I booked dinner and an overnight stay at Tommy Banks’ The Black Swan in Oldstead. By the next morning, I had fallen head over heels in love with the area and knew I wanted to make Yorkshire my home.
I’m based In North Yorkshire, in a little village not too far from Thirsk. What do I love about it? What don’t I love about it? The fact that my rudest awakening in the morning comes from bird song and the occasional dog bark is blissful. I never even had a window box growing up and now all I can see for miles and miles is beautiful green land, hills and countryside. I have travelled all over the world and genuinely, there is no place I’d rather be than home in Yorkshire, it has quickly become my happy place.
I’m involved with food festivals like Malton and I host my Supperclubs at Robinsons Café in York. I am keen to support as many restaurants, pubs, bakers, butchers, cheesemongers, grocers and other food businesses as I can, by choosing local whenever possible.
Much like many others, Coronavirus has had a devastating financial impact on my business and as my mother is diabetic, we began self-isolation from the beginning of March, so we have been stuck indoors for quite a long time. But I cannot complain because thank goodness we have managed to stay healthy and have the most wonderful friends, neighbours and food suppliers that ensure we have all we need. I still cook, write and work almost constantly as I am not the type to sit still and do nothing. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that things will return to normal and when they do, we can all assess the damage and take steps to rebuild our lives and work, however we need to.
My typical day is waking up and have two strong cups of coffee. I am useless to anyone if I haven’t had coffee. Three days a week I exercise (during Covid, especially) to keep sane but also balance out all the excessive snacking and eating I seem to be doing at the moment. I work day and night, so I don’t have a fixed time to sit at my desk. I spend my days either cooking, baking or recipe testing and usually writing for different magazines and newspapers, in the absence of my usual client jobs and campaigns.
I have had to cancel my first-ever Supperclub in York for 50 people at Robinsons Café, which is sad and another Supperclub for 120 in London at Barboun. So far I have cancelled more than half a dozen sold-out cookery classes too, not to mention consulting work with brands and businesses in the UK and overseas. Also so many food festivals and similar events that I was booked on have now had to cancel their events and so it has been quite difficult. My next cookbook comes out at the end of August, which is a godsend as usually that would be April time, which would have been devastating.
It has been such an education…one that I am not entirely sorry to have had, but suddenly all the little things mean so much and you really stop and smell the roses. Picking flowers from the garden for the house to brighten things up, picking wild garlic and nettles and using them in cooking, the beautiful sunny weather we have been having despite these difficult times, my neighbours helping with bits of shopping as we can’t leave, the funny text messages we exchange with friends and loved ones, not wasting a single scrap and really being incredibly thrifty and creative with food in the house, watching all the TV shows I’ve wanted to see for years but never had the time and so much more. All lessons I take with me as I go forward in life.
I am surprised at how much I have been able to adapt to the situation but I genuinely miss my freedom, meeting people, hugging them, chatting and having drinks and enjoying good food socially. I miss my friends and loved ones and miss letting my hair down and having fun nights out. Obviously one of the most serious impacts will be financial but I’m in the same boat as everyone else and there is nothing I can do to help the situation, so torturing and agonising over matters, won’t help my cause.
Travel, good produce and ingredients, mood and learning from others all influence what I cook. I’m not a rule-follower and I like to be a footless and fancy-free kind of cook. I just genuinely love food, culture and travel and that has given me a real passion for cooking and eating which provides me with endless fuel and inspiration.
I have pretty adventurous taste and I’ve made food from around the world from burgers, fried chicken, curries and shepherd’s pie to Indonesian satay, Vietnamese Pho, doner kebabs, Jamaican goat curry, patties and Persian and Middle Eastern food galore. But by far, one of the best and most satisfying things I’ve made during COVID was a home-made version of a McDonald’s double sausage and egg McMuffin. It was absolutely fantastic.
My favourite Yorkshire dish has to be Yorkshire Pudding. Long before ever living here, I could eat it with breakfast, lunch or dinner, not just as part of a cracking Sunday roast. But I’m also rather partial to a bit of parkin as well and anything with Rhubarb in it, especially if that happens to be The Dawnay Arms’ rhubarb trifle
Before assessing the damage after lockdown and diving into work, I want to see all my friends and have some really fun nights out with the wonderful people in my industry. I am going to make many, many plans!
My perfect Yorkshire day out? I absolutely love a good pub lunch, Dawnay Arms is my favourite pub, and Mannion & Co in Helmsley are both regularly visited. I love taking people to see Castle Howard, Fountains Abbey, Byland Abbey, Helmsley Castle and Shibden Hall in Halifax too. I’ve yet to visit Harewood House but I do love exploring all these beautiful places. Driving visitors to Oldstead is great and showing them The Black Swan, where my idea for living in Yorkshire first started and of course, I love walking through York, it’s so beautiful, especially all the lovely little backstreets.
This article was originally written for This Is Y magazine digital edition – May 2020. To view the full magazine, click here