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Punk chef on fire

The pink mohawk may give the name away, but Scott Garthwaite is a remarkable chef for so many reasons. TV producer Andy Clarke tells his inspiring story

 Andy Clarke   Spring 2021

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It was a cold autumn day, the table was set with all the ingredients for filming, the cameras were ready to roll and the crew were wrapped up warm. Even though self-titled Punk Chef Scott Garthwaite was prepped and ready to cook, he revealed: “I’ve never been filmed cooking outside before!”

I found that hard to believe for such an accomplished chef who has travelled the world for his career. Luckily, the Craster seafront on the Northumberland coast seemed strangely sheltered from the North Sea storm that howled around us. We were filming the pilot episode of ‘Punk Chef on the Road’, a series that I devised for the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust to showcase Garthwaite cooking outside in every corner of the UK in all weather conditions. But this wasn’t a problem for confirmed barbecue-loving Scott.

Garthwaite has been deaf since he was a toddler, so I was keen to know how a person who cannot hear could make it in the hearing world of the professional kitchen. I set the episode in his native north-east of England, where we visited Rockliffe Hall – a place where Garthwaite trained – and I can testify the barbecued lobster he cooked on screen was sensational.

“Training at Rockliffe Hall wasn’t easy.

I struggled, missing out on a lot of important information and dialogue in the kitchens every day. It was my passion for food that kept me going. I became a better chef because of my thirst for knowledge.” Overall, though, it was a real eye-opener for Garthwaite.

“I loved it. It was a golden opportunity for me to learn the real graft of kitchen life, which was something that I have always wanted to do, and not allowing my deafness to stop me.”

It was halfway across the world that Garthwaite became interested in cookery. “I fell in love with food during my travels in the Middle East when I was living there for eight months at a Deaf School in Al-Salt, Jordan.”

Leftover food from Arabic weddings was given to the school, which ignited Garthwaite’s adventurous love of food. “One lunchtime there was beautiful food displayed in the dinner hall. There was one dish that amazed me: sheep’s head that been boiled in fermented dried yoghurt broth. I had never seen a cooked sheep’s head on a plate before and what was fascinating was that you must eat this with your right hand without any utensils. Also, your left hand must be behind your back!”

After this experience, his eyes and taste buds were open to new ideas. “I started to realise that I should accept whatever life throws at you -–and eat food, no matter what culture it’s from.”

But it’s cooking over naked flames that ignites Garthwaite’s passion more than any other cooking. “I just love cooking over open fire because the meat tastes better. All you need is some good quality marbled red meat, plenty of salt and pepper and a barbecue, then let the natural fat and sugar break down. The end results give you unimaginable flavours.”

And Garthwaite is keen on cooking everything else over fire too. “It’s not just meat. Fish or even grilling vegetables taste amazing over the barbecue. You don’t get the same taste and aroma as cooking it in a pan or in the oven”. He also jokes about the practicalities of cooking outside. “Barbecuing is also another way just to keep your kitchen spotless and there’s less washing up.”

 

 

A tip that Garthwaite is keen to share involves herbs. “I sometimes throw some rosemary on the coals to give my meats a nice herby hint.”

 He also has an ingenious marrowbone idea. “I love to put a tray of marrowbone on top of the BBQ; allow the heat to extract the fat from the bones, remove the fat from the bones, add a scalding hot lump of coal into the fat, let it sizzle and leave the coal until it cools. Remove it, drain the fat through a sieve, add some crushed chillies and keep that in a bowl

on top of the barbecue warm,” says Garthwaite, insisting how lovely it is when you brush this over your meats at the end of the cooking to add extra smokiness.

But it’s not just about what’s on the grill; it’s about spending time with his three children, Rocco Kane, Dakota Rose and Macy Ivy, together with partner Emmila who he met at DeafNation, a Deaf festival in Las Vegas, USA in 2015.

“During the summer I just love barbecues because it’s quality family time in the sun, with a few whiskies of course!”

Garthwaite has picked up hints on low and slow barbecue cooking after being invited to spend time in Texas, USA, cooking in front of around 1,500 deaf people at international events.

“Cooking at low heat for a long period of time does wonders to meat. That’s the way I like to cook now. I am also a big fan of Tex-Mex because I love my chillies. Also, the Mexican culture of slow cooked meat in a taco with just some simple chopped onion and coriander as a garnish is the most amazing thing you can eat. No fancy cooking needed.”

In 2015 Garthwaite came second at the World Deaf Culinary Competition in Copenhagen, Denmark and in 2019 he became the first deaf chef to cook at a mainstream food festival – the Ludlow Food Festival.

There’s one project that Garthwaite feels is particularly important because of his own communication barriers in professional kitchens. “I want to improve deaf people’s understanding of cooking by educating them and being able to help them understand recipes better, mainly focusing on developing a sign language glossary for the hospitality industry.”

Garthwaite is working on this with professional British Sign Language (BSL) linguist Daryl Jackson. “The glossary will translate and explain the meaning of words in a BSL format visually. It’s not just for the benefit of the deaf community, it will also empower the whole hospitality industry to give confidence in employing deaf people in their workplaces.”

For me, working with Garthwaite has been a game-changer. His passion and determination are inspirational. Isn’t it time we saw more deaf chefs demonstrating at food festivals, and how about seeing one cooking on television? In command of the flames of a barbecue perhaps.

Andy Clarke was series producer of Punk Chef on the Road. As well as being a food and drink writer, Clarke is a television producer and director.

For more about Scott Garthwaite and his food, go to: punkkitchen.com

To watch any of the 10 episodes of ‘Punk Chef on the Road’ visit: www.bslzone.co.uk/watch

 


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