tuck

On March 7th we’ll be joined at Philleigh Way by guest tutor Andi Tuck, to lead a special Cooking With Fire course. Andi is widely regarded as a rising star on the Cornish foodie scene for both his incredible abilities with smoke and fire but also for his incredible flavour combinations. He’s head chef at the award winning St Kew Inn, a beautiful 15th Century establishment in North Cornwall, and also the founder of Tan & Mor (Cornish for “Fire and Sea”) his live fire cooking experience business. St Kew’s forward thinking “custodians” (they don’t refer to themselves as landlords, instead seeing their role as looking after the historic inn) allowed Andi to install a live fire set-up in the kitchen and also to build an incredible outside kitchen for the summer months when he arrived there a year ago, and he’s built an incredible reputation for the food and theatre of his live fire cooking.

Ahead of his upcoming course we took the excuse to head up the road to St Kew and sit down with Andi in the historic bar after a busy lunch service to find out a bit more about his food, what attendees can expect on March 7th, and how you can add a bit of cooking with fire to your culinary skill set.

Andi, what is it that you love about cooking with fire and smoke?
The flavour, first and foremost. And I think it’s quite nostalgic, as well; growing up with barbeques in the summer. I think there’s a flavour that cooking over fire gives that’s hard to replicate any other way.

St Kew’s outdoor kitchen. Photo by Sam Buckle.

What does it allow you to do that you couldn’t otherwise, in a normal kitchen?
It’s really the offset cooking. You can’t generate the same flavour smoking with smoke chips as you can smoking over an open fire. There’s not that depth of flavour. It creates a flavour profile that smoke chips try to replicate, but they produce a much harsher flavour. Smoking over an open fire is much more subtle and has more depth. With the smoking chips it’s like “BANG! SMOKE!” but when you’re smoking over wood that has been soaked in water so it’s generating its own steam as well, it creates a deeper flavour. Offset cooking also means you tend to be cooking low and slow, and drawing out more flavours.

How did you develop your skills cooking over fire?
Working with some of the best live fire chefs in the country. Lots of research, going to evens like Meatopia which is like my annual pilgrimage. Working with chefs like Ben Quinn and Simon Stallard here in Cornwall, and then at Meatopia working with some amazing international live fire chefs. I got to work with Lennox Hastie who’s an Australian chef and the stuff that you learn with him in a day is more than some people learn in a lifetime.

Before moving to St Kew Inn, you cooked in various notable kitchens around North Cornwall. What is it about cooking in Cornwall that you enjoy so much?
The produce. You’re getting ingredients from the sea to the kitchen in a matter of minutes, not hours. With the local connections that I’ve made now with people like George Cleave the fishmonger in Port Isaac, his fish is at the kitchen door within minutes of being landed, which is awesome.

Is the produce that you have access to here particularly suitable to this style of cooking?
Yes and no… it’s more all of the foraging and wild coastal ingredients. I could go out for a day’s foraging and get enough to run a menu for the night. I love cooking fish on open fire… I will never put a fish in the oven. The set-up that I’ve got in the kitchen here is basically an oven, it’s just an open oven. You’ve got it really hot near the flames but because the heat rises I can take it up to the next level, which is a foot above the flames, and then I turn it every so often and it’ll get through to about 48-50 degrees on the bone which is perfect.

Fresh mackerel and sea leeks on the grill

What are the ingredients that you like working with the most?
Fish is my number one. Fish and fire is my thing I suppose. Anything foraged. To know what you’ve gone through to get that is really special. There’re quite a lot of wild and foraged ingredients that people have forgotten about now, but historically, and as far back as the days of hunter-gatherers, they were what people lived off. There are quite a few companies that are starting to use more foraged ingredients and it’s getting bigger. Hopefully it doesn’t get so big through that there’s nothing left for me to find! 99% of what people eat today was wild at some point, like broccoli for instance – we could go out now and forage for sea broccoli, which is an ancestor of that.

Photo by Sam Buckle.

And you’ve recently won an award for the food that you’re cooking at St Kew Inn?
Yes, out of all of the 180 pubs that are part of St Austell Brewery we won the best food pub of the year. I’ve only been here a year – it was a year to the day since I started and it’s quite a big accolade to win within the St Austell Brewery family, when you’re up against pubs like The Cornish Arms in Tavistock who win it year after year. It’s been a good way to start 2020!

You’ve cooked over fire at food festivals such as Meatopia in London and on the beach at St Ives Food Festival. What do you cook when looking to show off what’s possible with live fire?
Anything that people can do at home. I’m not one of these chef’s who’s going to show you all of these secret or unobtainable things that you can’t replicate at home. If you’re demonstrating then people want to know how to do it, they want to learn how to do it. Things like octopus that people assume is going to be unobtainable, you just go through how to do it step by step and you can get it easily. I wouldn’t rock up with a load of dry ice!

Local Porthilly oysters. Photographed by Sam Buckle.

Which other chefs do you look up to and admire, and why?
For me it’s the chefs that don’t seek the limelight… they’re not TV chefs. People like Niklas Ekstedt who’s got the Ekstedt restaurant in Stockholm. And then chefs like Ben Quinn, he’s been a massive inspiration in my career; he was the one that got me to see my true potential in live fire cooking. Generally though, people that do something a bit different. Tom Brown is a great inspiration being a Cornish boy as well.

What’s the simplest dish that you’d suggest for people wanting a gentle introduction to cooking over fire?
Mackerel. But it’s learning how to do mackerel well, because nine times out of ten your dad or granddad will have done mackerel on the BBQ and cooked the hell out of it; it’ll be dry, and horrible. It’s knowing the cuisson and knowing when to take it off. You let the residual heat of the fish finish it off. You can eat fish raw (like sushi), so if it’s still pink on the bone when you take it off the heat then it’ll be absolutely fine.

Cook this dish on our Fire course with Andi!

Do readers who are aspiring to cook over fire need any special equipment?
No! As long as you’ve got a barbecue and a safe place to do it. That’s the best thing about cooking over fire. Anyone can barbecue. There’re certain things that I’d suggest, like I’d never suggest cooking with a disposable bbq just because of the flavour it gives off – they’re often soaked in paraffin which really isn’t good to cook over. It’s more about sustainable wood or charcoal, and I’ll cover things like soaking wood on the course… going in to depth on things like using different woods for different meats. Meats like beef and chicken can take a heavier smoke flavour like oak, whereas with fish you’d want to go for apple wood or something subtle like chestnut.

Lobster, on the coals. Photo by Sam Buckle.

What are you looking forward to sharing at your course at Philleigh Way?
My enthusiasm, really. I want to make people not just stick paraffin firelighters under their food and actually show them that they can cook gourmet style food over fire, which is what we do here at St Kew.
I’d like to challenge preconceptions about cooking over fire, and show them what they can achieve. It can and should be so much more than having a raging fire and chucking stuff straight on. Some things need a hot heat and some things need a smouldering heat…. We might “black and blue” a steak by just rolling it in the hot coals to clinch it and then knock all the coals off, rest it and cut it. It’d be nice to do my octopus dish but because of time we might not be able to do the full dish – I might start cooking one but bring a cooked one with me that I’ll prepare the day before so that I can show the finished result.

Whether you want to start introducing cooking over fire into your regular repertoire, or simply up your barbecue game in preparation for the summer, Andi’s course is going to cover all bases. We have just a few spaces remaining.


And if you’re not able to make it to Cornwall in early March for Andi’s course but are planning on visiting later in the year, then you should definitely make a date to have a meal at St Kew Inn and enjoy his incredible cooking. You can also check out the other courses that we’ll be running during your visit here.

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