Celebrity Chefs at Nantwich Show
I do love being a part of what’s happening in this corner of Cheshire that I’ve claimed as my own. It seems there’s something going on here in Nantwich nearly every week of the year but July is a particularly busy month with the International Cheese Awards, Nantwich Show and South Cheshire’s Big Day Out all happening within the space of a week. One of the big draws for the Show is the celebrity chefs who come and demonstrate.
Despite its small stature as a town, it seems Nantwich can command big names, and so it was that we hosted no fewer than four celebrity chefs at the Show on Wednesday.
The Biggest Cheese Marquee in the World
After the serious business of cheese judging and stewarding on the Tuesday, I returned the following day to work at the Nantwich Show – the largest one day agricultural show in the UK. I had been tasked with managing the Chef’s Demonstration Kitchen, sponsored by Le Gruyère.
The Demo Kitchen is housed in one of the largest marquees you’ll ever see. It’s 80,500 feet² to be precise, or nearly 7,500 metres², and this year it housed an amazing 5,685 entries for the cheese awards to make the largest cheese show in the world!
Alongside the Demo Area and the award entries were numerous trade stands offering tasting samples and selling their cheeses and other dairy products. It really is a cheese-lover’s heaven!
Despite the fantastic weather the previous day, show day dawned with torrential rain. However, the forecast promised clear skies by noon so, undeterred, I donned my sundress and sandals, knowing from experience how temperatures can rise in the cheese marquee on a hot day, despite the air conditioning.
The Celebrity Chefs
Having worked the Chef’s area area for the last couple of years, I knew that celebrity chef James Martin commands quite a following and it takes a small army to keep the (female) crowd under control! I had assembled a team to help me on the day including my son Seb and my friend Teresa plus a couple of ladies I know in Nantwich, Judy Stafford-Watson and Sarah Perris.
Aside from James Martin, three other celebrity chefs were also doing demos including Sean Wilson, aka Martin Platt from Coronation Street, who now makes cheese in Lancashire with his company The Saddleworth Cheese Co, Will Holland who runs Coast in Saundersfoot and Jonathan Harrison, mine host at The Sandpiper in Leyburn, Yorkshire.
Sean Wilson: Former Actor Turned Chef & Cheesemaker
All the chefs cooked dishes that included cheese (naturally)! My personal favourite was Sean Wilson who made the most amazing star bread. It was a recipe inspired by Great British Bake-Off finalist Luis Troyano, who has written a recipe for a sweet hazelnut star bread, published in a new book by Lakeland. Sean did his own twist on it making it savoury with a tomato jam and his own crumbly Lancashire cheese.
Sean is such a down-to-earth, natural guy who held the audience’s attention throughout his demonstration. He also shared some great tips including using a shower cap over the bowl proving the dough – what a great idea! I’m just sorry I didn’t get a picture of it! The aromas coming from the kitchen area were amazing and the finished product looked superb. Sean was happy to hand out some of his food to the audience to taste too, and afterwards was happy to remain behind to talk to his fans.
Sean Wilson’s cheese making skills were also honoured at the Cheese Awards the previous day, when he was inducted into the Internationale Guilde des Fromagers – a top honour for cheesemakers.
James Martin Pulls in the Crowds
As in previous years, James Martin’s small army of mostly female fans was much in evidence. The die-hards arrive at least a hour before he’s due on stage, hoping to get a seat right in front of the stage and, I’m assuming, within James’ eyeline. It’s astonishing to see how ruthless these ladies can be: they will stop at nothing to ensure the best seat is theirs!
James was doing two demonstrations on the day and the auditorium was filled to capacity for both events. As with the other chefs, he cooked some gorgeous cheese dishes including a delicious looking steak with a cheese sauce. My personal favourite was this lovely looking strawberry cheesecake with a spun sugar topping. It was certainly interesting watching him spinning the sugar.
What Else Was at the Show?
Unfortunately I missed Will Holland’s demo as I took the opportunity to take a break and walk round the showground with Teresa. Remember I said at the beginning of this piece that I thought I was being clever wearing a sundress and sandals? Yes, we were cool in the marquee but our feet were decidedly muddy after we’d traipsed round a very squelchy showground for an hour or so!
That aside, we had a great time taking in the show atmosphere. There’s literally something for everyone! We took in the exhibits in the produce section, from jams and chutneys to amazing cakes and cakes made by children. There were also artworks, handicrafts and floral displays.
In the main ring there were the Cheshire Hounds and the Huntsmen, as well as Cheshire Beagles. What a beautiful sight they made. Nearby were the vintage cars looking resplendent in the sunshine. And I fell in love with the baby piglets nestling in the straw!
After a stop off at one of the food stands to buy a scrumptious cheese and mushroom crèpe, it was back to work in the Demo Area again, doing our best to hide our muddy feet from the punters!
Jonathan is a somewhat lesser known chef though he has some pretty hefty credentials earned in his years of cooking. He was crowned Roux Scholar in 1993 – the Roux Scholarship being the premier competition for chefs in the UK. He trained with Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV Restaurant Monaco and now runs The Sandpiper Inn, in Leyburn, a country town in Wensleydale. Here he strives to serve the freshest and finest of local ingredients and makes everything in house, from bread to ice cream.
At the Nantwich Show, Jonathan was joined by a very young commis chef – his daughter! She worked alongside him helping him prepare the food and even wore a mic so she could add her two penneth to the proceedings!
The whole Demo Area was sponsored by Le Gruyère and I can’t end this piece without mentioning the lovely ladies who were managing it. Helen Daysh and Jen Willows were so friendly and helpful to us all day It was great to work alongside them.
At the end, they gave each of us a hefty slab of their best Gruyère, part of which I enjoyed in a dish I made last week – see the recipe here.
And so ended another fantastic Nantwich Show for another year. A huge thank you to the team: Teresa, Sarah and Judy – plus Sarah’s daughters and friends who provided reinforcements for James’ afternoon slot! I can’t wait to return next year with more cheesy tales!