Celebrity Chefs at Nantwich Show 2017

Will Holland, James, Sean Wilson, chefs, Nantwich Show, 2017

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!

aerial, view, Nantwich Show, world, largest, cheese, marquee
Nantwich Show with the world’s largest cheese marquee shown top right

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.

James Martin, strawberry, cheesecake, Nantwich Show, 2017

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 Harrison

Jonathan Harrision, chef, Nantwich ShowJonathan 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!

Le Gruyère

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!

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What We Did With Our New Chickens and Other Stories …

new, chickens, hens, Nantwich, Cheshire, 66 Thoughts

Childhood Chickens … and Grown Up Chickens

Growing up on a smallholding in rural Staffordshire, we had a variety of farm animals: pigs, sheep, cows, geese, dogs, the ubiquitous feral cats … and chickens.

Back then, I had no real interest in them. Dad fed them, cleaned them out and collected the eggs. The only thing my brothers and I had to do was chuck kitchen scraps into their run every now and then whilst mum was making dinner. Oh, and eat the eggs, of course.

Fast forward 35 years and we decided to have chickens of our own. My partner Mark has always wanted them and I was certainly not averse to the idea.

Yes Please! I Want Free Funky Chicken Printables!

Choosing Our Chickens

The first step was identifying what type we wanted and locating them. We decided to take on battery rescue hens who deserved a better life.

Despite our good intentions, avian flu is still rife in some parts of the UK, particularly in Lancashire where the birds were located.  We waited several months for the government to give the go ahead for poultry to be transported, but it wasn’t to be.

66 Thoughts, battery hens, barnvelders.net
Photo courtesy of barnevelders.net

Itching to get on with the business of keeping chickens, we opted for some point-of-lay hens. We found them at Cheshire Chickens – a poultry farm in Knutsford.

Mark, the teenagers and I piled into the car early one Sunday morning in mid March, stopping off en route for a gorgeous breakfast at Piccolino on King Street in Knutsford.

Replete, we headed off to collect our chickens. The farmer was just loading a couple of birds into a box for another family, including a very pregnant lady. She told me she was expecting twins, despite already having four children – plus numerous hens, cats and dogs. How does she do it?!

66 Thoughts chicken hen, poultry, birds, free range, eggs
Clockwise from top left: Doris, Ivy, Mabel and Fern, enjoying sweetcorn cobs

We opted for two Rhode Rock hens and two Novo Browns (also known as Warrens).

The Rhode Rocks we named Mabel and Fern and the Warrens Doris and Ivy. According to my friend Amy, these were “names you’d hear in any good nursing home”!

Whilst there, we also bought laying pellets, apple cider vinegar and grit, plus a pellet feeder, having already bought water feeders previously.

Yes Please! I Want Free Funky Chicken Printables!

Coming Home

Armed with our birds and our purchases, we carefully loaded them into the car to take them to their new home.

66 Thoughts, chicken, coop, run, hens, hen “Home” was a new coop, bought online by Mark weeks earlier, when we’d assumed we would be able to collect our battery rescues straightaway.

Mark was worried (to say the least) that we may have unwelcome visitors, so he had already made it as fox-proof as humanly possible. His prevention measures included security chains on the openers, spring-loaded self-closers on the doors and wire mesh fixed to the ground round the coop and run. Inside was plenty of sawdust and fresh straw: the chickens were going to love it!

66 Thoughts, chickens, hens, new home, coop, run, Nantwich, Cheshire

We popped them inside, let the ramp down into the run and sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more. The poor things were terrified and wouldn’t come out!

After an hour of sitting around waiting for them to make an entrance, I decided to place one in the run, hoping the rest would follow.  After a tentative peck around and an acknowledgement of the water feeder, she scooted back up the ramp and resolutely stayed inside with the others!

Deciding that they’d probably had enough for one day, we decided to leave them to settle in and get used to their surroundings.

The following day they seemed far more perky and they soon ventured down the ramp and into the run.  Over the following days, we introduced them to the rest of the garden, allowing them to free range whenever we were at home and able to keep an eye on them.

Yes Please! I Want Free Funky Chicken Printables!

Who Knew Chickens Were Fussy Eaters?

We also tested different kitchen scraps on them and discovered that they are possibly the fussiest chickens on the planet! They’ll wolf down sweetcorn – cobs or tinned – but refuse any type of lettuce or salad greens.  They are indifferent to tomatoes and grapes.  Pretty much any other scraps from the kitchen they refuse: carrot peelings, broccoli stalks, cauliflower leaves, asparagus trimmings … basically, all the things we thought we’d be able to feed to them!

On the plus side, they also eat garden pests such as slugs and snails … and our compost heap is ever-growing, with fruit and veg scraps plus the chicken manure!

Waiting for Eggs

Every morning, we ran to the coop, excitedly looking for the first egg to arrive.  We pored over every available website and article online to read up about our new friends. We learned that having come to us at 21 weeks they were almost fully grown but their combs and wattles were still pale pink – a sure sign that they weren’t quite ready to lay.

66 Thoughts fresh laid egg hen chicken free range cheshireMabel’s comb was getting darker by the day and we guessed that she’d be the first to lay.  Still the waiting continued. Then just before Easter, Mark had to go to work in Denmark. Lo and behold, the very next day, we collected our first egg!

My youngest and I were joining Mark in Denmark a few days later for a week’s break over Easter, so we carefully wrapped the first egg – and the one produced the next day – in bubble wrap and kitchen roll. Placing them in a box, we transported them to Denmark to surprise Mark.  He was SO happy!

Soon after our first egg, the others started to lay and soon we were having four eggs each and every day!

The two Rhode Rocks lay bigger eggs than the Warrens, and Mabel, bless her, has laid quite a few double-yolk eggs.

Yes Please! I Want Free Funky Chicken Printables!

Becoming Our Friends

As the days have grown longer, and Mark and/or I have been working from home, the chickens have been out in the garden more and more. What wonderful characters they are! Whilst not as cuddly as a dog or a cat, they are certainly very friendly and they keep us hugely entertained with their antics.

66 Thoughts, chickens, hens, pecking, glass, window, patio

One of their favourite habits is to stand in a row outside the patio doors, pecking at the glass, as we work at the dining table inside. They are so insistent that they keep pecking until we come out and give them a treat!

They are also incredibly friendly, allowing themselves to be stroked and picked up – and even jumping on our knees when we sit outside! And don’t get me started on leaving the patio doors open, even for a few seconds – they hop in (and poo!) before you can stop them!

Next time I blog about the chickens, I’ll be talking about “5 Reasons to Have Chickens … and 5 Reasons Not To”.

Do please subscribe to my blog Subscribe Now! so that you don’t miss it – and remember to click on the link below to download your FREE funky chicken postcards and your FREE chicken wordart.

Yes Please! I Want Free Funky Chicken Printables!

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Weekly Playlist: Standing Strong for Manchester

Manchester bomb attack police flowers tribute

Weekly Playlist: Standing Strong for Manchester

It’s been a difficult week here in the UK: the dreadful bombing of the Manchester Arena – so close to where we are here in Cheshire – has cast a very dark cloud over us all.  I sat alone at 11am today and, like many others, I cried silent tears for the 22 people who did not deserve to go to a music concert and not return.

The Music

My original Music Playlist for this week was going to be in honour of National BBQ Week and English Wine Week, both of which are celebrated next week, but instead I have put together a playlist of solidarity, defiance and – above all – hope.

My hope is that all the many factions of the human race can look beyond their blinkered focus on their own beliefs and live in solidarity with their fellow humans.

Here are 19 tracks which all speak of standing together, as one, and loving one another – whatever our differences. The 20th track is Elbow’s “Lost Worker Bee” to honour Manchester – the worker bee having been Manchester’s symbol for hundreds of years.
Elbow Lost Worker Bee

The Giveaway

tolerance hope unity manchester bombing 2017 poster wordart stand together

I’ve hand-lettered a free, downloadable wordart to commemorate the Manchester bomb attack.

This would be lovely printed on A4 paper or enlarged to A3, then framed. Click below to access it.


Download Free Printable Wordart




The Playlist

Enjoy the playlist.

Help the Manchester Victims

If you feel you would like to support financially the families of those killed and injured in the Manchester Arena attack, then please give generously to the “We Stand Together” fund organised by the Manchester Evening News.

Manchester Just Giving fundraiser for bombing victims

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