How a dinner party in Leeds inspired a fine dining business venture

Masterchef finalist Liz Cottam pictured at her home in Gildersome. PIC: Simon Hulme
Masterchef finalist Liz Cottam pictured at her home in Gildersome. PIC: Simon Hulme
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When Liz Cottam talks about food, ingredients and her newly opened city centre restaurant with the passion that she does, you would think she had been harbouring menus in her head and an ambition for years.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

It was actually a case of social etiquette that spurred on the former Masterchef contestant, from Gildersome, to step into kitchen just a few years ago and go on to launch the fine-dining venture HOME.

She told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “When I left school I was the person that would only eat chicken with the skin off, buy grated cheese and mashed potato. I ate to live, I didn’t live to eat.

“When I met my husband he came from a more cultured background. I didn’t drink red wine, hated the idea of olives but his friends had dinner parties and we needed to invite them back to ours.

“I bought my first cook book and that introduced me to different foods and the whole idea and process of cooking that I just fell in love with and also putting people around a table.”

And it was from there that an application was put in, following a boozy night cooking for friends, for the BBC show.

It was, however, two years later that Cottam would actually appear on the 2016 series.

She got accepted at the last minute and got through the audition in London but, daunted by the prospect, backed out and continued her digital business. Fast forward to last year and Cottam was bored with work, about to turn 40 and wanting to do something else in life. Her beloved mother, who had been “disappointed” she turned down Masterchef two years ago, was poorly in hospital.

She recalls: “A time-hop post came up on Facebook that it was two years since I applied. I thought, ‘I can’t waste that’, chucked in an application and my mother died that night. It all felt really significant.”

She says the pressure of the show was “just awful” and she was in it to win it with the notion that she would get nothing out of it if she didn’t win.

Cottam left the show at the semi-final stage and was devastated but said in hindsight it was paving the way for the restaurant she now runs with Mark Owens, the former head chef from the Michelin-starred Box Tree in Ilkley.

She staged pop-up supper clubs and was a guest chef at the likes of Star in The City, The New Ellington, Crafthouse and The Box Tree where she met Owens and they started cooking up their business plan.

HOME opened in August on Kirkgate. Diners enter through the most unassuming doorway yet are transported to old school decadence. Cottam added: “People ask if it is a dream come true or an ambition but it never feels like that, it feels like it is meant to be.

“It has been incredible.”

LEEDS NEEDS TO BE PROGRESSIVE

You won’t find fast food here, you won’t see the same thing on the menu too often...and what everyone else in the city is doing? Irrelevant.

The success of HOME will in part be due to the changing trend in the food scene here.

Liz Cottam reflects: “Leeds suffers from patronising opinions.

“If we did this ten years ago we would have stopped by now because people in the UK, let alone Leeds, weren’t ready.

“We have grown up pallet-wise, Masterchef has done a big job educating people about food - but people need to be more progressive in Leeds because we are ready.”

Paula Dillon, President of Leeds Chamber Commerce.

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