Shotgun Chef

“Can you manage a steak?”

We’re in the kitchen taking photos with Robert Owen Brown. We like a good lunch, and so were delighted to find out that the nearest pub to our warehouse-come-office unit, has just become the best place to eat in the area.

Jay Rayner, the Observer’s restaurant critic said, “Robert Owen Brown is the real thing … a chef who combines oceans of technique with an instinct to feed and a deep understanding of gutsy cooking.” Well isn’t that a stroke of luck?

Robert is a northern chef of great renown, who has just taken over the Hinchcliffe Arms in Cragg Vale, Hebden Bridge. He has built his reputation cooking hearty and exciting food in some of the best Manchester restaurants. His food is down to earth and without pretension. Best quality seasonal ingredients are used and the dishes are tasty and imaginative. A good example is Robert’s invention the ‘Manchester Egg’ which he has now renamed the ‘Craggy Egg’. A pickled egg is wrapped, Scotch egg style, in sausage meat and black pudding, it’s then wrapped in crumbled pork scratchings and served in a little wooden suitcase, because like the chef, it’s come away from the city for a break.

The steak, cooked in brandy with shallots and chives, is delicious. The cut of meat is best quality and we are more than happy to polish it off. Just for the pictures obviously. The menu here changes daily and as well as always having a vegetarian option there is a selection of deliciously cooked fresh fish. And there is offal. Robert is firmly of the opinion that if you are going to kill something you are morally obliged to eat it all.

When we first met Robert he mentioned that, when living in Manchester, he liked to take a break from it all by going clay pigeon shooting. Ed was brought up in the country and also did a bit of shooting when he was a lad. This reminded us that we’d been told about a man with a clay pigeon shooting school, who was happy for us to go to his place for a photoshoot, and having just received stock of our new olive coloured 177 moleskins the plan just made itself.

Moleskin trousers have always been popular for country pursuits. Tough and warm, wind and thorn proof, comfortable and stylish, they make an excellent choice for a day in the great outdoors.

Fortified with Craggy Eggs, steak and sea bass we were ready to shoot some guns. It’s nice to finish with something sweet though, so on the way we stopped to pick some bilberries off the moor. The bilberry bushes have just started fruiting and you can’t beat eating them out in the fresh air. Sweet and tart at the same time they are a real treat. It would have been nice to make a pie but they were too delicious and got eaten as quick as we could pick them.

Jason Rowntree runs the South Pennine Shooting School on the moors up above Hebden Bridge. As well as teaching people how to shoot, from beginners to the more experienced, he also trains other teachers. It turns out that he is really rather good.

Both Robert and Ed have previous experience of shooting shotguns and rifles but their technique was unschooled and full of bad habits. After a classroom session on correct posture and how to look at the target rather than at the barrel of the gun we were ready to go out to try and shoot some clays.

“Pull.” Robert hit his first clay, and with Jason’s coaching kept on improving his technique. He only missed three all day.

Standing in the correct way, front foot weighted, head and shoulders leant forward and moving from the hips makes such a difference. Then all you have to do is hold the butt of the gun firmly into your shoulder and turn your cheek into the stock. In this way you shoot where you are looking. Simple.

“Pull.” Ed missed his first clay. Maybe it’s not so simple after all. A good teacher knows how to spot what you’re doing wrong and step by step Jason, gave simple instructions on how to improve. Soon, “pull” was followed by “yes!”

“Don’t think about anything and don’t ‘try’ to shoot the clay. Relax, look at the clay and just get the job done.” It all sounded a bit Karate Kid but it really worked. Letting go of thinking and going with the flow takes you to a place of sublime relaxation. Combining this with the smell of the gunpowder, the sound of the shot and the explosion of the hit clay makes for a visceral and exciting experience. It was ace and you should try it.

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