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Faith in Practice

A taste for teaching

Hannah Kowszun

Having trained as a chef and taught cookery for several years, a chance interview led Kevin Woodford into a successful television career. Most recently he has contributed to the new book Loaves, Fishes and More, which is out now.

I come from a family where food was very important. It was good food and not clever food, if you know what I mean. We would eat around the table together where we shared issues and thoughts, moans and groans, much like my family does now. I always had a passion for food from a young age and as a boy of 15, really decided on that for my future.

I broke into teaching after several years of serious graft, becoming a lecturer in professional cookery. As a chef I believe in working with the people around you not below you, I don't believe in establishing a hierarchy. It is wonderful to see young people blossom and bloom - it's like spraying Windolene on and around them so that they see the world more clearly. I would go into a kitchen with 16 kids and watch them grow. There would be some who struggled, and they were the most interesting. It's the easiest thing to take someone talented and help them perfect their technique, but to help someone struggling eventually flourish is superb.

A few years ago I was dragged onto This Is Your Life by Michael Aspell and got to meet a group of the kids I had taught who are now chefs in Michelin-starred restaurants and that really was a gift.

I ended up becoming the youngest Head of Department in the country at a college in the north of England and for this reason I was interviewed by Radio Sheffield. I nattered away, as I do, and as a result of this they gave me a one hour slot once a week on the radio. One night a guy from the BBC was channel-hopping in his car, heard me and invited me down to London to be screen-tested. The rest is history.

Every day I wake up and think today's the day they'll realise this is all a show and I'm no good, or it's all a dream. There is nothing in all the package of goods I've done that I haven't enjoyed; they've taken me from cookery shows to travel and more. I loved doing Songs of Praise and The Heaven and Earth Show - a live programme broadcast on Sundays. I love filming live TV, there is such a buzz.

I think I was probably a Christian all along, I just wasn't aware of it. My family had good moral standards and brought me up with them. They didn't go to church, but encouraged me to go to Sunday school and be in the choir. When I was about 16 I found that girls were more interesting and it was put to the side. 20 years ago, coinciding with starting in TV and radio, I got interested in going back to church. I didn't go every week, but whenever I was back home in the Isle of Man, I found it grounded me. Being at one with God became important to me.

Loaves, Fishes and More is a collection of recipes brought together by the good, the bad and the ugly: the good being people like the Archbishop of Canterbury; the bad and the ugly I'm not sure about, but I'm pretty sure I fall into one of the two categories. I have to say the recipes are surprisingly good! I was concerned because I've seen - without being rude - the standard of usual church recipe books, mostly full of cakes and biscuits. The criteria for this book was that it had to include a range of recipes that serve the needs and delights of readers.

The concept for the book was devised by Congregational and General, who insure a lot of church buildings. They wanted a way to give something back to the community for the direct benefit of Christian Aid and for the benefit of local churches and parishes. They have enabled churches to purchase the book at a wholesale price and then make a profit from sales, which can go to local causes. It is rather unique because it is a professional publication, drawn from contributions of many people. Whilst it is Christian because we're not making money out of it and there are Christian contributors, that is the end of the story regarding faith; an atheist can buy it!I carry my faith with me wherever I am; I carry it in my pocket. I'll be on a train or a plane, or in the supermarket and I'll have a quiet talk with God, who will make me feel at peace. I was having a conversation recently with Daleep Mukarji, the director of Christian Aid, who told me not to be fooled by Christianity, that I shouldn't think I have to be too soft. Generosity is important, but I should also be willing to make a stand. Conversely though, you want people to enjoy what you're offering them. I do think there is a gift of hospitality, you want to see the pleasure in people's eyes for what you're giving them.

My wife and I have a hotel on the Isle of Man: Birchfield House. It's very relaxed there and in the house-book people always leave comments - and I have to give credit to my wife Jean for this - that speak of the wonderful feeling of peace there and a level of hospitality that is second to none. I think I've had longevity in TV because of Jean, she keeps me grounded. We go to a small church on the Isle of Man and I think that has helped too, I know it is a safe place to be.

There is no debate in my mind as to who, what and where I am. It's taken a lot of years to find out and it is not set in stone, but at this point I know that I have a wonderful family and a sense of place.

Kevin Woodford was talking to Hannah Kowszun

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