Best of the Best – that’s what the panel of judges declared Lee Desanges’ Baked in Brick at the final of the 2016 British Street Food Awards last weekend. There was something about his beef shin ragu and mushroom calzone that made judges Xanthe Clay, Richard Johnson and Michelin-starred chefs Simon Hulstone, Brad Carter and Nathan Eades go weak at the knees. Yes, pun fully intended.
As well as full bragging rights, Lee’s Baked in Brick gets a free pitch in Leeds’ Trinity Kitchen. And a complementary showcase at one of Street Feast’s famous gigs. And an invitation to come back and trade at the Digbeth Dining Club. It’s the mother of all prizes, but has it all sunk in yet? ‘Not really,’ says Lee. ‘When I walked down those stairs from the stage at the Awards it was… well, it was a bit weird.’
Two years ago, Lee was watching Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Richard Johnson, the founder of British Street Food, was on the programme promoting the finals of the 2014 Awards in Leeds. ‘So I took myself off to see what it was all about,’ says Lee. ‘Blown away by the calibre of the traders, I wanted to catch some of the talks on setting up a business in street food. I was late for those, so I bombarded Richard with loads of questions. He told me to try and stand out from other traders if I wanted to be successful. In a nutshell, if it wasn’t for Richard’s advice I may not be where I am today.’
Back in 2014, the only experience Lee had in street food catering was hosting ‘pizza parties’ in his back garden. ‘But I was a regular at the Digbeth Dining Club in Birmingham,’ he explains. ‘When I was first introduced to [co-founder] Jack Brabant, I told him I wanted to serve pizza out of a converted Mini. Jack said he’d already got two pizza traders, and didn’t want any more. That’s when I decided to do my chicken tikka on the bonnet. That’s what created a huge impression.’
When you show a bit of thigh like Lee does, maybe it’s no surprise he went on to win. That’s his secret, after all. ‘Chicken breast will go dry really quickly, whereas thigh has lots of fat in it. Breast may be healthier, but there’s a lot more flavour on thigh meat.’