CHEF PROFILE: Talia Maddison

CHEF PROFILE: Talia Maddison

The catering company Cotswold Cooks started in the kitchens of Purton House, near Swindon, in the late 1980s. The founder and head cook is Talia Maddison and the business goes hand in hand with the family farm, Purton House Organics, which provides a constant supply of fresh produce. This suits Talia’s style of cooking – one focussed on simple, fresh ingredients and seasonal, rustic recipes…

Please could you tell us a little about your background and what first inspired you to follow a career in catering?
Having scraped through my degree, I left university with very little prospect of ever getting a “proper” job as I hated or was useless at most of them! I went to London and worked as a waitress, where I was earning double the amount that my friends who worked in the city were. I then travelled for four years. On my return, I met my future husband, got married, had children and assumed that I would never have to write a CV again. But on the birth of my fifth child, my husband gently suggested that I may like to contribute to the family coffers in some way. I could only think of doing some cooking and began by doing small corporate events using produce from our farm. Very quickly the demand soared and bookings poured in. I now run a successful business called Cotswold Cooks – which, for a totally unambitious and unfocussed person, ain’t bad!

What do you enjoy most about cooking?
I love a challenge and I don’t like repetition so I’m always trying out new recipes. I am always learning. Recently, we cooked a Persian chicken recipe with roasted butternut squash and za’atar for the first time for 160 wedding guests – with one oven and a hot cupboard in a marquee in the middle of a field. For me, that was absolutely marvellous.

What influences your choice of menu for an event?
The client is the biggest influence – I listen to them, find out a bit about the food they like, their favourite chefs, restaurants or pubs, and then together we plan a feast that hopefully will be remembered for years to come.

How long have you lived in the Cotswolds? 
Since the end of the last century (1976).

How much of the produce that you use in your outside catering comes from the family farm?  
For small events, nearly all the produce is from the farm and farm shop [Purton House Organics near Swindon]. I am lucky as we have such a large selection, so when I need anything I literally have to cross the road and bung it on my tab. For larger events, we go to Jessie Smith in Cirencester for the meat, John Walker for veggies and a dip into Waitrose for odds and ends.

What do you look for in local suppliers?  
I love the passion that small producers have for their produce. I am also a firm believer that food that has been grown locally is better for you, not only because it tends to be fresher but because it grows in the same environment that you are living in and for some unknown reason (to me) this
is beneficial.

Which type of events do you most enjoy catering?  
Definitely weddings as there is always a real buzz and often the bride and groom come up with amazing ideas. I also loved doing the Soil Association BOOM Awards at Borough Market.

Do you enjoy cooking at home and, if so, what do you like to make? 
No, I don’t enjoy cooking at home at all! For some reason, I find I don’t have the energy to think up new ideas for the family so it’s the same old stuff week after week.

If there was one person in the world for whom you could cook, who would it be and what would you cook for them?  
Could it be lots of people? I would love to cook for the pilgrims going to Canterbury in Chaucer’s Tales. At the end of the day, they’d be sitting around a massive oak table in an old pub, telling their stories with me listening in whilst cooking something really simple like salt beef and turnips.

If you hadn’t chosen to become a chef, what else would you have liked to be?  
A nutritionist maybe, but I fear I would have been bored sitting in a room doing consultations. 

Have you ever catered an especially memorable event and, if so, what was on the menu?  
Yes, there is one in particular that springs to mind. The event was for a big football club and I still get stupidly excited about cooking for very famous people. The club wanted us to come up with ideas for a day for the players and their families, so we put together a festival vibe. I just remember thinking: here I am, in one of the UK’s biggest football clubs, chatting to the team captain about putting fish heads in the stock for a paella. The day went really well and I’ve since gone back to cook for some of the players privately.

Cotswold Cooks:  01793 772999 / talia@cotswoldcooks.co.uk

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