Larging it with chef Rosemary

Rosemary Shrager

Rosemary Shrager

First published in News

Rosemary Shrager has a bee in her chef's hat about the lack of trendy clothes for larger ladies. Maxine Gordon meets the larger-than-life TV cook at her North Yorkshire home.

ROSEMARY Shrager lets out a deep sigh and her face scrunches into a withering look of despair.

It's the sort of end-of-her-tether moment that viewers might have witnessed on the recent TV show, Ladettes To Ladies, where Rosemary and her colleagues had to reform a rabble of rowdy twenty-somethings.

But the source of Rosemary's ill humour today isn't the rude behaviour of some wayward young women - it's her wardrobe.

Or rather the clothes that line the three rails in a spare room of her home in Masham.

With irritation, she rifles through the wire hangers, looking for her favourite pieces.

"Horrible, horrible, old fashioned, yuk," she says, dismissing jacket after jacket in quick succession.

Then her face lights up. She hauls out a soft, velvet-like, tunic-length shirt in a warm purple. "Now, this is the sort of thing I like."

Quickly she pinpoints another long shirt, this time in an oatmeal linen.

She readily admits she's happier in her chef whites, or wearing casual clothes. When we meet, she is dressed in a pink cashmere round-neck sweater with a long brown skirt and shooting-style gilet. There is a weathered Barbour jacket hanging over the chair in her cosy kitchen. In the utility room, half a dozen white tunics from her cookery school at nearby Swinton Park Hotel are airing.

"I have to think about clothes all the time," says Rosemary, who is not allowed to wear chef whites for much of her TV work. "When I am on the Alan Titchmarsh show, I have to wear something different every week. That show runs for ten or 14 weeks at a time, so that is a lot of clothes."

Rosemary, who is in her mid-50s and has two grown-up children and two grandchildren, says she knows the sort of clothes she would love to wear, but they are difficult to find.

"I like very simple stuff. I am a big lady, so I like to keep myself streamlined. I like to wear a straight skirt and I don't like dark colours. They are quite ageing."

Her favourite clothes come from Marina Rinaldi, which she buys in London, Julie Fitzmaurice, from Harrogate, and Evans, for high-street staples. Recently, she's been wearing a couple of pieces from on-line retailer Eric Hill, and among her best-loved pieces are items from Dawn French's collection.

"I am big built and I have had problems finding clothes all my life," says Rosemary. "People think that because of my size I don't want to look exciting or sexy. If you are fat, everyone thinks you are old-fashioned; that you have lost it. But you still want to be trendy and fun - it's just so difficult to find clothes.

"It's really difficult to get big sizes that look lovely. I'd love to start my own range of clothes for bigger sizes. I know what's right for me: casual, but smart, and clothes that make you feel comfortable. I don't want skirts that are bulky, or clothes that are shiny, but things that are nicely shaped. And good bras. And sexy nighties. Want to find a nice, silk nightie? You must be joking!"

With a cookery school to run, a new series of School For Cooks to film and a new cook book (her first for seven years) to finish, Rosemary has enough on her plate without tackling the fashion industry.

But only a fool would bet against Rosemary not doing something once she has set her mind to it.

Working hard is Rosemary's primary occupation, and advancing her career is her top priority.

"I have missed every family wedding, everything that is going on with my family," she says candidly. "I have missed a social life for the last number of years. I have had to dedicate my life to work and reinvent my life."

Rosemary's incredible drive stems from the fact that in the recession of the early 1990s, she and her husband lost everything when his business failed.

"We lost the house, everything," she said. "We only managed to salvage a few pieces of furniture. Basically we had to start again."

Rosemary came to professional cooking relatively late - she was in her 30s when she got her big break, working with Jean-Christophe Novelli. "I've been cooking all my life and loved cooking as a child when I used to enter cookery competitions," she said.

"But I also enjoyed art, so went to art college. I ended up working for an architects in the City, doing technical drawings, but I was dreadful at it."

She quit and set up her own catering firm, only to realise that if she wanted to be proper cook, she had to work from the bottom up by getting a job in a restaurant kitchen.

"I have spent the last 30 years learning how to cook," says Rosemary.

"Every job I went in to, I had to learn, and learn fast. I learned from books, or working on the hoof. I worked long hours - 18 hours a day, that's how I got on."

Rosemary is now passing on her knowledge in the ITV series School For Cooks, a variation on Masterchef, where enthusiastic amateurs battle it out for a work placement at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Rosemary is filming a new series at Swinton Park and the new cookery book ties in with the show. Out in September, it will feature recipes from the programme. Unlike Delia's How To Cheat, this book, says Rosemary, is for people who actually want to cook.

"Cook books seem to be going so simple now," she says. "But there are real foodies out there who want to know how to cook and want to know how to do things."

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