My life in food: singer-songwriter James Newman on his ideal Eurovision party dish and his love for Turkish food

This year’s UK Eurovision hopeful discusses all things culinary, from the best places to eat in his native Yorkshire to his signature barbecued prawns.

By Farida Zeynalova
Published 17 May 2021, 08:01 BST, Updated 15 Jun 2021, 14:19 BST
James, originally from Settle, Yorkshire, will represent the UK with the song Embers in the Eurovision Song ...

James, originally from Settle, Yorkshire, will represent the UK with the song Embers in the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 on 22 May.

Photograph by Victor Frankowski

Skipton is home to the best meat pie you’ll ever eat in your life. Every time I drive back to Settle [James’ hometown], I stop there en route for a pie at Stanforth Butchers. They serve it hot, and you have to bite it and drink the juice out first. It’s always a mess and you end up with juice all over your hands. Ye Olde Naked Man Café in Settle town centre does really nice local food; sandwiches, pasties, breads, ice cream, stuff like that. A little further out is the two-Michelin-star L’Enclume, a restaurant my friend and I went to after watching The Trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. They went to all those restaurants around the area, so we slowly started going to each one as well.

My mum would always make turkey mince curry. And every time, I thought, why turkey mince? Growing up, it was just me, my brother and my mum. We didn’t have much money, so the turkey mince was what we could afford — freezer food and stuff like that. She won’t mind me saying this, but she was never a culinary master. The most important thing was the three of us would eat together as a family.

If I had to take one dish to a Eurovision party, it’d be a Sunday roast wrap, because it’d have to be something that represented me and the UK. You make the Yorkshire pudding as a flatbread (you have to get the consistency right so you can roll it), then you put in the vegetables, roasted meat, gravy and roll it up. It’s a good way to present it — nobody wants to sit down with a big plate at a party.

Copenhagen never lets you down when it comes to food. I go there a lot to write, and the food scene is just amazing. Noma has been voted the best restaurant in the world so many times, but it’s so hard to get in. Some of the chefs that have worked and been trained there have branched out and opened more accessible restaurants, where you get the same quality of food, but it’s £50 for a 15-course tasting menu instead of £500. I love Pluto, and also the burger restaurant Gasoline Grill, housed in an old petrol station, which has some of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten.

I love Turkish food. There’s a place on Green Lanes [in North London] called Gokyuzu, which, during normal times, is always full and there’s a real hustle and bustle — it’s like you’ve gone to Turkey for a meal. I don’t eat meat a lot, but that’s one of the places where I have my once-a-week treat. There’s a dish called lamb sarma beyti, which is like a kofta wrapped in a thin flatbread with tomato and yoghurt. It’s rolled and grilled and they serve it with tomato and bulgur wheat – it’s amazing. When you come out, you can go to a Turkish bakery and get a baklava and pistachio ice cream to walk home with. I love all the smells and sounds when I’m walking down that street.

My Big Green Egg has changed my culinary experience at home. It’s a ceramic barbecue that my wife bought for me as a wedding present. It’s everything in one: a grill, a smoker, an oven and it has a deflector to turn it into a slow roaster. Cooking fish on there is life-changing. It gives food the respect it deserves. I do these prawns using a dirty old skillet that I try not to wash because it’s got memories of all the things I’ve made. I mix them with garlic, chilli, lemon juice, cold-pressed olive oil, salt and pepper. I put them in the skillet with loads of butter and that goes in the Egg. I then get fresh sourdough and infuse it with oil and put that in there too. I serve the skillet with the hot, oily sourdough that you dip in the buttery prawns, so you get the taste of the skillet.

I’d love to eat my way around South America. A while ago I ordered a meal kit from a Peruvian restaurant in London [Lima], and it was great. I’d really like to go to Peru and experience that properly. The way they use ingredients — it’s just so exciting. I’d love to go to Argentina for the steak, and to Brazil, too. I’d like to do a month-long trip, visiting all the foodie hotspots in South America. Actually, I’m going to try and plan that!

Love food and travel? Taste the world at the National Geographic Traveller Food Festival, our immersive culinary event that takes place every summer. Find out more and book your tickets.

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