ROSE­MARY SHRAGER’S

JEWISH ROOTS

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - www.rose­maryshrager.com BY CLAIRE CAN­TOR

EV­ERY­THING ABOUT celebrity chef Rose­mary Shrager, a re­cently an­nounced co-judge of new BBC cook­ing show, The Big Fam­ily Cook­ing Show­down, is un­ex­pected. Hug­ging me warmly like an old friend when we meet, she bub­bles with en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm. Shrager is the quin­tes­sen­tial English lady, with lay­ers to her char­ac­ter that un­fold as she de­scribes her jour­ney from so­ci­ety up­bring­ing to the dis­cov­ery of her Jewish roots in her early teens, to mar­ry­ing into a Jewish fam­ily, and go­ing on to be­come one of the UK’s best loved chefs.

She speaks proudly of her Jewish ori­gins: “I was 14 or 15 when I learnt about my Jewish roots, but it had a pro­found im­pact on me. I have al­ways felt that I am a bit dif­fer­ent, my char­ac­ter, my life is strange. I am not Jewish but I have these feel­ings. I think it’s my mid-European back­ground. It may be a cliché but a lot of my friends are Jewish.

“I only dis­cov­ered that my grand­fa­ther was Jewish after he died. He in­sisted on a proper Jewish fu­neral. I don’t know much about him, but he came to the UK as a refugee from Aus­tria and was taken in by a Manch­ester fam­ily. They were in the um­brella busi­ness.

“He mar­ried a York­shire so­ci­ety woman and never spoke about his re­li­gion. It be­came a taboo sub­ject. There was a lot of an­ti­semitism around.”

At ease with her roots, Shrager was com­fort­able with her hus­band’s tra­di­tional Jewish fam­ily. “Shrager is my hus­band’s name. We are sep­a­rated now,” she ex­plains. “I felt re­laxed and to­tally ac­cepted by the fam­ily. All was fine un­til I had my son, the first born, and they wouldn’t recog­nise him un­til I had him cir­cum­cised which was a shock. No one would do it be­cause I wasn’t Jewish. In the end the cir­cum­ciser to the Royal Fam­ily came to the house. I had to hide away while he did it. It was so alien to me. I dis­cuss it with my son from time to time. In­ter­est­ingly he em­braces his Jewish roots. As a fam­ily, we al­ways cel­e­brate Passover, so there is an el­e­ment of Ju­daism in our lives.

“I love Jewish food. I make my own salt beef and latkes. When I worked in the City I used to get my salt beef sand­wich from Bloom’s and would go to Brick Lane early in the morn­ing for bagels and smoked salmon.”

Food has al­ways been a pas­sion: “I re­alise how lucky I am to have found the thing I love. I started off in cater­ing for com­pa­nies like Price­wa­ter­house. I lived a priv­i­leged life. I had my food de­liv­ered from Har­rods. It was the norm. But I wanted to get it right. I used to phone the head chef at Clar­idge’s if I couldn’t get a recipe to work and ask him what I was do­ing wrong.”

She doesn’t want us get­ting it wrong ei­ther so has been shar­ing her skills, re­fined over the years work­ing with top chefs and run­ning her own restau­rant. Her books are easy to fol­low with lots of pic­tures and gen­tle ad­vice of fool­proof meth­ods.

Have her chil­dren got the cook­ing bug? “My kids love cook­ing but wouldn’t go into the busi­ness. It is so hard for fam­ily life. I worked 18 hour days when they were young. In my work I have con­fi­dence, but I am never sat­is­fied. Life was tough when I lost ev­ery­thing — my restau­rant col­lapsed and my mar­riage ended at the same time. But I am al­ways think­ing ‘What next?’ I am very driven. I am a ‘do-er’. Maybe that’s my Jewish genes again.”

Such de­ter­mi­na­tion and an open mind has con­trib­uted to Shrager’s 25 years of TV ex­pe­ri­ence. Teach­ing cook­ing and eti­quette on Ladette to Lady, as a judge for Celebrity MasterChef, brav­ing the jun­gle on I’m a Celebrity...Get Me out of Here. She sailed the English Coast­line for three weeks in All At Sea and dis- cov­ered her spir­i­tual side while film­ing The Real Marigold Ho­tel in In­dia. She re­mem­bers wist­fully: “Miriam (Mar­golyes) and I used to have in­cred­i­ble chats early in the morn­ing. We had a nat­u­ral con­nec­tion and I learned a lot about my­self do­ing that show. I learned to re­lax more. I found my­self be­ing very drawn to that life, one of calm­ness and ac­cep­tance.”

Shrager is al­ways smil­ing and pos­i­tive. It’s in­fec­tious. At 64 she con­tin­ues to have bound­less en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm for her work and projects. She is about to start a sec­ond se­ries of tele­vi­sion food com­pe­ti­tion show, Chop­ping Block and will be on air this au­tumn in The Big Fam­ily Cook­ing Show­down which she says was all about fam­ily cook­ing, go­ing back to the ba­sics of fam­ily val­ues and meal­times. “I love go­ing into peo­ple’s homes and I love peo­ple cook­ing for me. It has been such fun work­ing with Nadiya Hus­sain, Zoe Ball and Gior­gio Lo­catelli.”

PHOTO: CRIS­TIAN BAR­NETT

Rose­mary Shrager is one of four judges in The Big Fam­ily Cook­ing Show­down with (left to right) Gior­gio Lo­catelli, Nadiya Hus­sain and Zoe Ball, which will air this au­tumn

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