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The Interview: John Quilter

Rakhi Sinha at Teacup talks to the food busking, muskateering chocolatiering Brummie

Written by . Published on September 19th 2011.

The Interview: John Quilter

“TAKE a seat, you’re going to be here for a while,” John Quilter tells me.

The award-winning chef from Northern Quarter’s Teacup has our interview ready- ordered: “First we’ll talk about where I’ve come from, then we’ll talk about Teacup, then we’ll talk about Food Busking.”

We’re redefining the caff. We’ve had the bistro, the brasserie, the gastro pub, but what about the caff?

But, it doesn’t quite go according to plan because, like his many ventures, John shifts from one thing to another.

I manage to keep up though and out of our conversation I gather that he once soothed Neneh Cherry’s sore throat with a peach, rushed on stage with a cup of Oolong tea for Kanye West when he was having a very public breakdown, and gave Robert Plant a pack of pork scratchings.

You see, Manchester and London-based Brummie Mr Quilter is a firm believer that food and drink are the way to break down social barriers and even the coolest of the cool will fall prey to good ol’ tea and scran.

He’s managed to get himself gigs cooking backstage at major festivals where he interviews surly musicians. Then he melts them with his honest, home-cooked food, breaks down their icy barriers and gets down to the nitty gritty. If he had a superpower this would be it. By the time he’s got his food in their mouths, they’re putty in his hands.

He calls it ‘Food Busking’ and through it he aims to show people how easy cooking is. By using interviews with musicians as the vehicle, he believes he can interest those who wouldn’t normally watch a cookery show or bother getting in the kitchen.

“Food Busking is an attitude. Accessible, down-to-earth, fun and subversive. It’s a performance and has an audience. Next I’m going to take food busking to Old Street in London to film it.”

It’s not going to be a poncy thing though because he’s not into that: “I’m on Celebrity Chefs UK and I hate that. If I’m a celebrity chef, I’m Z list. It’s a load of bollocks. I don’t think there should be a difference between cook and chef anyway. I don’t think we should be using expensive ingredients either. Food should be inclusive not exclusive, down-to -earth, fun and easy.”

Which is where another venture of his comes in.

This mantra, “good, honest, down-to-earth,” is also incorporated into the work he does at DJ Mr Scruff’s café, Teacup, where he’s a food consultant.

They hand-make everything on the premises and if you’ve been there before, you’ll know that their cakes are melt-in-the-mouth goodness.

Now they’ve branched out into making their own chocolates with flavours such as pistachio, rose petal and some that look like Christmas baubles and are too pretty to eat.

Quilter's Chocs 004

 “I can’t take all the credit though,” he’s keen to point out. “The Gingerbread Kid’s the one you should actually be speaking to. He’s great.”

He’s referring, affectionately, to the redheaded John Farrar, who heads the culinary team over at Teacup.

“We’re redefining the caff. We’ve had the bistro, the brasserie, the gastro pub, but what about the caff? It’s at the bottom, it’s accessible to everyone. We make everything on site, it’s all excellent quality and it’s fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

For many years John ran restaurants for Raymond Blanc and was Operations Manager for The Chophouses, before opening up his own place, Marmalade in Chorlton.

Sadly, Marmalade closed in 2009: “I gave it up after three robberies, a fire and being hit by the credit crunch. Then I went off surfing for a bit before moving down to London.”

John’s already got his fingers in a load of pies up and down the country, but in the space of our interview he mentions at least another ten things he wants to do. Including a ‘Food Rave’.

 “In London the underground food scene’s amazing. Like how the rave scene used to be. It was an adventure that not many people knew about.

“That’s the kind of feeling that I want to bring to food. I want to make it cool and to put on a food rave. A feast for hundreds of people with tea, cake, jelly, party, bar and top DJs. How cool would that be?”

The man’s indefatigable, and as long as he can bring a little order to his thoughts, maybe pace things a little, he might just be on to a winner.

Check out the Teacup website for more information about the Drink Tea Eat Cake pop up café, http://teacupandcakes.com/. John Quilter has his own website here.

Quilter's Chocs 007

Quilter's Chocs 008

Quilter's Chocs 005










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