When Sheffield was looking for someone to champion its local produce the city couldn’t have asked for anyone more qualified than Niki Baker.
A pastry chef by trade, she has worked in countless hotels and restaurants and is passionate about local food.
“Nobody cooked in my family, I went to college and studied hospitality, advancing and specialising into pastry,” says Niki.
From working in restaurants she went into product development, specifically chocolate and worked for Mars Confectionary.
“I worked there until my late 20s and it was a 9-5 job, after a while I decided that it was time to start a family, which is when we moved up North.”
She grew up in Berkshire, but now considers herself a Yorkshire native. “Me and my husband have lived here 16 years, we see ourselves as adopted Sheffielders.”
After delving into the cooking side of food, she turned her attention to promoting local independent restaurants and culinary businesses. “Sheffield is becoming recognised as an emerging food destination, there are always exciting things happening with food.”
She believes there is a great mix of traditional and contemporary foods in Yorkshire. “There is a Turkish restaurant, Lokanta, that serves delicious homemade kebabs and Silversmiths which has been nominated for countless awards and recommendations.
“If you want tradition, you have Our Cow Molly ice cream or if you are into more diverse tastes then there is Yeekwan, who are an artisan food business, serving sorbets.Yorkshire is great at promoting itself as there is great produce right on our doorstep.”
Niki’s job as a regional engagement officer at the Business School, Sheffield Hallam University has allowed her to take on managing responsibilities of projects such as Eat Sheffield. “This is a hospitality project set up by the university to support local independent food businesses and in return it helps food-based students get hands on experience in a professional environment.” For the students all these useful contacts means there are potential placements and local mentors in that field.
But managing this associaton isn’t her only role, she is also the University Food Champion for the Sheffield Food Festival. As the University is involved in the content, Niki got the title by default. “I have to deliver content and come up with ideas, also organising the special guests is a big part of it, this is where I utilise my contacts.”
The festival started four years ago and has since become one of the most elaborate in the region and this year promises to be even better. “We have great competitions and celebrity guests including James Morton, Great British Bake Off runner-up. There are going to be street fairs and pop up restaurants.”
She is very proud of what the Festival has achieved so far and the exciting prospects it has this year.
“It’s so inclusive that’s why I like it, there is something for everybody.”
Niki is also keen to promote small business and the part they play in the local economy. “It’s important to nurture these small businesses because in this tough economic climate, they will lift us out of this recession.”
Sheffield Food Festival returns on September 20-22. www.sheffieldfoodfestival.org
Grow your own proves a lot of fun
For 2013 Niki is introducing allotments to the festival as a way of promoting growing food and sustainability in Sheffield. “It’s a way to connect rural and urban landscapes and shows that even in the smallest of space you can grow something.” She is hoping it will be educational for children and they are even holding a competition in schools. “Each child has to grow their own vegetable and then come up with a recipe for it, as a way of illustrating the food cycle.”