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Digital Subscriptions > delicious. Magazine > October 2019 > ”I’d failed my 11-plus and had no O levels, but I had the chance to reach people – 5 million of them”

”I’d failed my 11-plus and had no O levels, but I had the chance to reach people – 5 million of them”


“Delia will always be the queen of cooking to me. She’s always innovative.

I have a picture of her on my kitchen wall and give her a little kiss and a nod every day”

This 50-year story has to begin with being brought up on good food and the very best of home cooking. My mother and both my grandmothers were good cooks, and there were always cakes and tarts in tins when we came home from school. I was able to watch pastry being made, and was allowed to turn the handle of the mincer at chutney-making time. I even watched my great-grandmother make bread, when she used to imprint ‘D’ on baps just for me.

What would happen in the future was a gradual sequence of events. First stop was at the age of about 22 when I started going out to restaurants.

One French restaurant, serving a different regional menu each week, fascinated me – particularly because at the time French cooking dominated the food scene.

It was small, quite intimate, and the chef, Leo Evans, always served the main course himself. What I remember was just wanting to learn how to cook some of the dishes. I was always asking him how to do certain things, and one evening he suggested that if I really wanted to learn about French cooking I could come and spend an evening washing up and actually see it all happening. Well that was it, really. In the midst of mountains of dirty dishes, I was captivated and fascinated.

Being pretty much a failure at school with no sign of a career, suddenly I seemed to have found something that really intrigued me – and I became hungry to learn more. More evenings and piles of washing up followed, alongside a damp little notebook. Eventually I graduated from washing up to assisting the chef and learning lots of precious skills – such as how to make mayonnaise while someone in the restaurant was waiting for it! The chef was a hard taskmaster, but I really benefited from being taught to cook while it was going on all around me.


Learning to cook was amazing, but something else was beginning to evolve. I began to do a couple of nights each week as a waitress front-of-house, which was equally compelling as I was able to learn about and serve great wines and cheeses from the various regions of France. But sometimes people struggled with menus and were unsure of how to tackle something like a globe artichoke vinaigrette or pronounce the names of certain French dishes. Extraordinary as it may sound, in England at that time, spaghetti was something that came in tins and olive oil from the medicinal counter in the chemist.

People were unaware of the explosion of world cuisine waiting just over the horizon. Somehow I felt a kind of empathy and that people needed to be taught what I was being taught. Apart from mostly French cookery books, if anyone was hungry to learn there were only two sources: the newly launched newspaper colour supplements, which were a bit esoteric, or women’s magazines doing things like chocolate cornflake cakes or recipes with baked beans. I once asked a customer in the restaurant, who was a historian, why it was that in most of the restaurants everything was French. Even in expensive cookery schools it was the same… Whatever happened to English cooking?

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About delicious. Magazine

In the October issue of delicious. we talk to cookery icon Delia Smith about her 50 years of food writing. Autumn’s chills bring cravings for hearty food like mac ‘n’ cheese (four of them!) and slow-cooked casseroles. We cook seasonally with mushrooms, pumpkin and quinces – and don’t miss our luscious chocolate fudge pecan pie, spectacular Halloween cake and more. Plus, there’s an extra 16-page mini-mag of the best biscuit recipes from iced party rings to chocolate Viennese swirls. As Delia would say “Let’s be ‘aving you!”