We are very excited to be joined by Rosemary Shrager – talented chef and cookery teacher whose professional career began working with Pierre Koffman at the Tante Claire restaurant in London and also for Jean-Christophe Novelli. Completely self-taught, Rosemary learnt everything she knows about cooking through practice, hard work and dedication to the craft.
Now, as Rosemary demonstrates her techniques through her popular, live cookalong sessions, and, with exciting new filming opportunities planned over the coming year, she continues to influence UK cookery and inspire audiences to embrace delicious, hearty ‘comfort food’.
Here, she tells The Joy Club how her cooking career began (and actually, how it very nearly didn’t!), why she loves teaching, and shares some helpful hints and tips for those of us who are trying our hand at home cooking for the first time…
The Joy Club: Rosemary, you began your career in restaurant kitchens – how has your cooking evolved since then?
Rosemary Shrager: My cooking has actually gone back to basics; almost back to my childhood food in the sense that it’s comfort food. These days, more than ever, people want real food rather than poncy food. Now don’t get me wrong, providing people with that lovely fine-dining experience is wonderful – but I’m just not in that position now. I think that what I should be doing now is creating beautiful home cooking.
People can’t believe, though, that even when I do create comfort food, I still make it look like it was served in a restaurant. The trick is to be able to make home cooking look as delicious as possible. My food doesn’t really change, I just elevate it with the presentation. I say to everybody, good food is all about combination and presentation. If you follow the recipe the cooking and flavours will be great, but the presentation is what really counts.
TJC: Was cooking something that came naturally to you?
RS: Yes! Cooking has always been a gift I’ve had; I love to cook. As a young woman I knew I enjoyed the process of cooking – it was my hobby, my love – it was everything to me. I used to beg my mother to be part of cooking competitions and so I was just surrounded by beautiful food from a young age.
The aim for me was not just to cook as a hobby, but to turn it into a viable career. I turned my love of food into my work, which was actually a bit of a surprise because it wasn’t what I was trained in – I was actually an interior designer in earlier life. I studied at art college for about five years but the problem was, actually, it wasn’t what I really wanted to do – cooking was. After working in The City for an architects firm, I took the leap and pursued a career in cooking. I decided I wanted to be a chef – now, this is not like home cooking at all! The organisation is very different, and so with only my home cooking experience behind me, I had to learn everything about being a chef on the hoof.
Surprisingly, things in a professional kitchen are fairly simple – they have to be for things to run effectively. They just cannot be complicated. What I did was, create time by doing lots of things in advance. As a chef, it’s really all about preparation for that final dish. I learnt very quickly that food is incredibly simple in professional kitchens, but it’s that painstaking process of preparation – that is what’s different to what you do at home.
TJC: What made you decide to run your own cookery school and patisserie?
RS: I just love teaching, it’s my natural persona. However I also had a strong desire to give back to young people starting out in the industry, so I provided Patisserie apprenticeships as a way to do this. Patisserie is an important skill to have, and is a lot trickier than people think. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up with enough apprentices to sustain the business, which was a shame. I really wanted those young people to have what I didn’t have – that built-in support from the beginning. When I started I had no one behind me who I could call and say, “Look, am I doing this right?” So, I had to learn a lot on my own, which was really tough.
TJC: Which of your dishes brings you the most joy to cook, and why?
RS: You know what – I’m not going to say just one dish, because I really do love all cooking! I’m more of a savoury chef than a patisserie chef, and I love seasonal food. What I really love is to experiment with seasonal ingredients to see what I can do with them – for me, that’s where the fun is, learning how to put different flavours together to create a beautiful meal. We’re so lucky to have such a wide range of flavours today from all around the world – it’s unbelievable.
However, balancing them can be tricky! I can know something should work but I’m always worried, even if it’s simple and I’ve made it 100 times before. You just want to make sure it’s the correct thing you’re doing, especially if you’re putting it into a recipe for someone else to cook themselves.
When I cook I cook with real feeling – I’m an intuitive cook and that’s my gift. But not everybody has that, so I must always be aware of what I’m putting into my recipes for others to enjoy.
TJC: As a result of lockdown and us all spending more time at home, many people have embraced cooking more of their meals from scratch. How can The Joy Club members join you for a cookalong?
RS: I would love for your members to join me for ‘Cooking at home with Rosemary’! You can come and cook along with me on Saturday evenings at 5:00pm, either on Facebook Live or YouTube. Come and have some fun and cook, or just watch with a glass of wine and have a giggle!
TJC: What’s been your most memorable moment from ‘Cooking at home with Rosemary’ so far?
RS: It was probably cooking with my son recently. He came to join me, and it was just so funny. It was a spur of the moment situation – I couldn’t stop giggling. He kept calling me “Coach”. He’d say, “Come on Coach, what’s next?”
TJC: Which two tips do you think every beginner should know when it comes to cooking?
RS: First of all, you must get everything ready. Prepare everything in advance. Whatever it is – whether you need to chop up your onions or your other vegetables, just get it all out and ready so you don’t have to keep looking for things.
And the other thing I’d say is, please read recipes through in advance. Read them twice so you completely understand the process. You don’t want to suddenly think, “Oh no, what’s going on?” If you read it through you’ll know what’s happening, you’ll be halfway there.
My two big tips!
TJC: Do you have anything exciting in the pipeline for 2021?
RS: Potentially a new TV series in the US, which is very exciting. And, I’m part of a series coming out on Channel 5 here, called ‘Celebrity 5 Go Fishing’, and I’m also talking to another TV channel about a series later on in the year, but whether I do it or not is another question!
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