A Conversation With… Rosemary Shrager
A Conversation With… Rosemary Shrager

A Conversation With… Rosemary Shrager

Many people will know Rosemary Shrager from shows like Rosemary Shrager's School for Cooks, What’s Cooking and, most recently, Cooking With The Stars. Others will be fans of her numerous cookbooks. Now, the esteemed chef is turning her hand to crime novels. Her first, The Last Supper, was published earlier this year, and there are already another two in the works. We sat down with her to talk more about her career, the ups and downs along the way, and why she has no intention of slowing down as yet…

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Originally, I studied interior design. I went to art college for five years, doing layouts and technical drawings – things like that. Back then it used to be more of a route into architecture. In truth, I was never that good at it. I was more of fine artist, but the school convinced me interior design was more commercial. After college, I went to work for some architects in the city for about 18 months, but I quickly realised it wasn’t for me. When I was at home, I was cooking all the time and I knew that was what I should be doing.

After leaving architecture, I started catering odd dinners here and there. But really, I had to learn to cook properly. I thought I had a certain amount of knowledge but once you start catering, as opposed to just cooking at home, you find it’s quite a different animal. I used to buy all the food from Harrods, for example, so it soon dawned on me that the margin might be quite small! I was also raising two children at the time, so it was full-on.

I like to think I was the original Julie in Julie & Julia. I was the person getting up early to try and master French cooking – I was practising dishes from her book at 3am, putting things in the oven, taking them out and starting again. Eventually, I realised I need to seek out some proper expertise, which is when I started visiting butchers to learn how to prepare meat and fishmongers to understand how to deal with fish. I was essentially undertaking an apprenticeship – but on my own!


Then, I started getting on-the-ground experience in gastro pubs. I continued with the catering on the side, and soon, my husband and I moved to Cornwall, which is where I ended up working with Jean Christophe Novelli who had just arrived at the Nansidwell House Hotel. We’re still really good friends to this day. It was only then – with 20 years of cooking already behind me – that I really went for it in terms of making it my career. It was during this time I also worked with people like Michel Guérard – it was the new wave of cuisine gourmand, that was my era. 

Obviously, most of what I know now I learnt on the job. And on reflection, there’s no way I could have worked the way I did if I didn’t have help at home – but I loved my work, so we made it work. From there, I decided to open my own restaurant in Falmouth. Sadly, it closed before it ever had the chance to get started – mainly because my husband’s business went under, and we lost everything. That’s when I went to work for the Mountbatten family and ended up in France doing work and more training out there. 

Everything I know about food has come from other people and places – it’s why I’m so passionate about young people and getting them into apprenticeships. I never had a mentor – even though I consider Pierre Koffman my personal hero. It would have been wonderful to have something really instructional, all in one place, which I could have accessed to get to grips with it all.

Working as hard as I did in those early years meant I’ve missed out on other things. But really, it was just a question of getting on. After I came back from France in the late 90s, I decided to get a job in the Western Isles of Scotland, which is when I went to Amhuinnsuidhe Castle. I was there for six years before I joined Swinton Park for a further ten.



By this time, Channel 5 had already coming knocking. I’d already been on the Food & Drink show on the BBC and by 2001, I’d started writing my cookbook. Channel 5 then came to film me up at the castle to tie it in with the release of the book. Incredibly, the series got renewed three times – although I always used to say I was their best kept secret; very few people had Channel 5 back then. I love TV and being in front of the camera – it feels very natural. I think I’m a bit of a born entertainer. It’s why I love doing live cooking demos on stage too; it’s so much fun. 

Rosemary Shrager's School for Cooks was designed to help people learn to cook. It’s something I feel is missing these days – people need to get into the nitty gritty of cooking if they want to get better. Thankfully, people seem to be very receptive to real information now – that’s why I do my cook-along classes. I really feed off people, so it’s very rewarding. I wish I’d had something similar available when I was learning that could really teach me what I needed to know. I hope more television is in my future – I’m really enjoying doing Cooking With The Stars right now – and I don’t want people to think I’m too long in the tooth yet. 

The Last Supper was born out of my love for murder mysteries. Agatha Christie, Midsummer Murders – I love it all, especially the cosy kind! It’s what inspired me to give writing one a go. When my book agent Heather – who had worked on my cookbooks – suggested I write a murder mystery, I jumped at the chance. This was the beginning of the pandemic, and I couldn’t believe it when the premise for The Last Supper was accepted by the publisher. I absolutely did not have a ghost writer, but like my approach to cooking, I did enlist some help from someone who could teach me a bit about narrative structure. It was still a new avenue for me, and it seemed smart to get some outside perspective on building a convincing story that successfully ties up all the loose ends. 

Releasing a book is pretty daunting. Crime fiction is a very crowded market, and I was nervous that people might not take me seriously. I can be quite eccentric and larger-than life in person, so I hoped people would appreciate the work. This year, I’m speaking at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in July to discuss the book and it’s nerve-wracking to say the least. I’m on the same billing as people like Val McDermid, so it’s a real honour. It isn’t normal to be invited for a debut novel. 

I hope the book speaks to two audiences at once. Crime fans yes, but also foodies. It definitely has a cooking angle to it – although I kick myself that I made a mistake when it comes to the rhubarb. I said ‘cut’ but you should never cut rhubarb. You should twist and pull it instead. I suppose it proves we’re all fallible in the kitchen!

The second book is close to being finished. My contract is for three, and it’s my intention to set them all in places that are familiar to me. That’s why the first is in The Cotswolds (Lower Slaughter is one of the villages mentioned), the second will be in Yorkshire and the third in Cornwall. A lot of both books is also fictionalised, but I think it’s important to have some real references in there so people feel connected to the story. It’s my dream that the series gets extended to six – that way we could take it abroad to places like France and Italy. 

Before you ask, I have zero intention of slowing down any time soon. It would only make me old. As long as I have a mind to use, I will – I firmly believe all this work will keep me young. The only thing is I need to build in a bit more recovery these days. Right now, I could do with a holiday – especially after the last two years!

Rosemary Shrager will appear at Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, taking place from 21st-24th July. Her novel ‘The Last Supper' (Constable) is out now.

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