WHETHER it’s to a gaggle of nurses from Blackburn Hospital or to folk dedicating their lives to eating like Neanderthals, Paul Dickson’s kitchen is always open.

For the top chef has turned part of his home, one of three converted from the Victorian premises of the former St Thomas’s Primary School, in Barrowford, into a cookery school.

There he teaches anyone - from novices to budding Mary Berrys - the tricks he has learned by working in some of the country’s best kitchens.


And who could fail to be impressed by a man who has served the Queen, Robbie Williams and Leonardo Di Caprio during his various roles working for London’s top restaurants and corporate banking kitchens.

Paul was asked to cater for the private after party of the movie The Beach, which starred Di Caprio. He also served sushi and salad to Robbie Williams while he was making a video. The Queen was a guest of Paul’s employer, the banking establishment JP Morgan, and there was a lot of security involved.

But he’s not fazed by fame. Neither is his wife Julie, a Burnley lass whom he met in London where she was studying fashion at the prestigious Central St Martin’s art college. After finishing her degree she worked for the Daily Mail and EMAP publishing on fashion magazines More and Look, among others. Today she runs her own Julie Dickson Styling business.

Born in the North East, Paul, now 46, moved to London at 17 after showing some promise in cookery classes at school.

“ I really enjoyed cookery lessons. It came quite naturally and the teacher recommended that I look at it as a career option. There wasn’t much option, having been brought up in the North East. It was either work at the power station or down the pit. Moving to London was amazing. I don’t think anyone from our village had ever done anything like that. I actually got the bus down to London.”

Paul worked his way up the career ladder to become group executive chef for JP Morgan, where he was in charge of 18 chefs. Before the age of 30 he’d gained an Acorn Award, which is given to 30 top chefs under the age of 30 by Hotel and Catering magazine.

But the charm of London started to wear thin so the couple and their two children, Spike, 15, and Stella, 13, decided to escape the bright lights for the lush landscape of East Lancashire and Barrowford.

“We’d done London and we’d been there for 18 years,” says Paul. “We’d bought our house many years ago so we capitalised on the sale by moving north. I’ve got a lot of experience working in restaurants, but my main passion is teaching.”

So they moved to the former primary school seven years ago and in March Paul opened the cookery school – Paul’s Kitchen - with small classes of around five.

He teaches a lot of the basics of fish and meat, knife skills and proven recipes. He’s also tapped into the eating trend of the moment - the Paleo, or caveman diet, which advocates eating like our ancestors and concentrating on meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.

“I do a lot of cross fit, so I’m into being healthy,” says Paul. “I dip in and out of the Paleo diet myself. I’m not fully committed to being a 28-inch waist and competing in sports competitions. I love bread. I don’t eat much of it, but I do love it. I’l l have a little bit of sugar, not much. I have lost weight as a result, but I don’t live by it. I don’t think any diet that is strict is good. You can’t keep it up. Every animal eats the fat of the animal because that’s where the nutrition is. Processed carbohydrate is not where good food is. I get shocked in supermarkets when I see baskets of beige foods.”

Paul recommends buying local.

“I’m a big believer of keeping the pound in the area. Don’t think too hard about what you want to cook. Go to a local shop and buy whatever is in season. It’s usually the cheapest and the best flavour. ”

Christmas Day in the Dickson house sees up to 15 guests tucking into traditional turkey.

“I take the legs off and bone them, braise them and confit them, then flake all the meat up and make little croquets with leg meat stuffing and sausage. We have loads of vegetables. We’re a massive Brussels family. We always have a starter. I see what’s around. Sometimes I’ll make a nice terrine, maybe a ham hock with some foie gras. If the weather’s not too bad and I can get my hands on some good shellfish I’ll do a fruits de mer platter to start. Pudding wise, I normally do a prune and Armagnac or a lemon tart. Pavlova is a big hit with the mother-in-law and if she’s happy the day goes well.”

  • Paul is running a Christmas and New Year party food class on December 15 and festive cream tea and pink bubbles on December 19. www.pauls.kitchen/