The Lancashire born celebrity chef Marcus Wareing is returning to his home county as part of his new BBC 2 series, “Tales from a Kitchen Garden".
Premiering at the end of the month, the show follows the michelin-starred chef as he travels across the country to discover the secrets of planting, rearing livestock and growing vegetables to help him transform his new small holding in East Sussex.
A chef who is used to working in high end restaurants, this is Marcus's first time venturing into the world of farming and growing, as he hopes to discover the very best produce different parts of the country have to offer, including Lancashire's prime lamb.
Speaking to the Post, Marcus, who was born in Southport when it was still a part of Lancashire, explains how his love of cooking began here in the county.
Marcus also of Master Chef and Great British Menu fame, said: “I grew up in then northwest, Southport and what inspired me to be a chef was basically spending time with my father, who was a merchant in fruit and veg, and my brother, a chef, so cheffing was the job that always interested me the most.
"I enjoyed working in Southport and the catering college that I went to, and then that catering college got me into London, so I was very lucky to to get the opening door from that Southport college into the Savoy and that's what changed my life.”
During his career, Marcus has worked in some of London's top restaurants, including the Savoy Hotel, and Le Gavroche, as well as restaurants in New York, Amsterdam and Paris, and ran many of his own, including L’Oranger, and Petrus with Gordon Ramsey, and Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, The Gilbert Scott and Tredwells independently.
However in the eighth episode of his new series, Marcus returns to Lancashire, “where it all began” in order to collect sheep for his small holding, citing lamb as his favourite meat.
When asked why he returned, Marcus replied: “I wanted to find a type of sheep that was a little bit different, with great fat content, great flavour, and the Lonk sheep was one of them, and because I lived in Lancashire as a boy, going around all the different farms with my father or his workmen, I used to see sheep everywhere, so it seemed like the right place and the most obvious place to go there to for that particular ingredient.”
Marcus visited a farm in Pendleton, ran by brothers James and Robert Whitwell, who rear Lonk sheep, a rare, large breed who are famed for their delicious meat.
Marcus said: "The two brothers reminded me of my dad and his brother, two guys running the family business that was passed down from their father, and it’s two husbands and wives, kids everywhere, living on the job, living for the job, and it's all they know, they were just very humble, incredibly hard working people.
“It was a pleasure to go back because it's a countryside that I recognise, and meeting the people, the families and the farmers, it's a reminder of where you’re from, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I've never forgotten where I'm from, and all my family still live back in the northwest, so it's still very close to my heart. Even though I don't go back much, I still know where I'm from, and I love that. I enjoy discovering new things too but I think in a ten part series, it's always important that in at least one of them you can visit where you're from.”
Found in Lancashire and Yorkshire, the Lonk sheep is unique to other breeds as they are bred longer, having more chance to eat good pasture and exercise, which gives the lamb meat more flavour and lower fat content.
The Lonk sheep are still housed at Marcus' Little Sussex holding, and are soon awaiting their fate as to whether they will be eaten or bred, and Marcus says it gives him "pride" to know the best variety of sheep comes from his home county, and that he is able to bring a bit of Lancashire back with him.
Marcus commented: “It could have been from Mars, it doesn't doesn't have to be from Lancashire, I just believe that some of the best lamb is from Lancashire and there's not a lot of produce that comes out of Lancashire but Lamb is one of those obvious things, so for me it was an easy choice.
"But there's definitely more I want to do. I'll be returning to Lancashire to see what other things are there because I left as a teenager, so I don't really know where I'm from."
As well as visiting Lancashire, Marcus's new show takes him around the entire country, as he, and the audience learn about what goes into food production, and get tips on how to get the best out of every ingredient.
Speaking more about the show, Marcus added: "All of this is a learning curve for me, so Lonk sheep are just one product that I had not heard of, but I'm looking for an education, to try to understand how the farming industry works, so I want to highlight that industry across different sectors across the country, but also take away the stigma that cookery is difficult, cookery if very straightforward when you've got great ingredients and you're confident.
"I'm trying to show that in my back garden, when I'm cooking, I'm the same as anyone else. What you see on that programme, is me going through a learning journey, and I'm taking the viewer with me, because I want the viewer to be a better cook.
"People will see a different side to what I do, and a different side to me as a person outside of a professional kitchen because I've never shown that before, so it's going to be really interesting to see what people think of me in this whole new world, and this journey is just the beginning of what I want to do. I want to continue this around the country, and even abroad.
"I've got no problems with getting hands on, where I’m from, we work incredibly hard, so I want to get stuck in and get cooking, get growing, get farming, and I'll work with anyone to try and understand how people's worlds work, and to can expose how hard it is and the importance of buying local wherever we can- it's not all about Sainsbury's and Tescos."
The ten part series is running across two weeks Mon-Fri from Monday 28th February on BBC Two at 6.30pm each night.
As well as visiting various locations, most of the show is filmed at his east Sussex home, Melfort House, the same location in which Marcus wrote his latest book, Marcus' Kitchen, which can be purchased here.
Images and video courtesy of BBC and Plimsoll Productions.