“ONE thing I can’t bear is standing on ceremony,” beams Rosemary Shrager, as she ushers me into her Kent cookery school. “There’s none of that here.”

She’s right of course. Warm, approachable and lively – if slightly nutty – company, Shrager is ever the show-woman. I’ve been invited along for a baking class, and no sooner has she doled out smiley introductions, coffee and pastries, she’s grilling me on the nitty-gritty of my bread-making skills.

Having worked with top chefs Pierre Koffmann and Jean-Christophe Novelli, appeared on Hell’s Kitchen, hosted countless of her own cookery series and helped whip some unpolished young women into shape on Ladette To Lady, Shrager isn’t about to stand on ceremony when it comes to cajoling me into baking better bread.

“Come on now, turn, roll, push,” bellows the 64-year-old, who regularly performs cookery demonstrations at food roadshows, pops up in pantomimes and in 2012, was even a contestant on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!, as I weakly slide the dough around the work surface.

But my kneading skills clearly aren’t cutting the mustard.

“TURN! ROLL! PUSH!” Shrager repeats in her best panto Fairy Godmother voice, as she bustles over to show me how it’s done.

“There, that’s better. Isn’t it lovely cooking with people?”

And yes, with Shrager at the hob, it is a pleasure cooking with people.

“I just love it, I just love kneading bread,” she enthuses. “You need to treat food with reverence... like a baby.”

And while Rosemary’s bready babies are baking away, we gossip about her famous cookery school alumni (both Paul Hollywood and Janet Street-Porter have been), and then make a rich tomato soup to accompany our bakes.

As the delicious aroma of baking bread fills the room and the soup simmers away, Shrager is in her element, regaling the room with stories of being pulled over by the police when she first passed her driving test for having part of the engine missing, and then going into a robust rant about her dislike of slow road-users.

“I just love cooking,” she says. “I love the whole feel about the products, the freshness, how they should taste, and I love working with the latest whatever it is and learning what to do with it.”

And the cook, who recently took her grandchildren to Italy (they had great fun picking olives together), has a set idea on what makes a good cookery teacher – somebody just like her!

“I wish I’d had a me to take me to where I am today,” she says, smiling.

Once the rolls are out of the oven, we sit down on a big table and break the bread together, feeling right at home.

If you fancy making some homely bakes, here's a recipe from Shrager’s Bakes, Cakes And Puddings...


(SERVES 6-8)
80g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
200ml caramel-flavoured condensed milk
3 large bananas, sliced
50g pecans, roughly chopped
For the base:
200g digestive biscuits
50g pecans
80g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the topping:
250ml double cream
65g icing sugar, sifted
For the chocolate sauce:
100g dark chocolate (60-70per cent cocoa solids), broken into pieces
25g unsalted butter
1tbsp double cream
Line the sides of a 22cm loose-bottomed tart tin with baking parchment.
To make the base, crush the digestives and pecans into fine crumbs, then stir in the melted butter. Spoon the mixture into the tart tin and press evenly over the base and slightly up the sides. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling. Slowly melt the butter with the caster sugar in a saucepan, stirring all the time, and bring to the boil. Continue boiling until it becomes a caramel colour, then fold in the condensed milk and take off the heat. Fold the bananas and pecans into the caramel sauce, then spread the mixture over the biscuit base. Chill in the fridge for one hour.
To make the topping, whip the cream to soft peaks and fold in the icing sugar. Spoon this mixture over the banana filling. To make the sauce, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bowl does not actually touch the water). Fold in the butter, then stir in the cream. Drizzle the sauce over the pie and serve.