I was 17 years old when I first walked into the chaos of a restaurant kitchen.
Washing pots for a well known North East chef, my time in hospitality started, chip on shoulder, with absolute disdain and dislike for the industry coupled with the need to earn, as opposed to the elusive allure of the hospitality sector.
20 years on, the resistance of youth evolved into a profound passion for food and drink. For the growers and producers, brands and manufacturers - each with their own story to tell and all emotively linked to the history and heritage of our great region, the North East.
In 2005, I opened The Open Kitchen, a small, neighbourhood restaurant that received immediate high praise and critical acclaim. Over time, The OK developed a reputation as a disruptive alternative to mainstream dining championing hyper local and ethically sourced ingredients whilst opening up the debate around 'food politics'. I had the joy of working closely with some of the regions best food and drink producers such as renowned food grower Ken Holland, the outstanding Doddington Dairy as well as partners and early adopters of Fairtrade brand Divine Chocolate and the not for profit Belu Water.
A new father, growing family and a passionate interest in the politics of food, ethics and social justice took me one step away from the coalface of hospitality and led me to Fairtrade pioneers since 1976, Traidcraft.
Based in Gateshead, I joined the organisation as Sourcing Manager responsible for unearthing new possibilities, global supply chain, product development, manufacturing and commercial partnerships. The Geordie 'Man from Del Monte'.
Working with some of the worlds poorest and most marginalised food producers, my role took me across the globe from Guatemala to Mexico, South Africa to Swaziland, Mauritius to India and Thailand to Lao.
I spent 5 years building fair trade commodity supply chains such as cocoa, tea, coffee, rice, honey and vine fruits as well as developing innovative retail products with license partners and large scale, regional and global manufacturers.
Operating across food and drink categories such as beverages, confectionery, condiments, savoury snacks, cereals and bakery, many of these products found their way into mainstream retail with the likes of Sainsburys, Waitrose, Tesco and The Cooperative.
In 2011, the Fairtrade movement reached a tipping point when multinationals Unilever, Kraft and Nestle all saw the commercial value in the use of the Fairtrade Mark.
For the purists, it felt tainted. For the pragmatists, it felt like an opportunity to flex the muscle of 'big business' for positive social gain.
The movement was divided and so was I. In April 2012, I moved on to join the Department for International Trade as Food and Drink Specialist passionate to support the North East sector in building an international reputation as a UK 'bread basket' , destination and incubator for iconic brands.