Meet one of the hottest young chefs in Leeds

Jonathan Hawthorne. Photo by Rob Caddy.
Jonathan Hawthorne. Photo by Rob Caddy.
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He’s cutting edge, controversial and cooking up a bit of a storm among the Leeds food scene.

One of the hottest young chefs in the city is taking fine dining out of the kitchen and you may well find it in the John Lewis car park some time soon.

After honing his trade at Man Behind The Curtain, Noma (a two-starred Michelin restaurant in Denmark) and Quay (the most awarded restaurant in Australia), Jonathan Hawthorne is going his own way in Leeds with his own XO Supper Club brand which proved to be one of the most popular food trends in Leeds last year.

Sold out supper clubs at Oporto (a dive bar) and Laynes Espresso (a cafe by day) have seen Hawthorne create a makeshift kitchen and serve up radical, Asian inspired dishes such as cheese-burger spring rolls, salt and pepper squid and a cone of vanilla ice-cream with brownies, raspberries and ready-salted crisps.

He said: “The reaction I like and that is why I do it - to shock. I enjoy cooking and just want to get it out there.

“The money is not important right now. I would rather have 40 people at my events than four. People said ‘why would you do fine-dining in a nightclub as it doesn’t make sense’. But, I would do it in a car park – the food comes out the same and it makes me stand out.”

It is a clever way to sell himself for the Bradford born lad who admits he needs money and backing to have his own restaurant in an already populated market-place.

He got into cooking with his gran when he was a kid, doing the usual baking like rhubarb crumble, but his passion for it and hunger to make a career from it stemmed from there with her words ringing in his ears, ‘people always need to eat, there will be jobs from that’.

But to get to the top of his game he knew he had to look at Leeds and further afield for the kind of food he wanted to do and a college placement took him to the Box Tree at Ilkley for three years where he said they taught him what he needed to know.

But, he muses, is the food and drink scene that is booming right now actually smoke and mirrors?

He says: “Somebody needs to back me so I can give Leeds another good restaurant. I am trying to be up there but I don’t have the money.

“If Leeds had four top restaurants that would cement us. Man Behind the Curtain and HOME - that is what everyone is talking about but if there were more of those, we would become a destination for people to come.”

Hawthorne questions the big brands, their integrity when it comes to the food and drink chain and also their staying power as new openings take place almost on a weekly basis.

A burger in one, for example, he says, is the same as five more places on the same road and while there is a demand for it, that is coming from the weekend visitors to Leeds

He says: “A lot put a splish splash on a plate and make it look like it is worth more. I go the opposite way, my food is clean, minimalist and no bull, there is no hiding - it is there.

“There is an identity to my food, you see a dish and you can tell that it is mine.

“I don’t have the money to do what everyone else is doing so I am doing the opposite, being what I want. I am not style over substance, if you like it you like it and if you don’t, you don’t.”