A passion for cooking

IN MY KITCHEN: Celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager

What was the first dish you ate which made you want to make it?

To answer this question, I need to go back to when I first tasted something so special that I did not want to let it go. That was freshly-picked soft fruit and putting the sugar and the cream on top. This might seem a very simple thought but you are talking about an experience involving seasonality and first impressions. A later experience, one of many, was sitting on the harbour in Marseilles and having one of the most distinctive dishes that I have always tried to encapsulate. It was a bouillabaisse and it was the pure strength of flavour and also atmosphere that made it incredible and whenever to this day I make a soup de poisson or bouillabaisse I always try to conjure up that flavour.

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Who was your first mentor in the kitchen. How did that person inspire you?

My mother was my first mentor. I was very fortunate to be brought up with someone who loved food and loved growing vegetables, so my understanding started from that. She inspired me to want to cook so I used to cook whenever I could, making cakes or scones. As a chef in the kitchen, it was Pierre Koffman who inspired me and helped me achieve what I have today by just believing in me.

At what point did you think you might be able to make a living out of it?

My early career was as an interior design but my heart was not in it and I changed direction when I realised cooking was my absolute passion. So I started a business doing directors’ lunches and went on from there. I never thought this was a career I was going to go into because I didn’t start with this but it has developed from my love and passion for food.

Whose cooking do you admire and why?

Because I learned early on in life from books, there are many people I admire like Michele Guerard and Roger Verge who at the time inspired me.

There are some brilliant chefs around today like Andrew Fairlie, Marcus Wareing, Michael Caines. And why? Because they have such passion and they are so good and dedicated to what they do.

What are your pet hates as regards food and ingredients generally, working in the kitchen, other people’s cooking?

I dislike cooking out of season products – it’s wrong and we should look forward to the seasonality of food – and also I can’t bear cold plates with hot food. I always prefer to do my own cooking. Chefs I think are visionary people and very distinctive. I always think a psychiatrist could look at a plate and see the person’s character through their presentation.

North Yorkshire-based Rosemary Shrager appears regularly on television and runs her cookery school at Swinton Park: contact 01765 680900.