BURY chef Mary-Ellen McTague can usually be found cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

But now the 35-year-old, who runs the award winning Aumbry restaurant in Prestwich, is whipping up an entirely different creation as she writes her very first book.

Mary-Ellen, who grew up in Greenmount, has started writing anecdotes from her time working in restaurants to create a collection of stories.

The mother-of-two’s passion for writing was reignited last year when she wrote recipes for the Bury Times which led to pieces in national newspapers.

She said: “I left academia. I was at university and left it to go and do cooking instead because I wasn’t enjoying that.

“But it was always the part of studying, being at college or uni that I liked — the writing part and it’s just always been something that I wanted to do.

“It started off with Bury Times recipes. That was brilliant, I did that for about eight months and that was what got me started writing. I was asked to do recipes and I started writing and I loved it so much. In the end I just really struggled to find the time so I had to stop doing that.

“But then recently, in the last six months, I’ve been asked to do pieces for Observer Food Monthly and the Guardian and absolutely love doing that, I’ve got to write, I need to write.

“I started writing other stuff, anecdotes and stuff that’s happened. The other thing is, throughout my whole cooking career, I’ve always been aware that the stuff that goes on in kitchens is a bit special. It doesn’t go on in normal workplaces and it’s funny.

“The book is a work in progress. It’s ongoing, it’s happening now.

“It could be next year, it could be two years, I don’t know.

“I’m writing it when I can, it’s really hard to find time. Life’s very crazy already. It’ll be after work, it’ll be when I get home at midnight until the early hours and then I’m up.”

After quitting university, Mary-Ellen’s first job was at Sharrow Bay in Penrith after which she spent time in America.

On her return to Britain, she spent four years at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, The Fat Duck, Berkshire, before working as a pastry chef at Ramsons in Ramsbottom and then opening Aumbry with husband Laurence Tottingham.

The former St Gabriel's RC High School pupil said: “Now when I look at young chefs or people that have just left college or leaving college, the male to female ratio is much more even.
“I started cooking 15 years ago and I was, in most kitchens I worked in, definitely the only woman in the kitchen.

“Nowadays you would go to kitchens in places in London and other places and the ratio is a bit more even however, in the senior positions, it’s still very uneven.”

Her yet to be released book is set to feature funny and frank stories about kitchens being, as she describes them, “hot, noisy, sweat boxes populated by misogynists, misanthropists, psychopaths and sociopaths”.

At a book reading in Manchester last month, where her friend Emma Jane Unsworth was launching her second novel Animals, Mary-Ellen gave a sneak preview — tales including colleagues leaving greenies in her coat pocket, the battleground of the industry and life as a working mother.

Mary-Ellen, who went to Holy Cross College, said: “This is stuff that actually happened. I’ve not made any of that up — it’s all true stories and that’s just how it was. It was just like that and you got on with it.

“Then realising a bit later on, maybe that’s not quite right. That did happen to me a long time after I started cooking that, actually, maybe this isn’t really how it should be.

“I’ve worked with lots of people and I don’t want to do any of them down because none of them meant any harm.

“They weren’t outright sexist. It was just the culture and it was the culture they’d grown up in as well.

“We’ll treat her like she’s our little sister and do nasty tricks and stuff.”

Mary-Ellen, who has appeared on BBC Two’s Great British Menu, has carved out a successful career through talent, sheer grit and determination and is the first to admit it has been a slog at times.

She said: “I’ve always been very frank about how bloody hard it is and how we’re always running out of clean socks and the house is upside-down.

“We’re not some kind of glossy perfect family at all, we have to work really hard and, as a result, it makes our home and family life a bit more difficult.

“It’s just a constant fight to do the laundry and the shopping but I also think that’s fine. If you’re doing something you’re passionate about, it’s okay for other areas of your life not to be perfect

“None of us are perfect are we?”