Tony and the Mi Amigo – does it add up?

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Tony Foulds outside the memorial

BY now the whole world knows of Tony Foulds, the 82-year-old Sheffield man who almost daily tends the memorial to the crew of the USAAF bomber Mi Amigo which crash landed in Endcliffe Park in February, 1944.

He believes the pilot of the Flying Fortress tried to wave him and other children playing in the park that day out of the way before it crashed. All 10 on board died.

He says he has felt ‘guilt’ ever since that day.

When his story was aired on BBC Breakfast by show host Dan Walker in January as a result of a chance meeting there was an unprecedented reaction. The world was touched by the story of a man who had, in the words of the BBC, tended to the memorial ‘almost every day for decades’ or ‘since 1944’ as the Guardian reported.

His efforts were honoured by a flypast over the memorial this February on the 75th anniversary of the crash. Tony has been feted, local people want him to be awarded an honour and city council leader Julie Dore has called for him to get a ‘star’ in the pavement outside the Town Hall.

But does Tony’s story stand up?

Here he is in a YouTube video recorded in November, 2018, and uploaded the following month, filmed by Sheffield University journalism student Harry Gold https://youtu.be/KEUJfLEaWco in which he says that two years ago he broke from his usual routine and, instead of meeting friends, he visited the memorial. He noticed ‘ how dilapidated the memorial was. From that day on I put flowers on, swept it, made sure that it was clean.’ That’s commendable but hardly very long. And it was recorded before he met Walker.

I am not the only one to wonder whether Tony has been doing this for half or all of his life. Local journalists who have written about the Mi Amigo over the years, have never met him.* By his own admission he never turned up over the years for the annual service at the memorial on the anniversary of the crash, which seems odd.

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David Harvey’s book on the crash

His devotion was missed by the Friends of Porter Valley, who tidy up the park, including the memorial. I was told: “We had not come across Tony before Dan Walker brought him to everyone’s attention. We have undertaken some volunteer work day activities at and around the memorial over the years but presumably not at the time or times Tony has been there.”

Tony’s work at the memorial might have gone unnoticed but for that chance meeting with Walker, who stopped to talk.

Walker tweeted excitedly on January 2: “Just met an amazing man in Endcliffe Park. Tony Foulds was an 8-year-old playing in he park when a US plane crashed in February 1944. He has diligently maintained the memorial ever since. He was planting new flowers. What a man. I’m in bits.”

Perhaps if Walker had been less in bits he would have carried out basic journalistic checks.

For a start, the memorial wasn’t put up until 1969 – a quarter of a century after the event.

He could have interviewed the expert on the crash, David Harvey, author of the definitive account, ‘Mi Amigo – The Story of Sheffield’s Flying Fortress.’ It was published in 1997 after four years of research.

Harvey would have told him the story of the plane avoiding the children was an ‘urban legend’ which first emerged in the 1990s. “There is no factual evidence to support or corroborate this story,” he writes in his book.

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Casting doubt on Tony’s version of events

Harvey recalls Walker messaging him on Facebook on January 23, well after the story was aired on TV, but not following up. The two men have not spoken.

Harvey points out none of the newspaper articles at the time mentions the children or Tony. He writes that if the pilot had swerved to avoid the children the nose of the Mi Amigo should have been pointing uphill. In fact, eye witness reports and photographs show it pointing down. “It could not have been trying to make the infamous belly landing.”

It has since emerged that the plane had circled the city for about an hour and tenders from the National Fire Service had been standing by.

Far from attempting to make a belly landing the Mi Amigo had suddenly spiralled down out of the sky. Tony’s story is at odds with eye witness reports.

Not long after Walker’s report the BBC began getting calls which threw doubt on Tony’s story. But the flypast had been arranged, the BBC had booked the Endcliffe Park Cafe as its headquarters for the live broadcast, thousands were going to turn up.

Local and regional newspapers were also informed. ‘At this stage, having assessed all of the material presented to me by one of my best journalists, I am not minded to publish,’ one executive told me.

I met Tony at the memorial, now covered with wreathes and flowers, and asked him about the November 2018 video, made before he became a celebrity, in which he said he had been tending it for two years.

He said this was the point at which he had decided to give the monument “a bit of colour.”

He insisted he had been attending the site since 1953, at the age of 17, when he had realised the full significance of what had happened. When I pointed out the monument had not been erected until 1969 he claimed there had been “a hole in the ground and a plaque.” He also went around sprinkling flowers.

Author Harvey, who records in his book that the memorial came about through the efforts of Bert Cruse of the RAFA, says this “is the first time I have heard of a plaque prior to the erection of the RAFA stone in 1969.”

At this point in our conversation Tony was getting agitated. Asked how he reconciled his account of the attempted belly landing with eye witness reports in the book of the plane spiraling down he then agreed it had “plummeted,” seemingly contradicting himself.

Tony made clear he did not agree with Harvey’s book. He stressed he himself had been an eye witness and turned away to meet his fans.

But I was left with questions: Why were Tony’s own recollections of the crash so at variance with others and of the evidence? Why had so few encountered him before Walker?

Perhaps only Tony knows the answer.

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The memorial in Endcliffe Park

*Since this post was first written an article in The Star from February, 2018, has come to light with Tony retailing the same account. His claim was reported but not verified against the paper’s own records nor with Harvey’s Mi Amigo book.

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From burgers to braised pork

AS predicted by this blog, the site of the long-established Sheffield burger bar Yankees is to open as a Chinese restaurant in April, Lounge 418.

Or, more precisely, as a ‘cafe and Chinese restaurant’ according to owners Chun-Fat Lee and his wife Corrie Wong, who bought the site for a reported £525,000.

This is the Chinese Year of the Pig, which purportedly signals wealth.

It will be the first Chinese restaurant on Ecclesall Road (home to Indian, Japanese, Thai and Italuan eateries) for a very long time, possibly ever. And that’s despite it being a short hop away from London Road, the city’s unofficial Chinatown.

Mr Lee told the Vibe website that the new business would not look like a conventional Chinese. For a start the Yankees’ red (an Imperial and lucky colour) has been painted white and Lounge 418 must be the first Chinese restaurant with a dartboard.

The Hong Kong-based couple are in Sheffield where their son is studying and already own commercial premises further along at Banner Cross.

Yankees, at the corner with Thompson Road, was opened by the Freeman brothers in May, 1979, eight years after Ron Barton’s Uncle Sam’s. In recent years it had lost its way, at one point advertising a menu on banners outside not available within. It closed before Christmas 2016 and will have been ‘dark’ for over two years.

Encouraged by several thousand mainland Chinese students at the two universities a swathe of ethnic restaurants have opened in the West Street area to serve them. They are also a boon to local foodies as there is no pressure to Anglicise menus. Lounge 418 will have a South China (Cantonese) menu.

Some Sheffield-based Chinese restaurateurs have remarked upon the students’ reluctance or ‘laziness’ to travel far off the beaten track. It remains *to be seen whether the New Era complex and tower block between London Road and Bramall Lane, with plenty more student flats, will be near enough for Lounge 418 to attract their attention.

Or whether it will stick to the Anglo market.

Yankees as it was

Food to make a Mexican wave

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Richard and Abi Golland

CURIOUSLY, for a couple who have made a thriving business out of burritos and cashed in on the chilli-hot dishes south of the border down Mexico way, Abi and Richard Golland have never, ever been there.

“We have just been too busy but I think we should set a target to go to Mexico,” says Abi, nibbling away at her chorizo hash in their Street Food Chef burrito bar on Arundel Street, Sheffield. Richard pours agave syrup on his breakfast pancakes and shrugs. They have recently introduced a new breakfast menu and have asked me along to try it.

Well, as it says on their website, you don’t need to go all the way to Acapulco to taste the food and I’m enjoying the huevos rancheros from their new breakfast menu. The last time I ate this was in a Tex-Mex joint in Texas and the chillies blew my head off while I burped all the way round The Alamo. (The Mexicans are still besieging it, although now from food stalls outside.)

The Street Food Chef’s version is milder – I shall not be burping in the Winter Garden, my next stop – but I love the tender black beans and chipotle sauce.

Abi tempts me to a nugget or two home Mexican-style chorizo. It’s gentler and unsmoked compared to the Spanish version, made from local Moss Valley pork. They make the chorizo, mole sauce (chocolate and chilli), black beans and even the small tortillas themselves. “We decided from the start on never buying stuff in,” she says.

Street Food Chef has been around since 2010, the couple rather longer. They met in Oxford. “Richard was living on a boat on the river making gargoyles to sell to tourists. I was teaching,” she says. As Richard was from Sheffield they decided to make their home here in 2006 but needed a business idea they could both get involved in.

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My huevos rancheros

They thought of food but Richard had had his fingers burned while running a restaurant and wasn’t keen, at that point, to plough their money into property. So they decided to go on the streets with a trailer. But what would it be?

“We thought about ideas such as (selling) soup, porridge or hot dogs but as the council issued the licence they wanted something healthy. It was Richard’s dad in Toronto who kept sending us pictures of burrito bars,” adds Abi.

It was pretty good timing. Mexican food was just coming into fashion in the UK and Sheffield is notoriously always half a decade behind in food trends. There was not much Mexican food in Sheffield so they went to London to taste it there. “It was winter and I remember tramping the streets and thinking it was going to be cold selling here!”

They did well at markets, fairs and events – it’s a quick learning process and you either sink or swim. They learned a lot. But when they went to the council for a permanent pitch the following year they were persuaded to take “four square metres” in an empty building on Pinstone Street, in 2011.

The young business started winning awards but now they needed to get into bricks and mortar. Arundel Street opened in 2012 and there is another branch on Sharrowvale Road (one on Glossop Road, proved to be the wrong place).

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Chorizo hash

Their clientele in the city centre tends to be local business and university lecturers and staff. I’d have thought students but perhaps the average spend here of around £8.50 puts them off. But the couple make no claims that their bright, very red and yellow cantina is a destination place. “You come here on your way to somewhere else, the theatre or the Showroom,” says Abi.

With the enthusiastic assistance of chef Rob Cater-Whitham, who ensures even the queso fresco (fresh cheese) is made in-house, the couple have been able to fend off corporate Pedro-come-latelys in the Mexican market.

Customers may have drifted off to sample the likes of Taco Bell and the introduction of a KFC Mexican menu but “they’ve come back with their tails between their legs,” laughs Abi. In fact, the new arrivals put sales up.

The menu offers the usual mix of burritos, tacos and quesadillas although as Abi points out the former  is more a Californian thing. Mexicans always go for tacos.” Mexicans in Sheffield, they say, have responded favourably and particularly like the corn tortillas. You could say Abi and Richard have been given a cheerful Mexican wave.

So have their three children, Billi (23), Alfie (19) and Phoebe (16), all of whom have helped in the business and given their parents candid criticism. “The best people to test your food on is not your friends – they say ‘that’s very nice’ – but your children,” their mother says.

Richard, whom his wife describes as a serial entrepreneur, is already thinking up his next one. “We’re going to focus on pop-ups,” he says, describing the sizes of the carts they have. And perhaps go back to the idea of US-style hot dogs.

Who knows? Perhaps one day they’ll even find themselves down Mexico way?

*The breakfast menu is available until 10.30am on weekdays and until noon at Arundel Street, weekends only at Sharrowvale. Web: http://www.streetfoodchef.co.uk

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Street Food Chef on Arundel Street

Bakewell’s ‘Downton’ sold

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Hassop Hall Hotel, near Bakewell, has been sold and will close on September 29. It has been bought by a local businessman as a private house. MARTIN DAWES recalls a couple of visits for the Sheffield Star.

YOUR first glimpse of Hassop Hall Hotel, once through the wrought iron archway, could take your breath away. “It was like being in an episode of Downton Abbey,” said one overawed visitor on TripAdvisor, reeling from the atmosphere and the service.

If your next glimpse was of a male peacock there could be trouble. If in the mood it would either try to fight or mate with your vehicle. “It doesn’t like blue cars,” then owner Tom Chapman told us on our first visit.

Twenty years later, when we returned to dine again, the peacocks had gone. They were not providing the sort of welcome guests expect from a hotel. So had Mr Chapman, who died in 2013. “They were being naughty and Dad took them home,” said his son Tom junior who succeeded him in running the place with his identical twin Richard.

Hassop Hall, with its stuffy, Edwardian country house menus, seldom troubled the food guides. There was poached salmon, veloute of fish soup St Tropez (seen, as named, nowhere else in the world) and five roasts although the signature dish of duckling in a salt crust was worth having.

“Food for Americans,” sneered one visitor and if a little unkind was not entirely incorrect.

Hassop Hall, which is Grade II* listed, dates back to the Domesday Book but the present building, three storeys of honey coloured sandstone with seven bays, is from 1774. Some, like a Downton film set, is even more recent. The bar had been the garage and there were fake beams and heraldic emblems painted on hardboard. Legend has it that some of the oak panelling elsewhere came from Sheffield Castle

On our first visit we’d met Mr Chapman senior there as he greeted visitors. He sized up our worth in one look, smiled and asked “Anniversary?” We didn’t tell him until later when I gently pointed out my surprise at being served tinned peas. “We’ve not got round to nouvelle cuisine, petit pois,” he murmured.

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He never did get round to it. Six years ago it was still silver service, silver cloches and carving at the table for its £43 a head (more on Saturdays) dinners. But you did feel like a million dollars. It will have cost several more millions for the new owner to buy Hassop to convert into a private house. When the Chapmans bought it in 1975 to turn it into a hotel they were only the fifth family to be associated with the hall in 900 years.

I remember the main dining room as one of the nicest I’ve eaten in, baskets of fruit on each widely spaced table. There are three private dining rooms and 13 bedrooms, as well as a ballroom. The Green Room has a marbled Tuscan columned chimneypiece.

You need a bit of brass to eat there (rooms can cost over £300 a night) and a bit of brass to buy it. Locals will miss it. “It’s a bit of an institution for lots of folk but not really on my list. Honest but uninspiring fare,” said one observer.

Hassop has a rich history. In the 14th century the 11 month old heiress was sold by the king for 50 marks and resold for double that to the Plumpton family. A century later it passed to the Eyres, then the Leslies and in 1919 was bought by the Stephensons before Tom Chapman took over.

It’s another chapter in the hall’s long history. Who knows, perhaps the peacocks might return? But the new owner better not have a blue car.

The hall has been bought by John Hill, who owns a chain of nursing homes, and his wife Alex. They live locally. Mr Hill is said to be prepared to throw money at updating the ancient pile. According to local gossip, he paid to have power lines moved because they spoiled the view at his current address.

The Chapmans say the decision to sell was ‘a difficult one for us to make but we feel it is the right time.’

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You mousse try M Blanc’s way with egg whites!

YOU know me by now, I don’t like waste and I believe one dish or ingredient can lead to another. Which is how I found the perfect way to use leftover egg whites.

I am really into creme brulee at the moment but it does leave you with an awful lot of egg whites. They do make a half-decent omelette but I wouldn’t go mad over it. So I Googled and came up with Raymond Blanc’s chocolate mousse.

It is ultra-light and all you need are the egg whites, quality chocolate, caster sugar and the tiniest drop of lemon juice. And an electric whisk helps.

 

To make four to fill glasses or ramekins you need:

7 egg whites

6oz chocolate, at least 60pc (the stronger the better )

1.5oz caster sugar

Quarter tsp lemon juice

This last time I had three egg whites so just halved the recipe. It was Fair Trade from Oxfam, only £1.75 as they had an offer on.

Break up and melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over simmering water, ensuring the bottom does not touch the water. When melted I added a little brandy, which Blanc does not do.

Meanwhile I whisked the whites with the lemon to soft peaks then added the sugar and whisked again to stiff peaks.

Blanc advises us to quickly whisk one-third of the egg white mixture into the chocolate then fold the rest in. Spoon into glasses or ramekins and refrigerate until firm. Dusting with cocoa powder (adds a professional touch.

It’s an easy-peasy recipe which works very well. I am sure Monsieur Blanc will go far.

Have a care for a pear, Eddie?

Poached pears

COMEDIAN Eddie Izzard had a good routine about pears. They lurked in the fruit bowl, he said, refusing to ripen. Then the moment your back was turned they flumped into over ripeness. How true.

There is a way to beat pears at this little game: don’t wait to eat them raw but poach them to ripeness.

I always keep an eye out for a bargain at the greengrocers and currently it’s pears. Most months you can buy bags of small pears, say six for £1.50 or even less. It depends on their size. They will not usually be ripe but that doesn’t msatter.

You take a bit of a chance with their texture but more often than not they’ll be decent enough to make poached pears, a dessert for literally pennies.

You don’t need half a bottle of wine to poach them in. I tend to use orange juice snd water, a tablespoon or so of sugar and whatever combinstion of sweet spices I have to hand. And I might then add a spot of wine if there’s some left in last night’s bottle.

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A bag of six small pears cost me £1.50

You can poach them whole after coring and peeling, or cut them in half through the stalk and prize out the core with a grapefruit spoon .

If they are very juicy and I have washed them first I squeeze the trimmings through a sieve for extra juice.

Fit the pears into a pan – I had room of four whole ones – and add the liquids, sugar and spices. I had fresh ginger , green cardamom, star anise, bay and cinnamon. Put on a lid (a bonnet of greaseproof paper or tin foil will keep the steam in) bring to the boil them simmer until the pears can be pierced easily with a sharp knife.

Take them out carefully, clean off any spices and strain the juices back into the cleaned pan. Resume simmering and reduce the poaching liquid to a couple of tablespoons of sauce, tasting as you go, perhaps adding a little lemon juice for sharpness or a bit more sugar. Pour over the pears and allow to cool.

This is a very economical dish. Served with ice cream, the sauce improves things no end. Or dish up with yoghurt or creme fraiche.

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When cored and peeled they just fit into the pan