Weekend Interview: Former Michelin Starred Chef Frances Atkins Talks About Her New Venture
Frances Atkins with her team at her new venture: (L-R) John Tullett, Stuart Townsend( owner of Daleside Nurseries & MD), Frances Atkins and Roger Olive
There is a phrase in French: Pour manger bien il faut savoir attendre
. To eat well, you have to know how to wait.
In some ways that is apt for the opening today of Paradise Food, a new lakeside café at Daleside Nursery, Killinghall, on the outskirts of Harrogate.
Some of us have patiently been waiting for today as fans of Frances Atkins, the former Michelin Starred chef at the Yorke Arms in the beautiful village of Ramsgill.
Also apt because Frances’ concept is about eating well; this top chef has also been inspired by French cuisine throughout her professional career.
Frances tells me that her new ethos is about freedom without restrictions.
“What people are looking for today is simplicity and a secure space and that’s what we have been developing here. When the weather is good our guests can sit by the lake and eat simple well-cooked local food.”
“What I want to create is really enjoyable super food without all the complex paraphernalia that can go with these things.”
Hear! Hear! I say to that. I like travelling around the north trying all kinds of gastronomic delights and I do see quite a few chefs tied down to same old, same old, clinging on to what they know best without being able to fully change.
That is what has driven taster menus, which I dislike, a point I’m pleased Frances agrees with. How many times do you think: what is this I am eating and what’s it all about?
“I am sick and tired of over ornate food, different plates of paraphernalia. You can make a plate look beautiful, simplistic and taste wonderful without it.”
“Isn’t it better to have a lovely dish of fresh leaves, a beautiful dressing and a nice, chilled glass of Sicilian wine?”
Frances is preaching to the converted with me and I talk about how these days we all want to get the subtlety of flavours.
I mention she is on trend as people are eating much more plant-based food. However, Frances looks at me and says she does not like that hackneyed term.
“It is a bit overdone. Because obviously we use a lot of vegetables anyway.
“We are still going to serve lovely food because it is in our DNA. We don’t want to overcomplicate but rather let the ingredients speak for themselves,” she says.
Frances also wants to make it an all-round enjoyable experience not only for her guests but also for her service team. She wants to create the best service, laid back, but not too much, making the guests feel comfortable and enjoy the experience. This is her new take on dining.
“We want to produce an experience that people will take home in their memory. People remember when they have had a lovely meal. People remember a sensation, a taste or a pleasant experience because they want to replicate it and come again or even try it at home.”
We are thrilled to be finally opening and very excited about our location, many people are unaware of the beautiful lake which sits behind the nursery, and it’s a stunning location for the new Café. We’ll be offering dine in for breakfast and lunch, and evening ‘take away’ meals to enjoy at home. We very much see the Café as something that will become a much-loved neighbourhood spot.
“As you can see, Andrew, we have a simplistic but relaxing design inside the restaurant and we have all these plants around because our ethos is the same as Daleside Nursery. They grow everything themselves, obviously importing a few of their tropical plants, but they don’t fill their stalls up with barbeques or other things. They are about plants, and we are about fresh food.”
I ask about the menu, which will be seasonal and encompass locally grown produce. All the dishes are freshly cooked to order
“You can hopefully have what you want. We have a ‘special’ every day that comes with a nice glass of wine. And we also have a backbone of vegan vegetarian, meat and fresh fish dishes.”
She shows me the menu and the lime and ginger seared scallops, artichoke, potato and apple take my eye along with the avocado, tomato, artichoke, feta celery, cucumber, mixed leaf and Japanese dressing or the white onion and fennel soup with paradise bread. Enough to be going on with.
The feel of the Café will be relaxed, friendly and all about quality. Our food is all made to order and from British producers. It will be seasonally led – fresh, nourishing and full of flavour, with many of the herbs and vegetables coming straight from our own Paradise Garden and Daleside Nurseries.
“The flavours should marry. It should not be a ridiculous combination where you think how is that going to work? The flavours are tried and tested.”
Frances has a horror of seeing too much food on a plate and will not be serving big portions.
“I think you can always come back for more and it has to be enough to satisfy. It’s about getting balance at the end of the day.”
Another innovation is the Friday night private dining and take away.
“We all have special occasions and there are still fabulous restaurants that are amazing offering the complex dining. What I am doing is different. You could come every day Andrew or take it away for home. We are quite happy to do take away.”
This new restaurant is a culmination of her cooking experience. She modestly says: “We all develop through experiences. When we are younger, we think we have amazing ideas, when in fact some can be quite appalling, but you think they are good because you are young. Experience dictates that you are not quite as clever as you thought you were.
“We are jumping into an unknown quantity. What helped was The Wagon.”
During lockdown, the team had a shiny Airstream food wagon in the car park at Daleside Nurseries. Frances was not going to let Covid get in the way and she and her team saw The Wagon as a terrific way of utilising their strengths and talents. People were happy to come outside because it was in the fresh air.
“I think with the experience of the wagon, whereby we had to put and use a lot of chopped and raw vegetables with our hot meat, because of space, and it went down very well. We used different dressings and things which I have tried to incorporate into this new form of cooking.”
As to the name - Paradise Food - it was a little bit of “naughtiness.”
“Our thinking. was to create a green plant café, slightly better than average and wanted guests to have a pleasant experience.
As we have been talking John Tullet who has been working with Frances for over twenty years, mainly as frequent visitors to the Yorke Arms will remember, as a superb Maître d', brings me a coffee. He has a good memory, attention to detail is everything if you are front of house. Roger Olive has also joined Frances in the kitchen and has been collaborating with her for over thirty years.
Everything is ready to go and with such an experienced team if something does go wrong, they will know how to remedy it quickly.
I ask her why she keeps on going.
“A lot of people ask me that and why I work long hours. Well, that doesn’t matter. It is like an artist painting a picture, they paint until they have finished because that is what they need to do. They paint until it is finished. The best reward is someone saying, ‘that was absolutely fabulous I really enjoyed that.’ And that is a big deal to a chef not in an egotistical way just because that is their reward.
I don’t think there is any worry on that score. There are plenty of bookings from her fans that regularly visited the Yorke Arms for which she is “really appreciative."
As I take my leave Frances tells me that French cuisine has played a big part in influencing and inspiring her long career. She has veered to many French chefs for the artistry and creativity and an admiring nod towards their culture. She admired Raymond Blanc when she was starting out and he as creating creative and stylish food.
And chatting to Frances in such a relaxed style it is clear to see and hear how she has been influenced along the way.
That leaves me just enough time before the doors open to say bon appétit et bonne chance
Opening will be 6 days a week from 9am to 5pm. (closed on Mondays)
Telephone: 01423 755196
Address: Daleside Nurseries, Ripon Road,
Killinghall, Harrogate HG3 2AY
The new Paradise Café will seat up to 60 inside and out onto their terrace space, ensuring everyone feels comfortable.
Paradise Café will also cater for Private Dinners and Parties – with more information on this to come later.