Rosemary's Blog

Chill out at the West Dean Chilli Fiesta

In my previous life, i.e as a working girl in Sussex, this weekend would have been All Systems Go as it is the annual celebration of all things hot in the way of capsicums - the Chilli Fiesta at West Dean Gardens near Chichester.

I’ve lost count of how many Fiestas there have now been. I was there at the first, a single afternoon event, and then almost annually until I’d notched up 20 chilli-head celebrations. That was enough, but it was great to have been a part of such an incredible success. This year, 2018, will be sweetly spiced for the gardeners and creators of the Fiesta, Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain. They retire from West Dean at the end of March ‘19, indeed the day after Brexit. Within 48 hours our ‘world’ will change beyond belief. Let’s hope that whoever comes after them will know a bit about chillies!

We were all so young!

We were all so young!

Look, I’ve hardly aged at all! I saw that necklace and had to have it!

Look, I’ve hardly aged at all! I saw that necklace and had to have it!

The Cookery Theatre is always very popular at shows and I see that when I took this picture, making the audience wait for their tasters, I was pairing a Paul John whisky from Goa in India with my Vanilla scented prawns with pasta and chillies. I do remember it being a great success! Occasionally there was a few minutes between dems for me to have a quick look around.


Then there was the year that Levi Roots came to perform on stage and to promote his sauces. Poor guy wiped his fingers on his handkerchief after dealing with naga chillies, then wiped his eyes with the same hankie. What a pro: he got through the dem (with my help of course) but went straight to the St John tent afterwards. He was ok but do take care. Freshly picked chillies are actually hotter  in higher tempoeratures, a warning for this year Down South.

I must have demonstrated almost 200 chilli dishes at West Dean. The ice cream we served at the first event was mango and chilli. Subsequent favourites have been Coconut, white chocolate and chilli, and Dark chocolate and chilli. I firmly believe that fresh chillies are the only way to make a good chilli ice cream: there are some Dreadful concoctions made with dried ones. There’s also a lovely summer stir-fry or salad of Chilli squid and prawns with baby carrots and radishes with sunflower seeds, and a favourite dish for winter of Kale with chick peas, chillies and pine nuts.

Grace Mulligan - grace in name and nature

We have only decorated one room in our new home so far. We wallpapered it and, owing to the shading of the pattern, made a bad job of the joins behind the door. An easy solution to avert the eye from our inadequate skills was to make a collage of photos of my career so far and there, right in my eyeline, is a picture of my friend and colleague Grace Mulligan and I on a Guild of Food Writers trip to Venice. Grace, the beloved presenter of Yorkshire Television’s Farmhouse Kitchen series, died recently and was one of the kindest, most genuine people in the food writing and television cookery world. Unknown to many of today’s younger foodies, she was gentle, generous and graceful, both in name and in nature.


A doctor’s wife and mother to four children, Grace came to the notice of Yorkshire Television through her association with the WI, in much the same way as Ruth Mott, the presenter of The Victorian Kitchen, was ‘found’. In fact, the three of us once had a sugar-rush afternoon sampling frozen desserts together. The desserts weren’t so good but we shared a lot of laughs and some good gossip.

Grace was a proud Scot and a willing judge at my friend Anna’s Young Cook’s of Britain/FutureCooks competitions, judging the Glasgow heats despite being based in Goole where her husband was in practice. A great baker and champion of Scottish recipes and ingredients, Grace was also a no-nonsense family cook who was always up for a challenge.  I remember her leading a workshop on toffee apple making for children in a marquee at a food festival in Chichester that Anna and I ran. Risk assessments would probably preclude such an event now but Grace got the children through it safely and with a great sense of achievement at having mastered a really technical skill. While Grace was in Chichester for that event I remember her sheer delight when Anna’s husband took her for a spin in his recently acquired not-quite-vintage Mercedes convertible. I can see her now with a headscarf on and the widest of smiles, emerging slightly windswept from the passenger seat.

A holder of the Guild of Food Writer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Grace loved the Guild trips and was always great company. Apart from our glorious trip to Venice I particularly remember her at a sourdough workshop at the School of Artisan Food and also at a wonderful trip, just north of York, to an exquisite garden which also grew some produce for the owners gastro-pub. I also remember her at Billington’s Sugar events when un-refined sugar was newly widely available and we were all keen to assess the effect of it on the flavour of our baking. 

Grace was a kind host to anyone needing B&B and I particlularly remember her warmth and welcome when I became a Catholic as her faith was so important to her. She met me in York once and took me to a fascinating house run by a religious order where we ate in the cafe and toured the building rich in history from the time of the persecution of Catholics in York after the Reformation. After we split up to go our separate ways Grace had a bad fall and I felt awful that I didn’t know about it for several weeks. But that was Grace - she was never one to make a fuss.

My friend Grace was graceful, knowledgeable and unflappable - and the common link there is ‘able’. Which she most certainly was. 

The Advent of Antonio

I am not much given to hoarding but I am delighted to have kept an Advent calendar sent to Nick and I in 2003 by my friend Antonio Carluccio and his then wife Priscilla.  To have this with us for our first Advent in Orkney is a simple blessing, in an era when celebratory calendars for the season seem to have been completely taken over by present-stuffed indulgences. Grump over! This calendar is a lovely reminder of Antonio, who died suddenly In November. 

Read More