From a young teen commanding market stalls in Manchester to winning over Nigella Lawson with her unique take on comfort food on Channel 4’s The Taste, Debbie Halls-Evans is a natural with food.
A mum of three, and step-mum to two more teens, Bolton-born Debbie hit TV screens in 2014 in Channel 4’s cookery reality competition The Taste. Under the mentorship of French chef Ludo Lefebvre, Debbie took home the title with a signature style of traditional classic dishes with a twist and now works as a caterer, broadcaster and private chef.
Coming from a traditional Northern home, one of four siblings, Debbie remembers the comforting powers of food as well as the competition at the kitchen table. Selling fruit and vegetables at a local market stall is where it all began. But when faced with young motherhood, Debbie’s interest in cookery piqued. A love of cookery blossomed and a collection of over 600+ cookbooks soon materialised. “Every cuisine, every genre of cooking – my inspirations are Julia Child, Simon Hopkinson, Jamie Oliver. I love how they tell stories with food, it’s something you can love, enjoy, share.
After leaving a highly-pressurised job in retail management and trialling her cookery on the public with a 12-month lease on a café/deli in Bolton, Debbie applied for the debut series of The Taste. She never expected a reply after a quick online application until Channel 4 producers came knocking at the door. They wanted her in their initial group of 25 contestants, soon to be whittled down to 12, as each of the three judges (Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre) blind-tasted dishes and selected a team of four cooks each.
Following a successful first series in the States, Channel 4 loosely structured their take around the ABC format. Both home cooks and professionally trained chefs made up an even-playing field as they fed their mentors mere mouthfuls of their cookery in a bid to advance through the process. One spoon, one canapé sized morsel could send you home with judges tasting every spoon blind. Guest chefs on the show included the UK’s culinary elite: Ruth Rogers, Simon Rogan, Fergus Henderson, Yotam Ottolenghi, Angela Hartnett and Pierre Koffman.
Throughout a tense nine-week battle, viewers watched Debbie triumph to take home the title with a winning trio of bite-size dishes included scallops with pea purée and pancetta, rabbit stew with mash and apple and fig crumble.
In the year since she’s won, Debbie has focused on broadening her skills and getting experience wherever she can, including stages in Michelin-starred restaurants (Gildleigh Park, L’Enclume). In between organizing pop-up dining events, private catering and public demonstrations at food festivals and awards shows, Debbie has been planning for a new food business and social enterprise that will be unveiled in 2015, begun recipe development for a future cookbook, began a blog documenting and started presenting a weekly radio show on Bolton FM.
One ingredient to sum her up, “Ginger. It’s a versatile spice used across all genres of cooking: spicy; uplifting; warm.” A dish that best represents her? “Lancashire hot pot, but served with a non-conventional radish pickle on the side – that’s me, traditional with a little twist!”