Chef profile - Frances Atkins who runs Paradise Foods

Chefs Frances Atkins and Roger Oliver in their Airstream kitchen.Chefs Frances Atkins and Roger Oliver in their Airstream kitchen.
Chefs Frances Atkins and Roger Oliver in their Airstream kitchen.
Frances Atkins has been cooking professionally for 40 years, 23 of them at the Yorke Arms at Ramsgill in Nidderdale.

For 16 of those years, she held a Michelin star. It’s a surprise then to find her running a cafe from a shiny silver Airstream food wagon in a North Yorkshire garden centre.

Naturally it is a very superior cafe: good breakfasts; slow cooked lamb and spiced yoghurt for lunch, or seared scallop with bacon and salmon; duck and spring onions, then lemon tart, coffee and pecan cake and apple pie with Wensleydale to follow. Nevertheless we are in a greenhouse surrounded by terracotta plant pots and thanks to Covid, eating off disposable, bamboo plates.

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It all appears a long way from what she’s used to, but Frances is loving it and insists the ethos is no different. “It’s not such a departure, it’s nutritious, fresh, tasty food that’s not been messed about with.”

Frances in the kitchen of Paradise’s Airstream food wagon in Killinghall. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).Frances in the kitchen of Paradise’s Airstream food wagon in Killinghall. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Frances in the kitchen of Paradise’s Airstream food wagon in Killinghall. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

It was Covid that prompted the seismic shift at the Yorke Arms. Two years earlier the restaurant with rooms had been purchased by Jonathan Turner, with Frances continuing to run the kitchen. Lockdown forced a change of direction and the ivy-clad inn has been converted into a wedding venue.

The new venture is a collaboration between Frances, her trusty front of house manager John Tullet and chef Roger Oliver, a team who have worked together for 20 years. They launched Paradise Foods to provide three-course dinners (£60pp) to take home, but more remarkably, they bought a slick-looking aluminium Airstream food wagon that’s now parked at Daleside Nurseries in Killinghall, with Roger and Frances at the stove and service as faultless as ever.

It’s all a lot less glamorous than the Yorke Arms, and knowing that the man eating alone in the corner is not a Michelin inspector, a lot less pressured, but despite the gloom facing the industry Frances is optimistic about the future.

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“It’s a time of great change in hospitality, an opportunity to do things differently. It’s very exciting,” she says. The hours may be longer, the work tougher but the three of them look to be having the time of their lives.

What was the first dish you remember cooking? As a child I set up a cafe in the garden making tea and cakes for the neighbours. I started my career with a cafe and now I’m ending it with a cafe.

Who is your culinary inspiration? Elizabeth David who was writing in the 60s and had a creativity beyond her time.

What was your first cookery book? Marguerite Patten’s All Colour Cookery. It had some good cake recipes.

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Where do you like to eat out? It has to be somewhere special, an experience I couldn’t get anywhere else. L’Enclume or Mark Birchall’s Moorhall in Lancashire. Noma in its early days was a totally new experience. We had a glass of Champagne and stayed all afternoon.

What is your guilty food pleasure? A good white Burgundy or a G and T and a bowl of crisps.

What ingredient could you not be without? Gros Sel Guérande –unrefined sea salt from Brittany. Yes, it does make a difference, I couldn’t manage without it.

What are your future plans? It’s still early days, it takes time to settle in but we want to develop really exciting food. We’ll have heating, more seating, better decoration and next year a permanent building overlooking the lake, but still a cafe.

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James Mitchinson