Pete Brown is a British author, journalist, broadcaster, and consultant specialising in food and drink, especially the fun parts like beer, pubs, cider, bacon rolls, and fish and chips. Across nine books, his broad, fresh approach takes in social history, cultural commentary, travel writing, personal discovery and natural history, and his words are always delivered with the warmth and wit you’d expect from a great night down the pub.
He was named British Beer Writer of the Year in 2009, 2012 and 2016, has won three Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards, and has been shortlisted twice for the Andre Simon Awards. Pete is Chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers. He lives in Stoke Newington with his wife, Liz, and dog, Mildred.
We talked about his new book, Pie Fidelity: In Defence of British Food.
How long have you been living in Stoke Newington?
Why did you decide to be an author?
When I was 9 years old. I was allowed to write stories while the rest of the class did maths and the teacher read them out.
What made you decide to write Pie Fidelity: In Defence of British Food?
I became fascinated by Britain’s awkward relationship with pride and patriotism. Research shows that — secretly — we’re prouder of our food than other aspect of Britishness, but we hate showing it. The book is an experiment in trying to be patriotic, as well as multicultural, having pride in what we do without denigrating others – basically, trying to express national pride without sounding anything like Nigel Farage.
Tell us more about the book.
It takes nine meals that have a cultural, as well as culinary, importance. I go for each meal in its typical location — not looking for the best, but the most appropriate. Full English in a London greasy spoon caff, fish and chips by the seaside, and so on. The surprise for me when I wrote it was that this led to quite a bit of memoir popping out.
Why do you think British food is losing its appeal?
I don’t think it is — I just think we’re weirdly shy about talking about it.
Apart from pubs, it is rare to find British restaurants in London. Is it more conventional outside London?
Not at all. People claim they like British cuisine more than any other, but they either prepare it at home or go to the pub for it. Even pubs are moving away from it now.
What was your first-date meal with your wife?
Not the one she claims, which is pie and peas on Barnsley Market! It was actually a fancy lunch in a Knightsbridge gastropub, which is sadly no more.
Does living in Hackney inspire your books?
My wife runs the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, and the borough has always had a great literary heritage. There are lots of writers — and lots of readers — living here, and it’s a privilege to be able to discuss ideas (and moan about sales and royalties) in the pub with other writers.
Where is your favourite place for dinner in Hackney?
My back garden on those rare evenings when it’s nice enough to have a barbecue, Pete Brown especially the even rarer evenings when I get lucky and my low-and-slow smoked chicken actually works.
Any hidden place you’d like to share?
The Thai Cafe on Northwold Road in Stokey. It should have closed years ago but the now- elderly couple running it love doing it — and it shows in the food.