York foodie Sue Nelson went head to head with 25 of the nation’s best cooks on TV show The Taste. She tells MAXINE GORDON what it was like cooking under pressure for Nigella.
IT TURNED out to be a ton of work for just a few seconds on the telly. For weeks Sue Nelson perfected recipes, travelled the country and even did an NVQ in food hygeine in preparation for an appearance on Channel 4’s new cookery show, The Taste.
Sue, 57, runs Yorkshire Food Finder, a gourmet tour company, from her home at Wheldrake. She has been an enthusiastic cook all her adult life and was handpicked from 3,000 applicants to appear on the show.
The format was simple – three gourmands led by the domestic goddess herself, Nigella Lawson, judge “blind”the cooking of each contestant through one spoonful of food.
Sue knew that to get through to the next round she would have to impress.
She prepared cumin scallops with Panko-breadcrumbed chicken thigh nuggets and an onion cream – and admits it was a particular challenge to deliver the essence of the dish on one spoon.
“It was all about the impact of the flavour that you would get in one mouthful. It was a different way of cooking. With a plate of food, you take just a little bit of what you want, but when you try to get all these different flavours to explode in the mouth at the same time, that is very hard,” says Sue.
She thought she’d done enough, so was disappointed to hear the reactions of the judges, who failed to pick her for the next round.
“Nigella said the scallops were cooked perfectly and that not many people could cook them ‘a point’. She said I was a very accomplished cook.
But both the guys said there was too much cumin on the scallops.”
There was some comfort, though, on her exit. “On the programme, the guys said: ‘we are letting some very good cooks go’, and, according to the production team, that was about me,”says Sue.
Back home in North Yorkshire, Sue has already dusted off the disappointment and putting the positives she gained from the adventure into practice.
She will be running cookery demos this year, including at the Harrogate Spring Flower Show and the Great Yorkshire Show.
“My disappointment is short-lived.
It’s given me the impetus and made me realise a new opportunity,” she says.
Nigella, for the record, is “lovely”
and has a “fabulous complexion”, notes Sue. The filming took place before the celebrity cook’s recent court appearance, but after her public altercations with her ex-husband, Charles Saatchi.
Sue said: “She’s got a nice side to her and was very friendly and supportive.
Of course, the blokes were very, very positive about her.”
Nigella was right about Sue – she is an accomplished cook. As we chat, she rustles up some lunch, a recipe she is kindly sharing here today. It’s a smoked haddock mornay, but not just any fish in a cheesey sauce. The fish “was landed in Scarborough” and the cheese topping is local too, it’s Yorkshire Blue from Shepherds Purse creamery at Thirsk.
It’s based on a recipe from one of Sue’s favourite chefs, our very own Andrew Pern, of the Star Inn at Harome and the new Star In the City in York (Sue is known to ‘volunteer’ in the Star Inn kitchen just for the fun of it).
Sue’s food business celebrates everything local. It focuses on Yorkshire producers; she plans trails for tourists to discover the finest fare that the county has to offer.
Her love of cooking is evident in her family home. Her open-plan kitchen is lined with shelves laden with cookery books – 1,254 at the latest count, including her first, Cooking Is Fun, a Good Housekeeping edition she picked up as a schoolgirl in Beverley. (Her favourite is Black Pudding and Fois Gras, by, yes you’ve guessed it, Andrew Pern. Praise indeed).
Sue’s first career was in journalism.
She was once the news editor at The Press and still writes a weekly column on a Monday. Later, she moved into PR in the railways. It was at the time of a spate of accidents, including Great Heck, Hatfield and Potters Bar.
Sue worked closely with the families of the injured and bereaved. Coming home to cook, she says, was her stress-buster.
“Cooking was my therapy. When I came home from being on site at a rail accident, I’d flop into bed. The next day I’d cook; that was my way of unwinding and getting my head out of what was going on.”
• Find out more about Sue’s food trails at Yorkshirefoodfinder.org
Recipe: Yorkshire Blue smoked haddock mornay
300g natural dye smoked haddock loin, skinned
200g baby spinach leaves
250ml whipping cream
100ml ready made fish stock (Waitrose or similar)
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
A glug of dry sherry
Small leek, white part only
50g breadcrumbs (2 slices white bread)
75g Yorkshire Blue cheese (made by Shepherds Purse Cheese – available in Waitrose)
Generous handful of parsley, dill and chives, mixed
Knob of butter
Freshly grated nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 200C. Wilt the spinach, drain and cool. Finely chop the leek and sauté in a little butter. Set aside.
2. In a sauté pan reduce the cream, fish stock and sherry by half until it begins to thicken. Add the wholegrain mustard and the cooked leeks.
3. Check the haddock for pin bones and dice into cubes (2-3 cm).
4. Whiz the bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. Finely chop the herbs and add to the breadcrumbs. Set aside.
Crumble the Yorkshire Blue cheese and set aside.
5. Using your hands, squeeze all the liquid out of the spinach. Grate nutmeg over and put a layer of the spinach in the bottom of the dish.
6. Add the haddock to the cream mixture and cook gently for 3-4 minutes until the fish begins to go opaque. Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if required (note that the fish is likely to be salty already from the smoking process). Spoon the fish mixture into the dish on top of the spinach layer.
7. Add the breadcrumbs and herb mix to cover, and dot with the blue cheese. Bake in the hot oven for ten minutes until the cheese has melted and the breadcrumbs are crisp and golden.