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Mary-Ellen is all set to cook up a storm
A CHEF trained by TV culinary expert Heston Blumenthal is ready to spread the good-food gospel at an East Lancashire restaurant.
Mary-Ellen McTague has joined Ramsons in Ramsbottom as its pastry chef.
The 29-year-old has returned to her roots after spending years learning to cook at acclaimed restaurants, not least at Blumenthal's Fat Duck in Berkshire, voted the Best Restaurant in the World in 2005.
She joined the Fat Duck four years ago as chef de partie, and worked her way up to sous chef, second in line to the head chef - an impressive achievement for somebody who has never been to catering college.
"I got into cooking in a very unexpected way," said Mary-Ellen, who was born in Greenmount, near Ramsbottom.
"I was studying languages at university but I wasn't enjoying it.
"A friend asked me to help with some catering, and I realised how much I enjoyed cooking, so decided to leave university."
With nothing but a love of food and determination, Mary-Ellen managed to get a job at Sharrow Bay in Penrith, a hotel whose restaurant has been Michelin starred for the last 11 years.
"I got a copy of the Good Food Guide, and wrote to all the places I liked to ask for work.
"I wrote to the Fat Duck then and got a reply saying to get some experience.
"But the Sharrow Bay took me on - I began as the housekeeper and then became the first girl to work in the kitchen, and trained on the job."
After two years - during which she met her now husband, fellow chef Laurence Tottingham - Mary-Ellen wrote again to the Fat Duck and was given two weeks' trial in October 2002, and never looked back.
The restaurant has gone from rural bistro to a globally-acclaimed restaurant thanks to Blumenthal's scientific approach to food - his kitchens boast appliances not out of place in a laboratory, as he matches the chemical components of food to create dishes such as bacon and egg ice-cream, and snail porridge.
Mary-Ellen said: "Once you get your head round it, it makes perfect sense. I learned so much from Heston."
She said the decision to leave the Fat Duck was a difficult one, but she and Laurence wanted to return north to be near family.
It was by chance she discovered Ramsons, an Anglo-Italian eaterie with its own long list of accolades - its owners Chris Johnson and Ros Hunter were recently given an outstanding contribution award from the Manchester Food and Drink Festival.
Mary-Ellen said: "I came for a meal with my sister, and was blown away by it. I started chatting to Chris, and it turned out his pastry chef was leaving, so I jumped at the chance!"
Ros said: "We were delighted to take Mary-Ellen on, she's a real professional and dedicated to her work, she's an asset to the kitchen."