When Tim Halket gave it all up he had no idea he could turn a passion for food into a hit cookbook. Zoe Chamberlain spoke to him.
There were several deciding factors as to why Tim Halket stepped out of the rat race, became a full-time father and started keeping chickens.
His son Hamish had developed bronchiolitis and needed lots of care, his father-in-law was getting older and needed support and the recession had put paid to his recruitment company, causing it to collapse.
So Tim and his wife Annie upped sticks and moved to a quiet rural village in Suffolk.
“It did seem like everything came at once but I think everyone has moments like that in life,” says Tim, who was born in Bromsgrove, and is father to Honor, 10, Hamish, nine, and Kitty, five.
“There’s nothing unique about the hardship and trouble we suffered.
“When you choose to try to build a business, you know there’s a chance it might go horribly wrong.
“But you can either let it crush you or say this has happened and get on with it.
“Hamish’s health meant one of us needed to be at home with him.
“Annie had a respectable, professional career in recruitment so we decided she should be the one to go to work and I would stay at home with the children.”
The move brought about a huge lifestyle change too with Tim shopping more locally and eventually going on to keep his own chickens and grow his own vegetables.
He says: “I became more interested in where I bought our food.
“Suddenly I realised that I would have to drive past the farm shop and butchers to go to the supermarket so I started shopping locally and seasonally. It’s not a food snob thing or that I’m particularly anti-supermarkets, I just became more aware.
“There’s a chap up the road who has an allotment and leaves his excess fruit and vegetables out, together with an honesty box, for you to help yourself to.
“We started keeping chickens and I kept diaries so I would know when they would hatch their eggs.
“We have a cockerel and two chickens who are small and maternal and have lots of chicks. The children love seeing the baby chicks hatch. We have four baby chicks at the moment.
“The children feed them most days, they clean them out and go looking for fresh eggs. It’s a race to see who can get there first.
“They’re really involved in them and enjoy them as pets, which is good because Hamish has pet allergies. His health is much better now although he still suffers with asthma.”
When Honor and Hamish had settled at school, Tim did think about going back to work, but that didn’t happen because Kitty came along.
He says: “A third child means much more than 50 per cent more to do.
“It’s the practicalities of it all. Kitty wants her tea at 4.30pm whereas the older children want theirs closer to 6, then Annie doesn’t come home until 7 so I can often end up cooking dinner three times.
“It’s a good job I like cooking. I started writing down some of my recipes with my chicken diaries.
“There’s a lot of simple cooking that has a lot of folklore and myth around it.
“Many of the TV chefs go on about swirling water around and using vinegar to poach an egg. But the only way it will work is if the egg is really fresh. That’s why poached eggs taste so great in restaurants because they have fresh eggs in every day.
“It’s the same with fried eggs. If the white spreads all over the pan, it’s probably that the egg isn’t that fresh.
“So I started writing down things like that too in my diaries, together with recipes that I cooked at home.
“A friend of mine said ‘oh, you’re writing a book?’ I hadn’t really thought of that. It was just that when my children took their naps, I would write.
“I sent my ‘book’ off to a few publishers and agents. Some were nice enough to reply but I didn’t get anywhere until two years later when someone from Grub Street Press called to say sorry it had taken so long to get back to me but that they would like to print it. I was overjoyed.
“I’ve always been interested in cooking. My mum cooked classics like shepherd’s pie and cod in parsley sauce.
“I met Annie on my 17th birthday and she had been to catering college so she taught me the basics like how to make a stock from bones or how to make a béchamel sauce.
“Our children love making scrambled eggs, they have a real interest in cooking and like to be in the kitchen.
“One day we went past a rabbit that had been run over and they wanted to go back and get it and cook it. Instead I went and got one from the butchers and showed them how to butcher it. They were fascinated.
“It’s the same if I’ve cooked heart or kidneys or liver for myself, they have wanted to eat it. I think if you bring children into the kitchen and show them, they’re bound to want to get involved.
“It’s different now to the days when mums used to disappear into a steaming kitchen and then serve food through a serving hatch.
“I think some of the best cookbooks are autobiographical. Mine is what I like to cook for my family.”
* Five Fat Hens – The Chicken and Egg Cookbook, by Tim Halket, is published by Grub Street, priced £18.99.
Tim's roast chicken with chorizo sausage
Tim says: “This is the type of thing that I’ll cook midweek for an easy dinner.
“I pulled it all together using a pair of chicken thighs I’d taken out of the freezer in the morning, some left over potatoes from the children’s tea the day before and a couple of chorizo sausages that were hanging around at the back of the fridge and onions and garlic from the pantry.
“I could have used some uncooked potatoes, but then they’d need to be cut up a bit smaller.”
* 2 chicken portions – I favour thighs
* 2 chorizo sausages, cured or raw – it doesn’t matter
* Enough leftover potatoes for two people
* 1 onion, peeled and cut into wedges
* 1 whole head of garlic, broken into pieces
Scatter the ingredients all over a baking sheet, making sure the chicken pieces are on top, skin side up.
Add plenty of salt and pepper, especially on the chicken skin.
Roast in a preheated hot oven (240°C / 475°F) for thirty to forty minutes. You may find that you need to drain some of the fat off half way through – this all depends on the type of sausage you’re using.
The chicken should be crisp and succulent, the onions slightly charred at the edges, and the garlic ready to be pressed out of their skins with the side of your knife.
Simply arrange it all on a plate and swirl a little olive oil around, with perhaps a wedge of lemon on the side for a bit of acid-bite.
If you’re fond of the flavour of chorizo sausage you can turn the flavour up a notch by adding a teaspoon of smoked paprika (this is the spice that gives the sausage its unique flavour).
Adding a teaspoon of fennel seeds also goes a long way. And I would normally add a big sprig of rosemary – but on this occasion my garden was covered with a six inches of snow, and it was nice and warm in the kitchen.