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, we 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'.
Based in Gateshead, I joined the organisation as Sourcing Manager.
The Geordie 'Man From Del Monte'.
Responsible for global supply chains, product innovation, manufacturing and partnerships, I worked 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.
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.
In April 2012, my attention turned to the North East. I joined the Department for International Trade as Food and Drink Specialist determined to build a world class, sustainable and vibrant food economy that would make the region a global destination.