Yorkshire’s Food Capital: Malton gets seal of approval from Gilly ‘The Cook’ Robinson and Whitby baker and GBBO winner David Atherton
As I stepped off the train in Malton on Saturday morning (May 27), I felt an immediate sense of optimism; the sun was shining, the skies were clear and the town looked like a postcard. I thought: This day is off to a great start already.
The walk to the festival was a short one, only taking 10 minutes. Within that time, I passed by a girl who was part of a team called Pure, a West Yorkshire organic pet food company, who was also heading to Malton Food Lovers Festival. It was her first time visiting too. We walked together and she described the company’s ethos and the inspiration behind it.
When we got there, we went our separate ways, and I took it all in. Organisers of the event were setting up the stalls, tents and equipment as it was only 8.30am when I got there and the festival didn’t start until 9am.
As I browsed the busy market place, I could already smell food lingering in the air, though I was told that the scent would intensify later into the day. On my walk around the market, I bumped into the girl I met on the way to the festival. She was with her team at their stall where we talked.
With the weather being hot and knowing I had a lot of walking ahead of me, I decided to grab a drink. I walked into the local coffee shop called Lutt & Turner by YO Bakehouse and ordered a red berry herbal tea.
Approaching the main stage, I felt elated at the thought of tasting the food and interviewing some of the top chefs and bakers.
First chef I met that day was Gilly Robinson, often nicknamed ‘The Cook’, who was busy darting from place to place as she was preparing for her cooking demonstration. It wasn’t long before I got the chance to speak to her.
The first thing I remember thinking before we started the interview was that she was very popular. A few people had approached her throughout the interview asking her questions, greeting her and hugging her.
Gilly has been integral to the success of the festival and has been involved in the event for nine years. 2023 marks the 14th anniversary of the event and for three quarters of that time, Gilly has seen the festival develop.
“I’ve been looking after the cookery side of the festival since 2014 when I came with the pop-up cookery school,” she said.
“It’s just evolved; every year it gets better and better and probably the last couple we’ve really got a handle on, since lockdown.
“The Visit Malton team, which is a cast of about two at the moment, work so hard and everybody works together.
“It’s free to get in, which is fabulous. Yes, you pay for parking but that’s up to you but it’s free to get in, wander in and out as you want for the entire weekend.”
Yorkshire has been a big influence for Gilly on her journey to becoming ‘The Cook’, she explained how and whether she agrees that Malton is Yorkshire’s Food Capital.
“It’s the produce. We refer to it as ‘God’s Own County’ and it really is.
“We grow such a plethora of amazing produce and lovely people come back year after year to visit.
“Yes I do [agree]. It morphs, every year changes. It’s not just the town that’s produced the food, we spread the net a little bit wider such as the fabulous Wolds Apple Juice, we’ve got Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil, they’re just on the edges of Malton, so it’s not all happening right in the market place.
“But it’s just nice to know that new companies come in and the people that own the companies around here and run Visit Malton are so encouraging to a new business - that entices them in and then they become Yorkshire producers.”
Gilly grew up in Teesside, further north, and was drawn to Malton after her first visit to the festival in 2014.
“I’m a Teesside girl. I haven’t been to Malton except once with my grandma when I was a child until 2014. [Since then] I never went home, I’m here now. It grabbed me,” she said.
“The most important part of my job is inspiring others, I like to encourage the new producers, I like to encourage young chefs.
“I teach a lot of children’s classes; we've now got primary schools that can come for a day or every Monday for a term for me just to pass on the knowledge, because that’s how I got interested.
“If I can know that one or two people have been inspired by me - I’m happy. That’s going to be it.”
Gilly talked to me about her next project which is being kept under wraps.
“It’s top secret. It’s not even in the building yet but we’ve been working closely with Roost, the coffee roasters in town; we’re going to be the first Barista school in the area, so you can come and learn about making coffees and learn how to use the fabulous coffee machines, grinding coffee,” she said.
“It’s going to be happening in the next couple of weeks, I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be good fun and people are able to come if they’ve got a coffee business or if they’ve just got a really nice machine at home or fancy buying a nice machine. We’re going to do food and coffee pairings as well.”
Next on my agenda was meeting David Atherton, the Whitby baker who won the Great British Bake Off in 2019.
David was sitting at a table filled with his new children’s books, My First Baking Book, My First Cook Book and My First Green Cook Book, outside Malton’s local bookshop Kemps Books. After a busy day of demonstrations at the main stage cooking naan breads and intricate bakes, he spent the afternoon signing books.
His hectic schedule didn’t seem to faze him as he looked happy and in good spirits.
David has been baking ever since he was a child.
“Whitby is already a small town and I grew up in one of the villages outside of Whitby. My mum and my grandma were great bakers and cooks,” he said.
“My mum liked to do everything from scratch so instead of playing with play dough, we played with bread dough.
“She would make homemade bread for our whole family of seven every single week. We didn’t ever buy any shop-bought bread; in a way I feel like [cooking and baking is] part of my DNA.
“My mum made it a really enjoyable experience for us, it was never a stressful thing where she wanted it all to be perfectly clean and tidy, she let us have fun in the kitchen.”
David agreed that Malton is Yorkshire’s Food Capital.
“I’ve been coming to Malton since I was a child and how it’s developed into being this centre for food is incredible,” he said.
“[Events] like this festival make you realise people from all around Yorkshire are coming to this show, there are loads of local restaurants and companies.
“Yorkshire is a big [region] with a lot of food to celebrate but I would say, Malton is the capital.”
David has been up to a lot since winning the BBC One baking show, but the one achievement that has stuck with him is his dream of becoming a food writer.
“You get lots of opportunities, it’s actually about trying to pick the things you want to do and I’ve had fun doing all kinds of different things, lots of events, but the thing I’ve really wanted to do before Bake Off, my dream, would have always been to be a food writer,” he said.
“That’s what I’ve really tried to focus on; I’ve had four cookbooks out and I’ve got another book coming out this September so I’ve been quite prolific in the writing side of things.
“I still work as a nurse. I really love my career as a nurse because I work in public health, so diet and nutrition was important anyway, so they’re mixed together.”
However, there is still something missing from the world of baking and cooking, according to the TV baker.
“I think that too often baking is lazy in terms of ingredients because I do think we can celebrate healthier baking more,” David said.
“When I say healthier, I don’t necessarily mean low calorie, because healthy is things like having nuts and fruits which are highly calorific but are really really good for us.
“So I think it would be nice to change the debate so that healthy eating isn’t just about low calorie but really tasty baking is about tasting the ingredients.”