Behind the scenes at Pascals Cookery School in Cawthorne House
- Credit: Archant
Pascal Watkins was part of a dining dynasty at the famed Angel at Hetton. Now he’s in a sourdough state of mind running a B&B and cookery school in Pickering.
Letting go of a family business after 35 years is hard for anyone. Tears come hard and fast.
'I wept shortly after we'd sold the Angel, it had been such a big part of our lives and it was such a big connection to my late father who was let's face it, was iconic for what he achieved back in the day,' says Pascal Watkins.
Dad was Denis Watkins, something of a legend on the Yorkshire food scene, a so-called 'godfather of the gastropub' bringing together great food, ales and wines under one cosy and welcoming roof.
Clearly hospitality is in the genes. Pascal took over the wine cave at the Angel and since leaving the much-loved pub (now with Michael Wignall at the kitchen helm), he has slipped into a perhaps more gentle world of the B&B.
Same warm welcome, same attention to detail. Definitely the delivery of excellent food. Maybe fewer late nights and the early morning a bit more compatible with family life for the Watkins gang.
In April this year Pascal and his wife Sarah and their two boys Sebastien and Noah bought a guest house in Pickering.
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It was the stunning Victorian Grade II listed townhouse - Cawthorne House in Eastgate.
It looks exactly as you'd hope - smart, characterful and promising a good night's sleep. And definitely the best Yorkshire breakfast there is.
In their first season Pascal and Sarah have achieved the sort of glowing reviews that would be the envy of any accomplished hotelier.
The couple have created an experience that is exceeding expectation on all levels; from the surprise fizz on arrival to the accompanying canapés. How about sun dried tomato and chorizo pin wheels or mini blue cheese soufflés? Maybe a mini demitasse of truffled mushroom velouté in the autumn? All this before you've unpacked a bag. That's how to secure a return visit.
Once you're in the room time to indulge in home-made cookies as you luxuriate in 'room time' in clean-as-a-whistle spacious bedrooms with en-suite shower rooms.
Food is everything here and Pascal's use of local produce ensures a fabulous array on the breakfast menu. It came with much research.
'When we moved in we did a 'sausage bake off' and I bought sausages from every butcher in town,' he says.
'I really wanted the famous Horsley's at the top of the high street with their fabulous counter of meat, but it was the no frills butcher at the bottom of Smiddy Hill that our then four-year-old sausage expert chose! I get my thick-cut bacon and gorgeous orange-yoke brown eggs from Horsley's and they still rib me about not asking for sausages over the counter, but hey I consider it 'spreading the love!'
For the foodies the breakfast menu has a sophisticated offering of crushed avocado on toasted sourdough with a poached egg or chargrilled asparagus for vegetarian guests.
Which brings us to the adventure that is Pascal's sourdough.
'I've been obsessed with sourdough for four years, I think when you get into it, it becomes an obsession, I even share Sourdough bread porn with my sourdough baking friends!', he laughs.
The sourdough journey starts every morning at 6am for Pascal. He gets up and sticks a loaf in the oven for his guests. He also makes his own apricot jam to smear on top of it.
When he moved into the house and started work in the fabulous Victorian kitchen, he knew straight away that the kitchen would be perfect to hold sourdough bakery classes.
October sees the start of his first sourdough courses for residents. They will learn the secrets of this wonderful bread one-to-one with Pascal - he'll do them for individuals or couples over the winter.
The courses cost £90 per couple on top of the reasonable £90 bed and breakfast and budding bakers will leave the next day with a loaf they've prepared and baked themselves.
It's all a fine new pace of life for the young family. Sarah acts as the vital 'logistics and support staff' dealing with much of the daily running of the place, as well as taking time out as an occasional supply teacher.
Two little boys share the family venture - sausage-testing and beyond. For Pascal the balance is perfect now.
'Twelve months on and I haven't looked back. I'm 48 years old and I'm delighted to say that I've achieved contentment. I've found my Utopia, as if everything I ever did in my life before was leading to this,' he says.