So, where do you find palm leaves in Wirral?
IWAS talking to a group of friends about my days in the catering industry. Someone asked me "where did your love of cooking come from?" It's actually a simple answer.
I always wanted to be a chef, because I love eating. When I was at Hoylake Parade School, I went with mum to the headmaster, Mr Rigby, and asked if I could be excused from metalwork, so I could take up cookery, as my ambition was to go into the catering industry.
He said: "Yes". I think I was the first one in the country to have done this.
Many of you ladies will remember going home on the school bus with a biscuit tin full of sausage rolls, that you'd baked in domestic science.
I stopped doing this, as the lads would rob me each week. I would arrive home empty-handed. Mum would be none-toopleased, so I started making casseroles and stews. Let's see if they robbed that.
After school, I went to Birkenhead Tech, the food technology department, where I passed several exams for the first time in my life and, in fact, won a national icecream making competition. While going through catering college for three years, I did dinner parties for friends to make some extra money to get me through the course, so I didn't have to rely on my mum.
One such do could have been the biggest disaster ever. It was a 21st birthday for 100 people. I'm delighted to say I turned it around.
Let me explain. The birthday was a themed Hawaiian day and night. I decided adventurously to make a feature of two suckling pigs, which I cooked in a pit in the garden, wrapped in palm leaves and charcoal, just like the Maoris would cook it.
You try finding palm leaves on the Wirral!
I had a sleepless night and decided to sneak back into the garden, open the pit where the meat was cooking slowly, retrieved it, stuck it in the oven and then, before anyone knew, put it back in the pit. It was a great success and no-one had any idea what I had done.
Then there was the Ward family. Margaret and Tommy lived in Caldy. They had fun dinner parties, which I created. They became lifelong friends. They used to drive me mad while I was cooking, so I would send them on long walks.
The house was always untidy, so I found myself cleaning and mopping the floors, as well as creating some memorable food. Looking back, it was probably slave labour.
My speciality was always using cheap cuts of meat, for example belly pork and breast of lamb, which my pals used to take the mickey out of.
But look what's used in major Michelin star restaurants these days - cheap cuts of meat! I must have been doing something right.
Then there were June and Austin Wilson, who I've mentioned before. They became tax exiles living in Majorca. They had a house to die for and would fly me over to cook. In fact, we even talked at one stage of me becoming their butler, which I quite fancied. They had a round table that sat 20. It was hysterical, as it went round electrically with two speeds.
When June had had a drink, you could guarantee no-one ate. You would just watch your food going round and round.
Peter Collinge and his late wife, Hazel, asked me to help with a charity event. Hazel was an amazing cook and we worked in the kitchen together.
It was the Collinges that gave me a taste for charity work, and I've never looked back.
To cook is a gift. Sadly, there are a lot of people who haven't got that gift. I know two. One is a dear friend who just can't cook. Her idea of a leg of lamb being ready is when the brown ticket that the butcher put on the knuckle is burnt. The other is a classic "Can't cook, Won't cook", Leanne Campbell, Radio City's breakfast presenter, panto star, with an amazing talent, but not in the kitchen. I asked her why? She said: "I'm easily distracted, too slapdash and I have a great relationship with my takeaway delivery man. I would hate to jeopardise that and upset him".
I'll leave you with my mum's cooking, which every so often I recreate, just for myself. It takes me down memory lane.
This was the highlight of the week - roast beef dinner a la Hilda Price. The beef totally overcooked, verging on burned, the gravy you would cut with a knife, the cabbage boiled along with the carrot and turnip for at least an hour. BUT the best roasties and rice pudding in the land. I will save the stories of my dinner parties at home for another time.
Pete cutting a dash in his chef's whites