Union StUnion St

By Kate Reeves-Brown

Adding the final ingredient to the new five-day line up, Chris Hale is getting everything prepared for his debut at Union Street’s Pop-Up Café. If he looks familiar, it’s because he probably is… Chris took a bit of Yorkshire flair right to the MasterChef 2016 quarter finals, wowing the judges and viewers alike with his self-taught culinary skills.

We all drooled over his dishes on TV, but now it’s time for Gregg and John to step aside and let the good folk of Sheffield get stuck in every Monday lunch time.

It’s been a crazy few months for Chris since his MasterChef experience and, he admits, an unexpected one at that! A skilled and passionate home cook, it was his wife who actually entered him for TV’s much celebrated cooking contest. In fact, when Chris first received the phone call from the BBC, he was quite sure they’d got the wrong number!

When he’s not experimenting with adventurous new recipes in his kitchen, Chris runs his own altitude-training company. Being self-employed has allowed him the freedom to dedicate some of his time to the myriad new and exciting opportunities that came his way in the foodie world since he appeared on the show – the highlight of which was cooking for 2000 people on the beach in Cannes with a group of top chefs.

His eyes were opened to just how incredible catering can be, and he returned to Yorkshire brimming with ideas and inspiration. From private dining to pop-up restaurants, he’s been trying his hand at an array of things, and so far is yet to cook the same dish twice. It is that versatility that he really loves about cooking, and it has been his private dining events that have really allowed him to showcase his originality and imagination. One of his favourites was a celebration menu for a 90th birthday – he came up with a nine-course tasting menu which took her through every decade of her life, dish by dish.

Although from Wakefield, Chris has become a familiar face in the Sheffield food scene. The locals have welcomed him with open arms and adventurous palates, and he praises the support he has received from the council and the community of independent food traders.

The first event he held at Union Street was a complete sell-out. An exquisite gin-pairing menu consisting of canapés served with a Sorrento Collins, gravlax with gin and tarragon sours, venison bourguignon with sloe gin, and gin and tonic ice cream floats… it’s easy to see why he has become known for his ingenious, dare-to-be-different combinations.

So what was it about Union Street that attracted him to the venue as a place to host his Pop Up North events?

“It’s a really cool venue”, he explains. “It’s close to the train station, it’s central, it just fits the vibe of what we’re trying to do – chilled, social dining.”

His first event was a shining example of how high-end food can be enjoyed in a relaxed and vibrant space. The incredible success continued when the second event, an Italian-inspired vegan menu, also sold out and received fantastic reviews.

Building on this success, Chris was delighted to join the lunch-time line-up at Union Street’s Pop-Up Café and will take over the Monday slot on a weekly basis.

“The only downside to catering is that it always tends to be on weekends, so I am really looking forward to having a regular spot here each week. It will be great to have more time to chat to people – it’s a great social space.”

So far people have been really receptive to his bold flavours and experimental ingredients, and he has no plans to change his approach. So although we’ll be seeing him regularly, don’t expect to get the same mouthful of food twice.

He plans to take us on a culinary tour of Asia through the concept of noodle broths. “Essentially it’s going to be a posh pot noodle,” he jokes. There will be a three broth options and three noodle options to choose from and we can expect authentic flavours from places such as Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. He is off on a mammoth trip around Asia over Christmas for his honeymoon and he plans to come back with a suitcase full of ingredients and a note pad full of ideas!

Chris’s pop-up starts with a taste of Japan on Monday 31st October, where we will be able to choose from a noodle selection containing either chicken, prawn or wild mushroom, and pair it with either shiitake dashi, miso kombu or jasmine chicken broth. Just fancy a nibble? There will also be sushi on offer – tuna nori rolls, vegetable nori rolls and salmon nigiri.

I can’t think of a more delicious and nutritious way to get over the Monday blues!

Kate Reeves-Brown
About Kate Reeves-Brown
Kate is a freelance food writer based at Union St, usually found writing about food, editing recipes, making books and eating burgers. Currently writing the second Sheffield Cook Book. https://twitter.com/katereevesbrown
Monday’s Masterchef: Chris Hale