FRANCES ATKINS – The chef that brings to the table the flavours of Yorkshire

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(by Stefania Del Monte)

Frances Atkins was the first female chef to be awarded a Michelin star in the UK. Brought up in Ilkley, she attended Bradford School of Food Technology and after graduation spent some time working abroad. She then followed her passion, cooking freelance until she was able to open her first much cherished Restaurant, Atkins, in Great Missenden. For the past 23 years, she has established an international reputation for fine food and exceptional hospitality with her trusted team at award winning The Yorke Arms, a magical restaurant with rooms in the heart of one of the most beautiful English counties: Yorkshire.

Chef Atkins, your passion for cooking was evident since, as a teenager, you started supplying a local deli in your hometown with your own handmade cheeses. What led you to become a professional chef?
Cooking is a natural way for me to express myself and I have never wished to do anything else.

Have you been inspired by anyone in particular?
My inspiration has always come from nature, beautiful ingredients and wonderful aroma.

Before opening The York Arms in the Yorkshire Dales, in 1996, you worked in Denmark, Scotland and London. What did you learn from those experiences?
From past experiences running businesses, I have learnt that every day is different in Hospitality and certainly in Kitchens. I am an expert in crisis management!

What brought you back to Yorkshire?
Yorkshire is the county of my roots: the terroir and flavours are exceptional!

You were one of the first female chefs in Britain, and the first one to be awarded a Michelin star. As a woman in this industry, what kind of challenges did you face?
Challenges have always been of my own making. I am very focused but also very independent and feel with concentrated hard work anything is possible.

What do you consider the best achievement of your career?
Having the desire to continue to flourish!

What kind of food do you like to make and how important is the environment in your cuisine?
The environment is everything to me. It’s what lifts my spirit and makes me creative. I worked in London for three years, underground, and found it to be very narrowing.

What are your favourite ingredients?
I love all ingredients: oils, vegetables herbs anything that grows and is fresh. We have amazing grouse on our moors, here, that just feeds on the heather. So, what pure meat that is! We serve it with bilberries (black berries) that grow in the heather and then add a little peaty whisky into the grouse sauce. The heather grows in the peaty moors so all the favours are related and produce the  ‘taste of Yorkshire’.

And your favourite food and wine pairing?
We have a marvellous local white wine, Solaris, which is the perfect accompaniment to many of my dishes. The taste is so exciting and unique.

As a member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and a fellow of the Master Chefs of Great Britain, you are passionate about nurturing young chefs. What do you feel is the role of British cuisine, today?
It’s an exciting time for British cuisine today. The standards are internationally influenced, mainly by the media, and the desire to take our food to another level is very much there in the
younger generation.

Images courtesy of the Bayford Group

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