Chef Frances Atkins of the Yorke Arms in Pateley Bridge at the Gastronomy Summit, New Delhi

PUBLISHED: 14:17 05 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:18 20 February 2013

Photography by Naina Redhu

Photography by Naina Redhu

Michelin-star chef and Yorkshire Life award-winner Frances Atkins talks to Annie Stirk about travelling to India to be part of the world's first Gastronomy Summit. Photography by Naina Redhu

Award-winning chef Frances Atkins may be used to cooking for high class clientele in some of the UKs best restaurants including her own Yorke Arms in Pateley Bridge, this years Yorkshire Life Food and Drink Restaurant award winner but recently shes also been cooking for people hungry to better themselves. At the end of September, Frances took the trip of a lifetime and travelled to three schools in New Delhi to see first hand how cooking is taught on the curriculum, showing off her own flair for food with a series of classroom cookery demonstrations.

The first school had a profound effect on me, says Frances. The kids had nothing, but they were all looking for a chance to further their education.

One story in particular deeply moved Frances and was indicative of how education including cookery has bettered the lives of many children in India. One boy had been dumped on a railway line as a child but was saved and taken to the school, she says. Now, aged 14, he has really thrived and is highly articulate. All the children there were hungry to better themselves.

Francess inspiring four-day trip was part of the worlds first Gastronomy Summit, organised by the Creative Services Support Group (CSSG) a non-profit organisation that promotes Indian creativity globally with a focus on 13 sectors, including dance, opera, fashion, music, film and food and this first summit sought to bring about a cultural exchange between the UK and India, exploring the social and economic influences of gastronomy on the infrastructure of a city and its community.

As one of six world class Michelin-star chefs to attend the event (and one of only six females chefs in the UK to hold such an award) Frances gave a lecture about emancipation in the kitchen and the so called glass ceiling, but was also keen to be involved in a scheme to establish mentor chefs for talented Indian school pupils.

Cooking is part of the curriculum at some of the schools and the idea is to encourage individuals who have a talent, says Frances. The hope is that cookery schools in the UK could help by offering scholarships to these young people, to come and learn so that they can go back to their country to give back to their communities.

The people are just amazing in India, adds Frances. There is such a vibrant culture, with everyone so interested in life and with such a desire to achieve.

Frances, who has been head chef at the historic 18th century coaching inn, The Yorke Arms, for nine years, was able to show off her own vibrant talent at the summit too. And, while shes more famous, perhaps, for her Crab Pottage, she was called upon to cook up three sweet treats for 250 guests at a charity dinner, and in so doing, help raise money for a new school.

The pre-dessert a Verbena Pannacotta, Rose Petal Jelly and Pistachio Vacherin was followed by Caramel, Blackcurrant and Liquorice Chilled Mousse with Poppy Seed Feuillentine, and then petits fours of Chocolate and Marshmallow Truffle. It was quite a challenge to make the puddings, says Frances. Not least because they dont have fresh milk in India and the poppy seeds were white and not black.

Despite this, Frances says she was inspired by the cuisine during her stay and learned plenty of techniques to take back with her. I loved the spicing, and it was a constant element in the food from breakfast through to dinner, she says.

For breakfast, I might have kedgeree with a whole range of superb breads and flavoured teas; for lunch, little dumplings with spiced okra and for dinner, a mix of mutton curries and spiced breads. I met someone on the flight out, who couldnt wait to get back home for a curry and having been to India I really understand that feeling now your palate really gets used to the spicing.

While Frances has won many plaudits from top critics such as Jay Rayner and Giles Coren, who called her restaurant almost perfect, its her trip to India that has left the greatest impression. And, with plans in the pipeline for a new cookery school in New Delhi, shes keen to go back.

All the schools had a great vibrancy with the pupils wanting to learn and really keen to improve, says Frances. But of the three schools, it was the one dedicated to development and learning which touched my heart the most. I was moved by the serenity of the teachers and I would love to be more involved it was very humbling.

I didnt appreciate how much I would be sold on India, she adds. But I was so impressed by the people and by their unique outlook on life, which overrode all the poverty.

Words by Annie Stirk

Photography by Naina Redhu

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