“I’m not sure people like what my body is saying!”
Best known for his onscreen partnership with Tim Lovejoy presenting first Something for the Weekend and more recently Sunday Brunch, Northern lad Simon Rimmer is one of the most popular chefs on television. He opened his first restaurant, Greens, to critical acclaim in the 90s. Since then he’s opened eight more restaurants in the UK and one in Dubai, written cookery books, and appeared on countless television programmes from cooking up a storm on This Morning to Eat the Week with Iceland. Now, he’s strutting his stuff on Strictly Come Dancing.
I was intrigued to discover how swapping salt for sequins was going and why more people need to ‘tango’ with their barbecue.
“Joining Strictly has been a very steep learning curve,” he laughs.
As a trained dancer, I thought it only right that I impart some words of wisdom to help him salsa his way to success. “You’ve just got to go with it, relax, and let your body do the talking!”
But he’s not convinced. “I’m not sure people like what my body is saying!”
His first steps on the hallowed Strictly dance floor saw him performing the Paso Doble to Song 2 by Blur with partner Karen Clifton. Scoring a grand total of 17 points, the lowest score on the leaderboard being one below at 16.
Simon is undoubtedly a busy man and with rehearsals for Strictly sandwiched between performing and presenting Sunday Brunch, he’s now banging the chicken drumstick as an ambassador for Weber the world’s premier manufacturer of barbecues…
“It’s time for women to reclaim the barbecue!”
“Did you know the average Brit cooks four times a year on a barbecue? Three times in summer and then once over Halloween or Bonfire night and I was the same,” Simon admits, “but I like long and slow cooking like pulled pork. The first time I cooked it on a barbecue I wondered why I’d never used one before. With a barbecue the flavour is amazing, you get a charred flavour and smokiness and adding wood chips gives extra flavour. It genuinely does change the way you cook.”
While Simon’s enthusiasm is infectious, the only thought I have clouding my mind is the fact we live up North. The weather is barely suitable for barbecues in summer, never mind at any other time of the year! Surely a barbecue is for summer and not for life…
“Just because it’s winter time it doesn’t mean you need to stand over it. If you’re cooking sausages and burgers you need to but cooking a whole chicken or a Sunday roast on it, it’s a really lovely thing to do. There’s more moisture in the air in winter which is actually better for the meat, making it more succulent and juicy!”
In my household my parents hold an annual family barbecue. My dad proudly parades around the patio with his self-tailored barbecue tool belt while my mum tends to be relegated to the realms of potato salad and coleslaw. And when the rain drills down we all end up sitting in the garage with a plate stacked full of bangers and chicken legs balanced on our damp laps.
“There are no guarantees on the weather!” Simon chuckles. “If you’re having people round, make sure that the inside of your house is ready for people to pile inside rather than thinking no-one will come in.” Simon is insistent that no matter what kind of barbecue you cook on, quality matters. “You get what you pay for. Weber ones are designed to be out all year. They’re left outside in hideously long, cold winters in the middle of America so they can certainly cope with a bit of damp in Britain!”
While Simon is without a doubt a firm believer in cooking on a barbecue I can’t help but wonder if it’s a male phenomenon. I’m once again reminded of my dad, a man who never cooks except for when it’s to barbecue bangers and burgers. I wonder if it’s the male fascination with fire or are barbecues just a manly activity?
“Man, fire, tools.” Simon laughs, “But most do it badly! They don’t usually cook so they don’t let the flavours out or the coals get hot enough. It’s time for women to reclaim the barbecue! Have a little female empowerment and claim back the tongs and flames!”
While I can’t pretend that I don’t enjoy sitting, watching and getting really drunk, Simon’s little pep talk has worked and I find myself asking about which kind of barbecue Simon recommends – gas or charcoal?
“I like both! The convenience of a gas barbecue is that you can turn it on and that’s it but then there’s nothing like the flavour of food cooked over charcoal. You can cook your tea on it and it takes no longer than heating your oven up. Cooking a pork chop on a barbecue on a Tuesday night, serving it with potato salad, maybe roast peppers, it’s a really nice thing to do!
“You could do a really good version of a Lancashire hotpot on the barbecue.”
Now he’s talking. “Beautiful slow cooked lamb, roast spuds in plenty of stock so they get that soft, crispy, smoky flavour. Try roasting red cabbage too. Just put equal quantities of sugar and vinegar, loads of salt and pepper on and toss it with your hands into a container, stick it on the barbecue and roast it at the same time as your lamb. It’s delicious!”
But what about those families on a budget, can they enjoy the joy of barbecue cooking all year round?
“Cheaper pieces of meat are really nice. That’s the joy of long and slow cooking. Try neck of lamb, marinate it in salt, thyme and black peppercorns, and let it sit, take the excess off and cook it. Roast off some little spuds, carrots and beetroot and you’ve got a simple dish that costs pennies and the taste is so much better than the same dish in a traditional oven.”
My mouth is watering and suddenly the sandwich I’d bought for my lunch doesn’t seem quite as appetising and as Simon enthuses about how people need to be more adventurous on their barbecue, my mind once again wanders to the important questions for us Northerners.
“Can you cook black pudding on the barbecue?”
“Just have it on the hottest bit, brush a bit of oil on the black pudding and stick it on the barbecue. It’s delicious! You can even make a sticky toffee pudding on the barbecue!” Simon beams, “It’s about keeping the lid down. So for sticky toffee pudding, it’s all your normal things, butter, sugar, eggs, flour, cook off dates and add some bicarb. Fold it through, into a foil tray, on the barbecue. It needs to be on indirect heat so that the hotter coals are either side of it. Treat it the same as usual and you’ll get a slightly smoky flavour. It works brilliantly!”
Something tells me I won’t be having my bland tuna mayo sandwich for lunch after all. I wonder if Simon will come around to my house once he has finished prancing around?
Well, I can’t wait but until then I’ll be cheering him on from the comfort of my living room. Let’s hope he can Cha-Cha all the way to the final! In the meantime, I’m off to get my barbecue out. It’s Lancashire hotpot for tea tonight!