Passion is Rosemary’s vital ingredient

Rosemary Shrager says cooking is in her blood and has loved to be in the kitchen since she was a child
Rosemary Shrager says cooking is in her blood and has loved to be in the kitchen since she was a child

She’s one of our favourite celebrity chefs, full of passion and on her way to Calderdale to share her skills.

ROSEMARY Shrager bubbles away like the rich caramel sauce atop a luscious sticky toffee pudding. Minutes into the conversation and I feel inspired to go and rustle up a duckling a l’orange or try my hand at an Italian meringue, such is Rosemary’s enthusiasm for food.

Cooking (and baking) for her is not just a job. She may have made a successful career out of it but it is so much more than a profession, it’s a passion.

“It’s in my blood”, she gushes. “I loved it as a child from the first moment I was allowed to get stuck in, in the kitchen and I adore it just as much now. There’s not one day that goes by that I don’t feel enthusiastic about cooking. It’s just the way I’m made,” she laughs.

Rosemary, now 60, is heading to Calderdale where she will be dishing up not one but two treats for her legions of adoring fans.

The venue will be Halifax’s state-of-the-art Cooking School, based at Dean Clough and the first course, on April 21, will be a master class in duck and then she’ll return two months later, on June 16 when she’ll be sharing her secrets on delicious sweets and desserts. Both visits will also give devotees the chance to get their hands on a signed copy of her book Absolutely Foolproof Home Cooking.

Rosemary reveals that her love of cooking has been passed down through her mother’s side.

“I think I inherited the cooking gene from my grandmother. She was a very good cook. But I also think I was lucky to grow up in Yorkshire because we really do produce some very good cooks and we have some terrific local produce as well.”

She grew up in Pickering and these days home is Masham. “People are so friendly in the north,” she says.

However, her original intentions had been to follow a different career path from the one she eventually chose.

“I went off to art college at first and then I began to work for a firm of architects in the City. Cooking was always in the background, in fact my dream was to meet John Tovey. Eventually the cooking gene found me and that was that. I never looked back.

“In the beginning I was completely self-taught and I learned on the job in various kitchens. It’s the best way really.”

Her career has seen her working for Pierre Koffman at the internationally famous Tante Claire restaurant in London. And another of her mentors makes her the envy of women everywhere.

In 1989 she walked into Jean-Christophe Novelli’s restaurant. It was to become a turning point in Rosemary’s professional career when he asked her to work for him.

“Oh he is lovely,” she says. “He has so much passion and enthusiasm for food too that you can’t help but be inspired. That was a great time working for him, wonderful. He has such a good sense of fun too and whenever I see him, he always makes me smile.

“The last time I saw him of course was in Halifax (last year) when I was at The Cooking School. He popped in to see me and I didn’t even know he was coming. It was such a lovely surprise.”

In 1998, Rosemary became head chef at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, Huishinish on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, where she stayed until 2002, running her renowned cookery course for hundreds of eager students over the four years.

It was while she was here that she published her first cookery book, Castle Cook, in 2001, which was described by food writer Michael Raffael as “an object lesson in handling the finest produce.”

She has now taken her cookery course to Swinton Park, Masham, where her lessons are as popular as ever.

Over the years she has also become a favourite on our television screens with programmes such as Rosemary - Castle Cook, Rosemary on the Road and in 2005, the popular series, Ladette to Lady was first screened. Since then she has been the resident chef of The Alan Titchmarsh Show and made a number of one-off appearances.

I ask about her bread-making session with the irreverent food writer and critic Giles Coren and his comedy partner, Sue Perkins for the series Giles and Sue Live The Good Life, an homage to the popular series starring Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal.

“I will never forget that because he was very naughty,” shrieks Rosemary with laughter. “He just would not behave or listen to instructions. There was flour everywhere and I had to get quite cross with him in the end and shout,” she says.

She describes herself as “more of a cook than a baker” but she is now thrilled her baking skills are being put to good use, helping a worthy cause.

Last month she launched a bakery designed to help vulnerable ex-servicemen and women. The Veterans’ Artisan Bakery in Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, is designed to teach employment skills and give an insight into running a business. The specialist training bakery will help ex-soldiers who have suffered from post-traumatic stress, or are at risk of homelessness, by giving them vital skills while using bread-making as a form of therapy.

She adds that she is now looking forward to coming to Halifax to support The Cooking School, whose profits are used to run its educational arm, which teaches children to cook through its revolutionary cooking buses.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun and it’s all for such a good cause. I am all for youngsters learning to cook as soon as possible,” she says.

And the Courier’s campaign - Get Cooking Calderdale! - run in conjunction with The Cooking School has also come in for praise.

“What a terrific idea. I always say you are never too young or too old to start cooking or baking, and I love the idea of collecting old family recipes. My next book is about just that. I’m sure there’ll be some great ideas coming from the people of Halifax and Calderdale.”

l Rosemary will deliver two masterclasses at The Cooking School - on April 21 and on June 16. For further details visit www.thecookingschool.co.uk or ring 01422 383192.