As he was dyslexic, Peter Sidwell’s father gave him two choices when he was about to leave school.
“He said I could either join the Army or go to catering college. There was no way I was joining the Army, I loved cooking and so enrolled at Beverley Catering College,” explains Peter who is now ranked among the top TV chefs and is presenter of Britain’s Top Bakery and Lakes on a Plate.
He was back in his home town of York at the weekend giving cookery demonstrations using some of Europe’s protected status ingredients as part of the Discover the Origin stand at the York Food and Drink Festival.
“My roots are firmly in York and my parents still live there,” says Peter who left the city with his wife Emma to set up his successful Great Taste café and deli in the Lake District.
“It was a hard decision to leave Yorkshire. We couldn’t afford anywhere in York so we moved to the Lake District. But never say never,” he says of opening a restaurant in his home city.
After studying at Beverley College, Peter worked at the Ambassador Hotel on the Mount in York.
“I realised I had found my place in life,” says Peter who had struggled at school due to his dyslexia.
“I love cooking food and I love eating it and thinking about it. I’m always writing recipes down.”
But it was while working for HSBC in Parliament Street in York doing their corporate catering that Peter really fell in love with the ingredients he was using.
“I had the luxury of going to the market and choosing the best produce and getting to know the suppliers. It really made me realise that good food was all about the quality of the ingredients not just what you can do with them.”
It also made Peter realise that what he really wanted was to run his own business.
He and Emma took over an empty clothes shop and established Good Taste, a café, deli and bakery.
“I wanted a blank canvas rather than an existing business,” explains Peter, whose café soon became a success. Although he had fulfilled one of his dreams he really wanted to be a food writer. But it was only when his wife bought him a leather bound note book and told him to get on with it while on holiday in Italy that Peter put pen to paper.
Despite being a little known chef based a “million miles away” from London, Peter set about self-publishing 5,000 copies of his cookery book. “I remember sitting surrounded by all these books and thinking ‘what have I done?’”
But he needn’t have worried, within six months he’d sold them all and signed a book deal with Simon and Schuster.
“It really started the ball rolling,” says Peter who was approached by Channel 4 to present Lakes on a Plate.
He has since sold Good Taste and is now executive chef at Peter Sidwell @ rheged cafe at the Rheged Centre, just outside Penrith and has other projects in the pipeline.
“I’ve just finished filming the second series of Britain’s Top Bakery over the summer which I loved, but I just couldn’t wait to get back into the kitchen,” says Peter who has two children Poppy, five and 18-month-old Thomas.
The series is due to be screened on ITV1 early next year.
“I enjoy being on TV. I love cooking and I love chatting to people – particularly about food. I just try to be myself and it seems to work.”
Discover the Origin was established in 2008 by the European Union campaign and designed to raise awareness around five Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) products: Bourgogne Wines, Parma Ham, Douro Wines, Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese and Port Wines.
The York Food and Drink Festival is on until September 27.
For more information on Discover the Original and for recipes visit www.discovertheorigin.co.uk