Tour de force

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Chef, author and regular demo chef Hayden Groves has been noticeably absent from the Market this year—but not without good reason. A keen amateur cyclist, Hayden’s known for taking on impressive distances for charity. This year’s seen his biggest challenge yet, joining a team of four to complete all three Grand Tours totalling 6,400 miles in one year, with a charity cookbook documenting his experience to boot. He tells us more

Words: Hayden Groves
Images: Dave Hayward

In 2015, I rode the Tour de France with a group of amateur cyclists to help raise £1million for blood cancer charity Cure Leukaemia. Some of you regular Market-goers may remember my charity sausage roll sale that took place a week before Christmas in 2014—those delicious, warm signature sausage rolls sold out quickly, and raised almost £2,000.

Following this, one of the crazy guys from the 2015 tour suggested we ride all three grand tours—that’s Italy, France and Spain, 6,400 miles on a bike over some of the toughest roads in Europe. What a splendidly stupid idea: only 37 pros have ever completed all three in one year, no amateur team to the best of our knowledge. 

Those of you that know me or have read my blogs know I cannot possibly turn down a challenge like that. So once again I got back in the saddle, joining Geoff Thomas, Doug Mckinnon and James Maltin of the 2015 team, bolstered by new member Marcus Leach.

For 2017, the haematology clinic at St Mary’s hospital has been given a £2.5million government grant to double its footprint, leaving them one million short—and that’s where we come in. We have certainly helped raise awareness, but just like we have on the bike, we have a way to go to reach that target.  

Hayden Groves, Geoff Thomas, Doug Mckinnon, James Maltin and Marcus Leach in Italy

Tweezer presentations and weird ingredients
Not just content with riding a bike, I wanted to take the complexity of the challenge up to absurd, by crafting a charity cookbook with recipes, stories and photos, inspired by the epic journey. Back in the Saddle, published by Face, will be a collection of simple recipes aimed at the domestic cook, so no expensive plates, tweezer presentations and weird ingredients. 

The book was an idea I had last year, and fortunately my CEO and chairman were on board. My employer, BaxterStorey, has been super supportive, allowing me time for charity sabbatical and fully supporting the creation of a limited print run of 3,500, with 100 per cent of that sale going to the charity.  

Already we have ridden through the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, which meant caponata, arancini, fregola and—unbeknown to me—some of the best pistachios in the world, from the green-gold hills of Bronte on the foothills of Mount Etna. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to stop to try the pistachio pesto, as we had to climb up the volcanic slopes, but this features in the book.

From the big toe of Italy, peasant soups and simple pasta dishes were enjoyed. Wild boar and countless biscotti in the rolling hills of Tuscany, en route to the dolomites and alps in the northernmost mountainous reaches, as well as comforting polenta and a naughty Lombardy-inspired panna cotta.

French hillside

A gastronomic journey
We were hit by hail storms as big as garden peas, a snow shower at more than 2,700 metres on the mighty Stelvio pass, and roasted in temperatures approaching 40C on our 2,150-mile journey climbing 164,000 feet to the finish of the centenary Giro d’Italia in Milan; the bright yellow risotto Milanese was a fitting welcome and this classic saffron-hued dish will almost certainly feature. It was a gastronomic journey that I will never ever forget. I think Jamie Oliver had it slightly easier when he had a camper van to write his Italian book.

I’ve just returned from riding part two of the challenge which was the Tour de France, again one day before the professional peloton. This tour was another 2,100 miles and we climbed just over 152,000 feet. Starting in Dusseldorf, we rode through three countries, Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg, in one day alone. It was also the first tour I can remember that’s encompassed all five mountain areas: Vosges, Jura, Pyrénées, Alps and the Massif Central.   

Dishes making the roll call of honour so far include tartiflette, a stunning yet simple real chocolate mousse, a reworked ratatouille inspired by the film of the same name, and a fantastic old school style crème caramel.

In my spare time, I’ve been a busy boy behind the scenes at the Market, photographing the dishes in the Cookhouse. It’s a beautiful space which I helped launch a couple of years back and fell in love with it instantly.

The team cycling through France

Steep climbs and long transfers
Monika Linton from Brindisa has helped with truly authentic ingredients for the Spanish section, which is one I’ve had to do my homework on. It will be the final grand tour for us, and it promises to be hot with very steep climbs and long transfers between the stages—on paper, at least, it looks like it could be the hardest of the three. 

From the recipes I have been crafting behind the scenes, I know we shall look forward to some delicious food: chilled Andalusian soups of ajo blanco and its better-known cousin gazpacho, dubbed a ‘wet salad’; the ubiquitous jamon croquette; and the bean stew of Asturias. Even the classic Valencian paella makes an appearance.

The book is due out at the end of November and in essence, in return for a charity donation, you get a beautiful book with more than 70 recipes, some epic pictures of the three tours, and contributions from Michel Roux Junior, Phil Liggett, Laura Kenny, Professor Craddock and our chairman. 

I’ll be back soon and with even more stories to weave into my next demo in the Autumn—that’s if I’ve still got enough energy to stand up for 90 minutes! As for the book, you can be the first to see it at the charity launch I’m hosting just before Christmas, with the ever-generous support of Borough Market, so do look out for that too.

Follow us @hayden1974 as we take on the terrain of Spain

To sponsor Hayden and donate to Cure Leukemia, visit his page on Just Giving