Philippa James visits Southport Market and The Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes

PUBLISHED: 14:04 13 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:52 20 February 2013

Southport market artist’s impression

Southport market artist’s impression

Food writer Philippa James meets a Lancashire legend

When I was invited to the launch of the revamped Southport Market little did I know that, among the 15,000 visitors - many of whom had to queue around the block on the opening day - that I would bump into two special visitors.

Fans were almost baying for photos alongside north west TV chef Simon Rimmer. Id not seen him in a while but, as he headed into the hall for his first demo, he did a double take, gave me a kiss and proclaimed: Its been ages. How are you doing? Have you still got your cookery school?

I was meant to be interviewing him but he was up against the clock. Its mental really hard work, but in a good way, he said, dashing off to start cooking.

Simon did three demos, using the freshest market produce, including shrimp and sea bass from a stall called Peets Plaice.

I had a wander around the new market, and heard nothing but praise. Giles, at The Mustard Coffee House, had massive queues and, while waiting for a cup, I heard someone say: Weve just had breakfast there; it was brilliant.

Bernadettes cosmetics stall has been here in its current guise since 1981 and a lady called Val, who is known at the stall as Mrs Orchid Bloom because of her favourite lipstick shade, said: All the stall-holders go that extra mile.

Then I noticed a real star, a diminutive lady and one of Lancashires most iconic women. I caught her eye. Sorry, dear, where did you say you were from? Oh, I love Lancashire Life, she beamed.

This was none other than a very sprightly, and utterly delightful, 86-year-old Jean Alexander, the former Hilda Ogden, from Coronation Street, who lives in the town.

I used to come here as far back as the 50s, you know, it was marvellous, lovely pork pies and sausages, everything was really excellent quality, and it was always spotless, she told me.

But times changed and people preferred to go to these soulless out of town shopping sheds. Im so glad its been revived. Were finally getting back to some kind of sense. Ive never driven - as a jobbing actress I could never afford a car so its great to be able to shop in the market again.

Jean made me smile as, clutching my arm, she tripped off two phrases from greetings cards: You know, at my age, Philippa, Ive seen it all, done it all, but I cant remember most of it! She followed this with: I live in a little world of my own, but its fine, they all know me there!

As we said goodbye Jean reminded me of another great reason for shopping at our markets; the wonderful characters that you find there.

Fairway to feed so many

I have never shown the slightest glimmer of interest in golf despite it being my grandfathers life-long passion.

However, the build-up to this years Open Championship, at Royal Lytham and St Annes, did catch my attention when the company responsible for all on-site catering for the players and spectators spoke of their desire to use local produce.

Sodexo Prestige, of Scotland, faced the prospect of catering for approximately 6,000 guests and over 150,000 spectators during the tournament with a total of 20,000 meals for players, caddies, families and the international media. The companys English counterparts take care of the public catering and patrons hospitality.

My friend, and golf guru, Ken, and I met up with marketing co-ordinator, Kerry Hill, and headed for the luxurious, hospitality village which had sprung up at the 15th hole. Here were The Open and Champions Restaurants alongside the 70,000 a week private chalets.

However, I was more interested in things going on behind the scenes. Its a big job. Joe King, the regional commercial manager, and ten colleagues arrived in Lytham nine days before the Championship to begin preparations.

By the first practice day this had grown to 25 and when play proper commenced 40 staff were on hand, including six chefs. During The Open the chefs arrived each morning at 3am as the players restaurant opened at two and half hours later in readiness for the earliest tee-offs. It closed at 10pm and the last staff left about an hour later.

Chef Adrian Knightall told me: Its a power-house; it took me two years to adapt to this scale of catering, Ive gone from working in a static kitchen, to a tent. Weve not always got the equipment that we need, so its a constant make do and mend. You have to be versatile, adapt, and work very quickly!

Moving to another food preperation area, colleague Ian Page confided that he had come up on his week off to work on a busmans holiday just to catch a glimpse of some of the top players. Logistics, he said, are a nightmare. If a top player is out early, then breakfasts can be put right back, so you get a surge of people wanting food at 11am just as were trying to go into our lunchtime service. And the same with the weather. If the skies open then we have to react very quickly.

There has been extensive support for local produce. It was good to see Dewlays cheese, Greenhalghs Steak and Lancaster Brewery Ale Pie available plus Reedys red onion marmalade, Port of Lancaster Smokehouse produce and Bowland beef and ham on some delicious sounding menus.

Our own Nigel Haworth demonstrated cooking his hotpot, which executive head chef, Tom Parry re-created for the fine dining customers.

This is a great opportunity to showcase the fabulous Lancashire produce we have here, on an international platform, and what better way to do it, than by serving our traditional Lancashire hotpot? said Nigel.

We headed to one of the practice areas where I quizzed a delightful South African, Grant Veenstra and his caddy, Garth Milne.

They were staying at the family run Chadwick Hotel, in St. Annes, and couldnt praise the food highly enough. They said the English breakfast was always good and added that Lancashire pork sausage is the best in the world. They loved the proper roast dinners, and added: The Chadwick do the most divine pastries, which drive us crazy but, with regards to a healthy diet, we have to remain disciplined.

Sadly, they were not tempted to try Lancashire black pudding. No wonder they didnt win.

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