Ali Bilton never thought she’d have her own cookery book.
“It was something I had wanted to do but never had the courage to do it.
“It was my family who kept saying that I should put all my recipes collected over 35 years of cooking into a book. And so I decided to do it,” says Ali, who for the last ten years has run the Yorkshire Wolds Cookery School.
“Telling and showing people how to cook recipes is very different to actually writing them down – that is a different matter.”
Ali Bilton Cooks is a collection of more than 60 of her favourite recipes inspired by travelling and working abroad as a private chef over the last three decades.
But she says it was her mum, Sheila, to whom the book is dedicated, who really gave her her love of cooking.
“She was a self-taught cook married to an East Yorkshire farmer who had to have three cooked meals every day,” recalls Ali who grew up on a farm near Driffield.
“I am one of three girls and we all learnt to cook from an early age – because we had to – but we all loved it. It was very much a family affair and we all sat down as a family and ate together every day.
“When my mother was entertaining she went all out. She and her friends used loved cooking for each others and they loved to pass around recipes amongst themselves.
“There are many that my sisters and I are still cooking now.”
At school her love of cooking was nurtured.
“I had a wonderful cookery teacher at school who really encouraged me. She was modern, encouraging and full of fun. It was through her that I decided to go to catering college.” After Oxford Polytechnic, Ali attended the famous Leith’s cookery school in London, set up by Prue Leith.
From there she set up her own catering business with friend Rebecca Staight, cooking for directors of top companies in the City.
“I did a little bit of restaurant work, but it really wasn’t for me. I much preferred the catering. Cooking menus that were tailored to what people wanted. I met some really interesting people.
“It was challenging, as you end up working in all different types of kitchens.”
She moved to Spain where she spent seven years running her own catering business and then going into partnership with Jill Simpson and starting Simpson and Holtby, working in both Spain and Gibraltar.
“The border hadn’t been long open and the queues of cars trying to get in which could take up to four hours a day to get through so we often decided to walk over the border carrying all our catering equipment.”
While in Spain Ali cooked for the Marlboro Honda Formula 1 racing team. There is a picture of her in her book with the legendary drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost; she even made Prost’s 100th F1 cake.
“We cooked mainly for team, but not the drivers and any visiting VIPs – there were three of us cooking for up to 80 people from the kitchen of a motorhome.”
When Ali married and had her son Tom, she moved to Hong Kong with her young family.
“We were in Hong Kong for two years and I didn’t actually work as I had Charlie while we were there and so had two small boys to look after, but it really opened my eyes to an entire new world of food.
“It was a totally different style of cooking, which I loved; Thai food in particular. Bangkok was only a two-hour flight and I was introduced to the delights of street food and such a variety of produce. There is a lot of Thai influence in the recipes included in the book.”
When she returned to the UK she started catering again, using many of the influences she had absorbed while living abroad.
“At first I was frustrated at not being able to source many of the ingredients,” says Ali. “It was 25 years ago and things weren’t as readily available as they are now. Slowly but surely, with an increase in cookery programmes and ease of travel, exotic ingredients began to appear on supermarket shelves.”
Ali is passionate about passing on her knowledge, especially to younger generations.
She went into her sons’ school in York where there were no cookery lessons and offered to teach the pupils how to cook.
Then in 2010 Ali opened the Yorkshire Wolds Cookery School with the Rhymer family, who owned Highfield Farm.
The cookery school, which also has an adjacent B&B, has gone from strength to strength wining many accolades including being named Cookery School of the Year at the Food and Travel Awards in London next year.
“I think our success is down to the fact that we listen to what people want and deliver it,” says Ali. “We also offer bespoke days as well as having accommodation.
But, as the cookery school celebrates its 10th anniversary, Ali is preparing to take more of a back seat in June, although she says she will still continue to run some of the courses .
“I think the time is right for me to do something a bit different.”
She is looking at starting her own business in Pocklington, but still very much linked to her love of food and good cooking.
“It will be good to move on to something different.”
Ali Bilton Cooks: Her Favourites has more than 60 recipes with step by step photographs by Jordan Walmsleyn .
The self-published cookery book is available for £15 on Amazon and also on Ali’s website alibiltoncooks.com where more of her recipes can be found.