For many, Frances Atkins and fine Yorkshire food go hand in hand. The former owner and (more recently) head chef of The Yorke Arms was awarded her first Michelin star in 2003, which at the time made her Britain’s first female Michelin-starred chef.
More recently, however, national and local lockdowns have changed the way we eat out, and as a result the hospitality industry has suffered. The Yorke Arms was one of many restaurants forced to diversify – the former Michelin-starred, ivy-clad coaching inn is now a venue for hire – and as a result, in August, Frances set up Paradise Foods, alongside John Tullett and Roger Oliver, two of her former colleagues. The venture offers a combination of bespoke seasonal hampers, private dining and food-to- go – from a converted Airstream stationed at Daleside Nursery in Killinghall.
Although it sees Frances at the helm of an entirely different kitchen, her love for fresh, British produce still evidently shines through. Whilst many restaurateurs are apprehensive in these testing times, Frances’ enthusiasm for creating an exciting and relevant way to enjoy good food is undimmed.
Tell me about your relationship with food. Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work within the food industry?
I’ve been one of those very fortunate people, I’ve never had a problem with knowing what I wanted to do when I left school, or indeed, well before that. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I say this all the time, but when I was about eight or nine, I started a café in my front garden.
What are your thoughts on the food industry now?
I’ve seen a lot of change, and we’re in very exciting times now. Because of Covid-19 and Brexit, and with people more concerned about their health, food is changing. Although I think hospitality has been hit very hard, a lot of positive and exciting things will come out of it. I feel versatility in our business is the name of the game. This is a time for us (and we won’t have a lot of choice about it) to concentrate on using British produce. Tasty, nutritional and fun food is what I hope is going to be the result, and that’s what we’re doing [with Paradise Foods] – two of my former colleagues and myself. We’ve bought our wagon because it’s cost effective for us at the moment, and we’re hoping we can spread the word, as well as enjoy what we’re doing.
You’ve been in the industry a long time. Is this one of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Definitely. Never before has there been a world pandemic, and of course, we’re leaving the EU, which means we’re not going to have all of these great, different foods coming in from miles away. We’re going to have to be self-sufficient and use our own. I take the positive view about it; I think now is the time for people to get creative – British produce has diversity and quality.
Do you think you always intended to move on from The Yorke Arms to something new at some point?
Yes, I am never going to stop working. I was born to cook, and I love to cook, I’ll not stop for as long as I’m allowed to. I don’t think it was my intention, but circumstances happened and that’s life. You have to take the positive view.
It was lockdown that prompted the end of your time at the Yorke Arms – how did you find that?
The beauty of being a chef is that you’re always onto your next dish. You’re always looking for something new, something different. There comes a time in all of our lives, when you know it’s time to move on – and time to go back to basics. Very fortunately I had two colleagues – one I’d worked with for 20 years and one for 30 – and we decided now was the time to start again together.
You don’t like using the term takeaway. How do you like to describe Paradise Foods?
We produce two things; food on-the-go, which is great, fresh food that’s made to order, using good British produce. We also do hampers – they’re for that special dinner at home – that you just have to warm in the oven. It’s better than a takeaway – it’s skilled food, beautifully presented, but the work is done for you. A takeaway, for me, is maybe a burger, while this is food that’s designed to be good for you, for you to enjoy. A long time ago, at The Yorke Arms, we were one of the first people to start ‘restaurants with rooms.’ At the time, there wasn’t even a category for that in any of the guides, we were one of the first. We were a leader, and I hope we’re doing the same thing now with our food on-the-go.
What kind of thing can we see on the menu?
One of the most popular dishes is crispy duck with our own relishes and fresh raw vegetables. We have seasonal turkey, chestnut and cranberry wraps at the moment too. We have our own cured salmon with shrimps and compressed cucumber and turmeric jelly, and quince, almond and chocolate tarts. We pride ourselves on saying that you could eat from our wagon all the time, and always have something different and something fresh.
What do you make in-house?
We make everything – we buy nothing in. We make our own tomato sauce, ketchup, pestos, herb relishes, apple relishes. If you come and have breakfast with us, we smoke our own sausages and serve them in our own sourdough rolls. I’m very fussy about sourdough, it can sometimes taste too sour and fermented. We make our starters from apple ferment, so it’s a gentle starter and therefore our bread is also a bit special!
Just a few months in, how do you feel about Paradise Foods so far?
It’s been good. We opened in August. At that time, we were boiling hot, now we’re freezing cold. It’s just a question of layers! It’s a great experience, and something that’s different. The nicest thing is when people come back and say I really enjoyed that, thank you very much. We’re a humble wagon, and that’s very nice to know. Hopefully, we’ll progress into next year and the food will become more exciting. I’m very much looking forward to it.
A good rock salt, it draws out the flavour from things – used responsibly of course.
Some great bread, really super bread, and savoury butter.
The next place on your list to visit for a really amazing meal?
That’s a big question, I want to go to so many places. I’d like to go to Heckfield Place – I love their ethos and philosophy. I think Syke Gyngell is a great chef.
Favourite way to spend a day off?
Walking on the hills with my dogs.