My best teacher - Brian Turner

6th August 2010 at 01:00
Domestic science wasn't the preserve of boys, but the Ready, Steady, Cook chef got stuck in

The teacher who really springs to mind is Elsie Bibby, who taught me domestic science at Morley Grammar School.

In my third year, we all had to choose a craft. For boys it was woodwork or metalwork, and for the girls it was either needlework or domestic science. But as my bent had always been towards cooking, I wanted to do that. People usually took a craft for a year then dropped it, but I continued with domestic science through to GCE because I just loved it.

I was Miss Bibby's firm favourite. She obviously knew her subject and how it all worked. She was a sort of Simon Cowell of domestic science: she looked for someone who had a real love of food and wasn't just filling in their time. She looked to spot the people who really wanted to know about it, and then protected us.

Miss Bibby was thin as a rake. She wore spectacles and was slightly cross-eyed and really quite hawkish-looking. When I was 15 or 16, she was about 50. She was quite fearsome when she wanted to be. Other people would feel the lash of her tongue, but to me she was quite loving - in the proper sense of the word - and caring.

There were times when school was a bit cruel. In the 1950s in England there wasn't so much liberal thinking. When a boy wanted to cook they thought it a bit odd. I also had asthma in the early days, so I couldn't run much more than 100 yards. But the boys who thought you were odd thought you were quite clever a few months later as you were spending a good few hours a week cooking with girls.

My father had a transport cafe so it seemed natural to me that I should cook. In those days, people who made a reputation in the chef world were all men. There are lots of ladies in the industry now, thank goodness. But I think it's wrong that we don't teach boys how to cook. It's a life skill and you don't get obese if you know how to cook and eat a balanced diet.

I got on with the girls in my class until the end of the first term, when Miss Bibby walked around the class and said: "Let's go and see Brian's food, because his is always the best." I remember she had a very high-pitched voice. So I was slightly hated by the young ladies; they thought I was a swot. They were only doing cooking because they had to. It all got a little bit political and emotional.

I passed four GCEs, but failed English language and literature. That was such a disappointment to my mum, who read avidly and wrote lovely letters to friends. She was very eloquent, my mum. My father was far more hands-on and a typical Yorkshireman. But they were both very proud of what I had achieved to pass my 11-plus and get to grammar school.

I then went to Leeds Catering College, which was the next natural step. It was a collusion between my father and Miss Bibby at parents' evening: they decided it was the right thing to do. There was a cost factor that didn't sit too well in our house, but my parents scrimped and saved so I could buy books, chef's whites and knives.

Sadly, Miss Bibby has passed away. She had a great impact on my life in terms of getting a basic love of food. One assumes she would have been sitting at home reading a newspaper and every now and then she would see my name. I would like to think she had some satisfaction in helping me get to where I ended up.

Brian Turner is a chef and a regular on BBC's 'Ready, Steady, Cook'. He is a supporter of the Food for Life Partnership, which encourages schools to grow and cook their own food: see He was talking to Meabh Ritchie.

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