Chef profile - Liz Cottam, Home, Leeds

Soon after her mother died, Liz Cottam heard she had been selected for MasterChef 2016 and knowing her mum would have loved seeing her on telly she decided to go for it.

Liz set up Home in 2017 with Mark Owens. (Picture: Chris Leah).

“It was so intense thinking I was doing it for my mum but having to concentrate so much on what I was doing was the best therapy I could have had.”

She said she hated the studio but loved working in a professional kitchen. Post-MasterChef she did local pop-ups, “borrowed” the kitchen of the former Ellington Hotel in Leeds and did a stage at Ilkley’s Box Tree. It was there she met the chef, Mark Owens, and together they planned “a relaxed, fine-dining restaurant”.

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Home opened in 2017 on the first floor of a former Indian restaurant on Kirkgate. Parquet flooring, teal blue panelling, a mass of bamboo shades, it was immediately the cool place to eat and from the start there were waiting lists for the sophisticated, inventive multi-course tasting menu that changed completely every month. It was a high-wire, high- pressure act.

Liz developed new dishes when Home shut during lockdown. (Picture: Chris Leah).

In 2019 Liz and Mark opened the Owl, the first pub in Leeds’s famous Kirkgate Market, a dark, quirkily rustic joint on Fish and Game Row. Today Mark heads the kitchen, presenting exceedingly superior pub food; think hand dived scallops with crispy pig’s head terrine or guinea fowl with salt baked turnip, while Liz runs Home.

Then lockdown happened. “I’d had an intense schedule, developing, innovating and designing new dishes to a deadline. When lockdown happened I made the most of it. It gave me time to work on new dishes, to be creative but without the pressure,” says Liz.

Both the Owl and Home have reopened within the Covid restrictions. There’s an additional upstairs room at the Owl and the substantial dining room at Home is well suited for social distancing.

“Lockdown made me realise we don’t have to change the whole menu every month we can bring on one or two dishes at a time when they are ready, which means much less pressure,” says Liz.

When was the first dish you remember cooking? It was a dish called Hungry for Haddock from the Ready Steady Cook book. I did it so often I really perfected it.

Who or what has been your culinary inspiration? El Cellar de Can Roca is a three-star Michelin restaurant in Girona. One dish was a bible, with printed pages that weirdly tasted of old books. I’m not sure about that one but the other 22 dishes blew my mind. Other chefs I admire are Dominique Crenn, of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, and Grant Achatz, of Alinea in Chicago.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Chefs tend to eat very badly. Anything deep fried from a Chinese takeaway.

What ingredient or utensil could you not manage without? I’m obsessed with black sesame at the moment. Utensil… Adam Rasburn, he crossed the road from the Man Behind the Curtain to be head chef at Home. I couldn’t manage without him.

What happened to the restaurants during lockdown? When I told the team we had to close there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. We were a team; we’d spent three years learning together. To begin with, I was so shocked, I didn’t know how I was going to keep the team going or keep everything together financially, but we did it. We cooked for

the NHS and did food boxes from the Owl. We lost money but it kept us busy and focused.

Home, 16/17 Kirkgate, Leeds LS1 6BY, www.homeleeds.co.uk; email: [email protected]

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