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Curry flavour with a view to savour

Bring a television presenter and a BBQ chef together around a fire and the art of cooking and conversation reaches new heights, as RUPERT BATES discovers

 Rupert Bates   Autumn 2022

Join us on        @thebbqmag

 #ShropshireLad #JulesHudson

 
 

 

 

To the Wye Valley in Herefordshire, with Hay Bluff in the distance. It was early morning as Adam Purnell, Shropshire Lad to the BBQ community, drove across the county border. Our breakfast order? Indian Surf & Turf – obviously.

We were at the home, or more specifically outside the new shepherd’s hut, of television presenter, author and archaeologist Jules Hudson. The cameras might not have been rolling, but this could have been an episode of the BBC series he presents Escape to the Country – only we were more focused on fire, steak and calamari than beams, bedrooms and budgets.

For a fireside chat in the lee of the Black Mountains, there are few more convivial hosts than Jules Hudson, sharing his passion for outdoor living, architecture, landscape and history. For a fireside cook there are few better than Adam Purnell. All I had to do was listen – and eat.

Jules’s glamping business is a shepherd’s hut for one couple, as well as a second building, The Trough, for additional eating and social space. Leave your car at the gate, pick up your rural luggage trolleys – wheelbarrows – head past chickens and a wildflower garden and you’re at Mole Hill Hut, with your own three acres of pasture and pastoral symphony.

Jules has visions of his Shepherd’s Hut guests purchasing books from the Hay Festival at nearby Hay-on-Wye and reading them in The Trough, as food cooks on the firepit. We decide to merge the two for the morning, as Adam flicked through the latest cookbook from Dan Toombs – The Curry Guy BBQ, before firing up the Kadai fire bowl and recreating some of the recipes.

First up is The Curry Guy’s hanger steak with spiced bone marrow. The coriander, garlic, chilli powder, cumin, oil and salt and pepper are all mixed, before the bone marrow, from Morgan’s Country Butchers in Telford, is placed on the Kadai. The hanger steak follows and the turf is soon exuding aroma and flavour that it is a wonder every walker trekking the River Wye doesn’t ditch the packed lunch and divert to Mole Hill Hut.

The surf is soon up as Adam prepares his tandoori calamari skewers, threading the squid, infused with spring onions, garlic, ginger paste, tandoori masala, chilli flakes, coriander, salt and pepper – and alternating with lemon slices and lime leaves. Adam tops off our surf and turf with masala garlic fries and the results are simply sensational. 

As a seasoned broadcaster Jules Hudson is rarely lost for words, but the Wye Valley falls silent, bar a few cries of ‘dear god, that’s delicious’ as we dip the steak in the bone marrow. If Michelin had been passing through Herefordshire that morning, I swear they would have left a star by the Kadai.

This was not so much Escape to the Country as Epicure in the Country and while it is doubtful many of the Shepherd’s Hut guests share the culinary gifts of the Shropshire Lad, this was just the bucolic feasting Jules imagined when he set about his glamping project, for the rural champion of our television screens had edited the montage of his mind to create an Arcadian retreat, others can share, in his own backyard.

 

 

When we last spoke, Jules talked of one of the great joys of any rural experience being access to open fire and that visceral connection. “The fire is nature’s TV, as you look into the glowing embers as darkness falls, the temperature dropping but warmed by the flames. You’re in touch with a timeless moment, shared by humans around the world through the ages. That is why we are social creatures, gathering and reflecting around focal points.”

We are barely past brunch as the fire dies down, although there is the temptation to stoke up the Kadai, laden the wheelbarrows with more food, steal Adam’s van keys, insist he cooks dinner and the chance to savour the sunsets that set this corner of Herefordshire alight and apart.

VIew the Location

Shropshire Lad

Adam Purnell is ‘what it says on the tin’ or the firepit. “A lad from Shropshire with a passion for cooking and fishing.”

His food journey started at a young age, always keen to help in the family kitchen and learning from his father – “a great cook.”

Adam went on to teach food at a secondary school, but then was drawn to youth work, qualifying in 2012. While now a full-time cook, sitting at the top table of UK live-fire chefs, his work with young people has clearly informed his character and his cuisine. 

You can imagine Adam’s easy manner round the fire – be it roasting a whole Dexter cow in 24 hours, creating his beloved Black Country pork scratchings, or kicking back with his own smoky spiced rum – drawing conversation from the most withdrawn teenager, proof positive of the mental health benefits of outdoor cooking.

“Working at youth clubs, with kids who may have been kicked out of school, or involved in drugs and gangs, it can be very difficult to convince them to try some activities or listen to advice, but they are invariably hungry. So food became a constant and I could get them involved in the cooking,” says Adam.

“When cooking, the kids naturally start talking and opening up, often without realising it, while taking an interest in the food and bringing their own ingredients along to cook. It is such a natural way to engage with people. Some of them still message me for tips.” Adam even managed to get Weber barbecues for the kids he looked after through Altons BBQ World.

Adam started producing YouTube videos and now his reels are required watching on Instagram (@shropshire.lad) as sources, and indeed marinades, of inspiration, education and entertainment.

“I have learnt as I go along and there is nothing better than cooking outdoors over fire, understanding and interpreting flavours, trying different combinations. There is nothing you cannot cook over fire, but always remember the fire is an ingredient in itself.”

During lockdown, Adam ran weekly live YouTube cook-along classes, with ingredients delivered to people’s doors every Friday morning. One of his students was 15-year-old Aston Prideaux, who is now such an accomplished live-fire cook himself, he does demonstrations at food festivals, such as Pub in the Park and Smoke & Fire. 

Adam is in demand at many events, combining great food with great theatre. Still a young pitmaster he is inspiring ‘apprentices’ wherever and whatever he cooks. And away from his own backyard or a festival firepit, he is never happier than when out fishing, cooking what he catches. If you catch what he cooks you’re in for a treat and his curry in a Kadai in the countryside was a delight.


 


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