JUST ADD WATERS
WORDS: JANE SOOLE PICTURES: FINNBARR WEBSTER
MOVING to the country has turned into a real love affair for TV chef Lesley Waters.
Ready Steady Cook chef Lesley and her family turned their back on city life to take up residence at the Old Manor House in Evershot – a house they bought from Toyah and her husband Robert Fripp.
The beautiful house with its flagstone floors, capacious fireplaces and rooms and three rambling storeys features a Georgian front on a 1600s original building.
Lesley and her photographer husband Tim are gradually putting their own stamp upon it, with the help of their two small children, Isaac, seven and Scout, four, who revel in the space and excitement of it all.
They named Scout after a character in To Kill a Mocking Bird, but her second name is Tess and this chimes well with where they are now living and with Lesley’s new passion – Thomas Hardy’s novels.
His Tess is supposed to have walked through the village of Evershot/Everhead and they have a feeling that, all round, destiny had a hand in their move here.
“We have always liked buying big furniture and big pictures and it’s almost as though we were waiting to get into this house.”
Lesley says: “I still love London and I’m always happy to go but I always get a buzz when I get off the train at Yeovil Junction.”
For her husband, Tim, moving to west Dorset wasn’t far removed from his Devon country childhood, but for Lesley, who grew up in London, this pretty village in the heart of Dorset is a huge and delightful contrast.
“The day we moved in, I remember buying fantastic Dorset pasties and bread and cheese for everyone from the bakery – we have this wonderful bakery actually in the village, I can’t believe how lucky we are – and then waking up after our first night here, hearing the church bells. I will never ever forget it.
“Coming to live in the country for me has been a bit of a love affair. I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was having kids that drew us here but we all adore it.”
It’s good news for local food producers because Lesley is passionate about promoting local fare, using all she can in the way of Dorset ingredients.
“I will source locally wherever I can. Because I have been a chef for a long time, the more I’m in it, the more I go back to simple cooking with good quality ingredients. Pru was into doing good British food with a twist and she was a great pioneer for saying British food is great if it’s done well."
Pru is Pru Leith whose restaurant Lesley joined after her training, quickly being promoted to senior chef. She then worked as a freelance corporate chef and caterer for government officials before joining Leith’s School of Food and Wine as an instructor, rising to head teacher.
Her initial route was via three years studying French Cuisine at Ealing College, cooking in top hotels, and winning awards including a scholarship to the Hotel Intercontinental in Dusseldorf.
She has worked in television since 1989, when she was picked for Cable TV’s then new children’s cookery show. They wanted someone young, punky and funny and Lesley fitted the bill exactly, with her funky spiky hair, lots of street cred, oodles of zippy energy and humour and a gift for putting over the message to one and all that cooking is really good fun and it’s for everyone.
Her big break was the TV show Ready Steady Cook. "It appeals to all ages from children to grandparents and they all watch together and love it. It’s friendly; it demystifies cooking, bringing food into people’s living room and saying anyone can cook; we can all cook.
“It’s not about doing difficult dishes but more about people being able to say ‘that looks easy, I’m going to make that’. This is what it’s all about and there’s something liberating about helping people to become confident in the kitchen. Lots of people say ‘my husband never went into the kitchen until he saw the programme.’"
Her cooking style at present – for chefs, like all artists, go through different stages – is simplicity, where every taste counts.
“I have been in this business for a long time and I think the longer you’re in it, the more you go back to simple food but using really good quality ingredients.”
And her favourite food? “I love Spanish tapas and the whole thing about Spanish food. I’m a huge paella fan.”
After just publishing another book, she has a new project on the go which is taking her right back to her teaching roots, holding cookery presentation days in her lovely home.
“I am going to be doing something I have always loved – teaching. Teaching really is my main love and I also want to promote local produce which is so fantastic here.”
A new purpose-built teaching kitchen is taking shape, with an electric cooker, which intrigues me because there’s an Aga in the family kitchen.
“I need to be able to cook quickly,” she says, expertly flipping the onions in the air while preparing a bolognese for her children’s supper on the Aga.
"I am a bit of a fast cook and while the Aga is great for stews and baked potatoes it’s not really useful for me in my work. And I must admit the Aga and I are not quite gelling at present" she laughs "so I am going on an Aga cookery course. I’m trying really really hard and I’m getting better; everyone keeps telling me they’re fantastic but I’m not an Aga girl yet!".
How about the microwave? "I use the microwave for melting chocolate and getting butter to the right temperature and that’s about it!"
Guests won’t even have to pick up a spatula on Lesley’s cookery demonstration days. These are all about relaxing, watching, asking questions and sharing the fun of cooking with Lesley – for that, if it can be contained in a nutshell, is what her cooking is all about.
Guests, just 15 to 20 at a time, will enjoy pre-lunch canapes and champagne in the conservatory, overlooking the old garden, followed by lunch in the library.
For information about Lesley’s Cookery Demonstration Days contact 01344 841580 or visit Lesley Waters website