Sarah Muir is the woman on hand when Radiohead’s Thom Yorke feels like a crêpe, not a weird dough. Now back home in Yorkshire, Catherine Scott finds out what the rock star chef is doing here.
Radiohead, Elton John, Madness, Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, George Michael, The Spice Girls, Oasis, Robbie Williams – it may sound like a who’s who in the rock and pop world, but they are in fact just some of the people Sarah Muir has cooked for.
The chef spent more than 28 years touring the globe catering from some of the biggest names in the rock industry. “It is the sort of job most people do for one or two years because there’s a danger it can burn you out, I did it for 28.”
Four years ago, with a little pressure from her partner Tom, who is also in the music industry, Sarah decided to return to her native Yorkshire to set up a cookery school in a converted barn on her family’s Grinkle Park Farm near Loftus.
“I suppose it was time to slow down a bit,” she admits. “Doing that type of job means you miss everything, birthdays, weddings, even my dad’s funeral. We decided to move from London back to Yorkshire. Although we do still keep a house in London as I need to get my city fix on a regular basis.”
But Sarah hasn’t turned her back on her rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle altogether. For the last 16 years she has been personal chef to Radiohead and still accompanies them when they go on tour.
“We all get on so well,” says Sarah. “But I never take it for granted that they will ask me.”
When she does go with them she does far more than cook their meals.
“I do look after their dressing rooms when they go on stage and I also know where all their stuff is when they need it. We just have a really great time together. The boys trust me. But they are definitely clients. I don’t cook for them on my days off. I don’t want to go out with them.”
Time off involves running the aptly named Arches Cookery School.
“It was an old cart shed,” explains Sarah. “It had beautiful arches and so when we converted it we decided to call it the Arches Cookery School. At the time of the building work I was supposed to be at the Grammys for a month but I broke my leg in B&Q and couldn’t go. So I think I made the builders’ lives hell.”
Sarah was just 12 when she started working in a pub in Runswick Bay, firstly collecting glasses then moving into the kitchen. Her sister is former top British three-day eventer Paddy Muir and her younger brother was away at school, so Sarah was pretty much left to her own devices.
“I didn’t get on with school,” she admits. “Mum was away with Paddy a lot as she was riding for Britain at 16. I left school at 15 and decided to go to catering college. I went to Scarborough College and never came back until four years ago.”
Sarah says she always knew there was life beyond the isolated family farm and she was determined to find it. After leaving college she travelled, working on yachts in the summer and ski chalets in the winter.“I just had the best time ever,” she said.
At the age of 21 she went round the world working in all manner of restaurant kitchens. “I learnt such a lot about different cuisines. I gained a lot of experience working in Australia.”
Returning to the UK Sarah settled in London and got back in touch with friends from her Pony Club days in Yorkshire.
“One of my friends had set up Popcorn Catering and we travelled with all the pop groups when they went on tour working as part of the catering crew. Most people did it for a couple of years, but I just loved it. It’s easier to say who I haven’t worked with.
“It’s not at all glamorous and is really hard work but it is great fun. I live on about three hours sleep a night, and I am sure it is from those days when we hardly ever slept,” says Sarah who would do 12 tours a year.
“An army marches on its stomach and the same goes for musicians. We wouldn’t sit down from 6am when we would cook breakfast ’til 2am. We had to make sure that everyone was fed and watered and that included doing all the shopping. But we had the best job, everyone treated us like princesses.
“But it isn’t reality,” she admits. “Although I had a house in London I had no real roots. Tom, who is a merchandiser in the music industry, said he’d like to move to Yorkshire. I said I’d spent my entire life trying to get out of Yorkshire.”
Eventually Sarah agreed. But there was no way she could go to work for someone else. “So we came up with the idea of the cookery school. I have learnt so much from chefs around the world, that I wanted to pass on what I had learnt. We had the building but we had no idea how we were going to do it.”
Since then she has had 5,000 people through the doors of her cookery school which she runs with the help of two members of staff, especially when she is on tour. She works closely with local suppliers and is in the process of setting up a shop promoting their goods. Sarah is also appearing at Saltburn Food Festival this weekend.
She uses produce from the family farm and pays her mum by taking her on holiday. “I took her to Santa Monica last year and a shop owner greeted me with ‘Hi Miss Sarah. which band are you with this time?’ and I said ‘I’m not, I’m with my mum’.”
She has also written a cookery book for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Love Music Love Food: The Rock Star Cookbook featured 82 recipes.
As for the future Sarah plans to move to the sun eventually, but not just yet. But she doesn’t seem like the type of woman who is going to sit around a pool reading a book. “I think I have one more business in me yet,” she admits. “I’m just not sure what it is.”
• For more on Sarah Muir’s cookery school visit www.archescookeryschool.co.uk