Creative Coquetdale Folk: Chef Mary serves up her passion for fabulous food

In her latest piece on Creative Coquetdale Folk, Katie Scott talks to Mary Wilkins – fine dining chef, cooking teacher/demonstrator and entrepreneur.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 11:48 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 11:48 am
Mary Wilkins in the kitchen.

Mary was born in Rothbury in 1974 into a family that loved food and cooking. Her granny taught her the art of home cuisine: “Good old-fashioned filling food, such as steak and kidney pie”.

When her teacher at Brownies declared Mary’s butterfly cakes “The best I have ever tasted”, Mary’s confidence and passion were confirmed. She knew she wanted to be a cook.

So, after school, she went to catering college, and from there to London, to learn from some of the most inspiring chefs of the time: at restaurants including the Savoy, and the Dorchester. Mary also worked for Rhubarb Food Design, the renowned venue caterers, and learned the craft of catering.

Mary Wilkins at work in the kitchen. Picture: Sean Elliott Photography

Mary returned to Coquetdale in 2004, reuniting with Neil, who she had met at college and spent time with in London. They became a partnership, both romantically and in business, setting up a catering company and cookery school together: Wilkins Fine Dining.

The couple had great success organising dinner parties in private homes, and catering for weddings. “Having worked in the intense environment of some of the world’s most famed kitchens we know that attention to detail is paramount”.

Their talents at listening to clients’ needs and their ability to provide innovative and inspirational food, ensured business success.

They took on units at Rothbury Industrial Estate where the equipment to cater for up to 200 guests is stored, and industrial sized fridges and cookers are housed.

Mary and Neil Wilkins. Picture: Sean Elliott Photography

Besides being successful chefs and business partners, they also have two sons, James and William. ‘What do you make for their tea’? I ask. Mary laughs: ‘It goes from one extreme to the next; one night it might be scallops and mussels, the next beans on toast!”.

When the pandemic struck, hospitality had to halt. Far from being down-hearted, Mary’s entrepreneurial temperament enabled her to take stock and to look for other opportunities.

They opened a shop, Rothbury Fruit and Vegetables, at Town Foot. They also came to the rescue of many hungry folk with their Rothbury Food Truck.

“The aim is to cook up some fabulous fresh food which we take on the road to our wonderful customers in Coquetdale”.

One of Mary's cookery classes.

I ask what will happen after lockdown finally ends? “The shop is important, customers come in and chat, while choosing their fruit and vegetables. So, this will continue, as will the Food Truck”.

But Mary is really looking forward to being able to offer her cookery classes again. She tells me “I’ve had a really amazing career and met loads of fascinating folk and learned so much.

I love to share my passion for creating food that is honest, full of flavour, and made from only the finest ingredients”.

Watch out for the reopening of these wonderful cookery activities: www.wilkinsfinedining.co.uk

And, coming soon: Mary’s new venture: a ‘pop-up’ restaurant in Rothbury.

Rothbury Food Truck: The Rothbury Food Truck | Facebook

Rothbury Fruit and Vegetables: www.facebook.com/RothburyFruitAndVeg