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Here’s cooking with you Karen Steele from The Star Inn at Ingatestone

PUBLISHED: 16:43 25 June 2013

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Where do you work?

I am head chef at The Star Inn at Ingatestone.

What is your earliest food memory?

Making fairy cakes and shortbread with my mum at weekends.

What was your first ever job and where was it?

I worked initially part-time at the Hobbs Cross Open Farm in Epping. They used all the meats from the farm so I gained experience on the butchery side, cooking for the restaurant and selling the meat in the shop too. My first full-time role was for the Ivy Hotel in Margaretting where I also did my training, NVQ Levels Two and Three.

What was it about food which excited you enough to make a career out of it?

I just loved being in the kitchen; to do this job you have to love it and I never wavered. I was fortunate when

training that I worked for five or six different head chefs, each with different ideas, so I was never bored. When I went into full-time work I walked straight into a head chef’s position at the Green Man in Highwood. It was so nice to have my own kitchen and to do my own dishes straight away.

If you weren’t on the stoves where would you be now?

I realised whatever I did for a career it would have to be practical and hands on. In my family we are quite creative, my sister is a hairdresser.

Who would you love to cook for and why?

I love to cook for people I know so I’d love to organise a I small reunion, perhaps for those who’ve influenced me along the way. It would be a mix of past head chefs and people I went to school with, giving me a chance to say thank you and show them where I am now.

How would your team describe you?

I think they would describe me as a laid back head chef, which is unusual perhaps, but I believe things should be done as a team, I’m certainly no dictator. I lead the team in a calm way, so that it’s also calm in the kitchen.

Which is your favourite dish to prepare?

I love working with fish. We have a beer festival this month from July 18 to 21 at The White Hart, our sister restaurant in Margaretting Tye. I’m cooking a giant pan of paella outdoors and will be serving people directly from the huge steaming pan. We did it last year and it was a huge hit.

Who was your inspiration to take up cooking and how do they affect what you do now?

I was inspired by my mum and dad, sister, nan and granddad. Throughout my career they have been really supportive of me, always telling me how I could progress.

Which are your three favourite ingredients to work with?

It changes all the time. Currently I would say asparagus when in season, fish and spices and herbs.

Tell us a bit about you at home – where do you originally come from and how did you end up here?

I was born in the tiny village of Little Laber, near Matching Green. I moved to Highwood when I was seven and then we moved again to Great Baddow. I still live there today.

At home – who lives there and who cooks most of the time?

I live with my partner, Kevin, and our kitchen is still very much my kitchen. To be honest, I wouldn’t trust him in there, but he doesn’t mind as he gets to eat my food.

When I’m not in the kitchen I love nothing better than…

Eating out. It’s always nice to try someone else’s dishes.

Kitchen disasters? Tell us about one you’d rather forget.

I remember having a steep learning curve while training. I worked for a head chef and she sent me out to the chiller. She had asked me for fennel, and to be honest I wasn’t sure what it was, so I brought the thing out I didn’t recognise – it was rocket!

What is left on life’s list of things to do?

I’d like to write a cook book.

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