Norwich woman makes a career out of love for cooking

Jacqueline Clayton-Church always impressed her friends and family with her cooking – and now she has turned her passion into a business.

'When I left home to go to college, I went into Ellis's bookshop on St Giles and bought myself Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking,' she says, reaching for an extremely well-worn paperback edition of the classic cookbook.

'Then I went to live in Paris and learned more about French cookery. This was more than 30 years ago. I have always cooked for other people, and when I came back here I thought that the ideal thing would be to pursue that and do it for a living.'

So she has done just that, setting up Cuisine Jacqueline, a personal chef service that aims to deliver restaurant-quality dining in the convenience of your home. Since opening for business in July she has been kept busy, with a garden party for 60 guests and a paella party for 25 among her accomplishments to date.

She describes her main influences as traditional English, modern Thai, classic French and Turkish cuisine, the last a legacy of her years living in Stoke Newington, north London, but she will turn her hand to anything that customers would like.

'I go to see them, talk about what they might want and cost it all up, and then have a recce of the kitchen to see what is feasible and how much space there is,' she explains.

'I can advise on wine if they want, and that is an expense saved because in a restaurant there would be a mark-up.

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'I'm here to say to them that you don't have to get a taxi into town and back, and choose a dish from a menu that someone else has created – you can have whatever you want in the comfort of your home.'

Jacqueline, aged 51, grew up in Norwich, attending Notre Dame and City College, and then spent more than 20 years in London before returning to Norfolk at Christmas 2008. Her daughter had gone to university and she realised that the county was calling her home. She lives in the city but also has a tastefully decorated bolthole in Bacton. She credits Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services' Inspiring Women to Self-Employment course with giving her the guidance she needed before establishing her business.

The day we visited, she was working on 'one of my signature dishes… a kind of Norfolk surf'n'turf but with a Thai twist'. It combines beef from Papworth butchers and graziers at Felmingham with lobster from the fishmonger at North Walsham. She's 'looking forward to the opening of the game season because I love cooking pheasant', and uses local produce whenever possible, although for the Thai element of her cookery she relies on a stall on Norwich market that gets a fresh delivery from Thailand every Tuesday. 'I love picking samphire on Morston marshes – I freeze it and make it into a cream of samphire soup that we traditionally have every Christmas,' she says. 'I love doing that because it puts you in touch with a wilder life.'

A sample menu that she offers for a four-course dinner party for six people comes in at �38 a head, with courses such as a Thai seafood salad, demitasse of lobster bisque, grilled Gressingham duck breast and a raspberry frangipane tart, with raspberry and rose coulis.

While she is looking to establish Cuisine Jacqueline, she also works as a freelance interior designer: another aspect of her varied career. The literary agency she worked at represented Dick Francis; she is a writer herself, and in 2007 wrote a cookbook for the Yumyum Thai Restaurant in London, which involved spending a fortnight in a roasting hot kitchen full of flaming woks. Then she became a freelance calligrapher ('another string to the bow with Cuisine Jacqueline, as I can write out the menu if the client wishes'), and then in an 'insanely controversial' move she had a career change and ran the UK office of the International Star Registry, which allows people to name a star.

'It made a nice gift for Christmas,' she reflects. 'Sir Patrick Moore wouldn't go on programmes with me but I had a good debate on Radio Four with the Astronomer Royal. But I stopped after 10 years because by then we had taken on several staff and I was spending more time on bureaucracy and running the office than on what I had set out to do.'

So now her focus is on Cuisine Jacqueline, which she hopes will allow her to bring restaurant quality food to homes all over the region.

'I haven't done anything in the galley of a boat yet but I probably will. If you're out on the Broads it's all pubs everywhere,' she says, believing there could be a market for fine dining aboard a holiday cruiser.

'Creating a business opportunity from my lifelong love of cooking made perfect sense. The concept of using a personal chef is relatively new to Norfolk: I hope that the combination of novelty value and fabulous food will entice and delight.'

See for more information or telephone 07854 245867.