Friday, 20 May 2011

Sliding doors, Tony Wilson & Gourmet Nights

Someone recently tweeted about sliding doors moments, how one decision or moment can change so much, or not.  It reminded me of a couple of times in my life where I missed a foodie sliding doors moment.

I was studying A levels at college, but had no commitment to what I was doing.  The principal asked to see me after being caught trampolining instead of being in a maths lesson.  After a long chat about my sporadic attendance and lack of focus, he suggested I switch to the catering BTEC as it would probably suit someone like me with an interest in food.  I thought it was a daft idea, to pursue a low status job with crappy hours and pay (I was 17, it was 1986, people thought Thatcher was a good idea...).  I ended up dropping out later that year anyway and didn't go to university until five years later.

I went on to study Sociology at Salford Uni, which has always been my academic passion (the only lesson I ever fully attended).  And I was quite good at it.  I got a post graduate offer from Manchester Uni, so as far I was concerned, that was my career path.  I was going to do a masters degree, become a sociologist and do research. 

Except there was a slight niggle in my plan.  I had started to love food and cooking to an obsessional level, and had a best friend with the same interests.  We hatched a plan to start a vegetarian food company and started testing out some dishes.  One weekend, we set up a stand at a local festival.  Our first customer wandered over as we busied ourselves with our Greek inspired platters. We looked up to see Tony Wilson.  I realise his name may mean nothing to those under a certain age, but if you are Mancunian or familiar with the 90s music scene, this man, Anthony H Wilson, is a total legend!     

He was opening this first Unity festival, which later went on to become Chorlton Music Festival.  So in a rather surreal moment, we put together a meze plate for him and he tucked in.  He told us that we were very talented cooks and we should do this for a job.  Then he wandered off to start the gig.

This is the reason I want to buy this picture for my restaurant:

The following week I was camping in rural France, taking some time out to think about what to do.  No-one in my family had ever been to university at that point.  I was proud of my academic achievements after a disastrous time at school.  I also loved doing research.  But I loved food too. 

I think the other consideration for me at that time was that it was my friends idea.  The business plan was more her style of food than mine.  I had also learned from my dad that it can be a risky business to go into partnership with a close friend.  So I phoned her and said I was going to take the post grad place at Manchester. 

I don't think I have ever regretted my decision.  I have loved my job as a researcher and over the years have worked with some amazing and committed people.  I also love our NHS and feel proud to have committed so many years to trying to help make it the best it can be.  The flexibility of research jobs means I have also had great opportunities to take time off to travel.  It's truly been a great job.  But it's definitely time for me to leave now.  I need time to focus on developing dishes and menus, and to extend my own skills and experience.  It's also really difficult to compartmentalise trying to do both, but I'm hoping that going part time will make this easier.

So what am I doing next...

Next week, Thurs 9pm, I'm going to be on BBC Manchester radio Gourmet Night with Matt White, talking to one of the final 3...  should be fun!

Going back to Ottolenghi in June for a week, so I'm really looking forward to working with Becky and the team again.

I'm also talking to some people about doing some dining events, more street food inspired dishes, so I'm working really hard on developing some new ideas and menus.


  1. nice story Jackie, I wish you well

  2. really interesting stuff! good luck with it all :-)