Food improving in the land of fish'n'chips

England is known for many things. Good food is not one of them.

But that is all changing, according to Rob Rees, known as the Cotswold Chef and a campaigner on education, health, nutrition, food safety and consumer issues.

Rees, who has been visiting Australia, is dedicated to creating a better food "culture" for Britain.

He says the cuisine culture has been changing for 10 years and food is becoming better quality, more affordable and safer.

The country has learnt many lessons since Mad Cow Disease almost decimated the cattle industry, he says.

There has also been a drive by the community saying: "We don't want to eat that rubbish anymore".

"It's been a real long haul and a tough challenge," says Rees.

But changes have been made all the way down to the ordinary restaurant.

Farmers' markets have spread right across the UK, with each of the regions boasting a thriving farmers' market community.

And with the adoption of smoking bans, people can breathe fresh air in pubs, and darts and skittles are making a comeback, he says.

As a board member of England's School Food Trust, Rees has seen the food culture gradually change in schools, with an emphasis on fresh, healthy food for lunches and the re-introduction of compulsory cooking lessons.

He was invited to help promote these changes when the community and government became alarmed about growing obesity levels.

Rees balances the social aspects of his work with his private interests of consultant campaigner, demonstrator, food columnist, writer and chef.

In January 2006, he was awarded an MBE for Services to the Food Industry in the UK.

Rees is from the Cotswolds, where his former restaurant, The Country Elephant, in Painswick, won AA Good Food Guide and Michelin status.

South-west England has the country's largest agricultural area and its strongest organic sector, and is home to more than 3,000 food and drink producers. Many are small concerns making niche products.

The local farmers' markets are great places to buy Cotswold honey or pickles, orchard apple juice, locally smoked trout, soft fruits, organic vegetables and around 110 different types of local cheeses.

Specialty foods include Gloucester cattle, Gloucester Old Spot pigs, the elusive Blaisdon Red plum, Cerney Ash goats' cheese, single and double Gloucester cheeses, and Tewlkesbury mustard and asparagus.

Rare local dishes include Gloucestershire Squab Pie (lamb, apple, onion and spices covered with a pastry crust) and Perry, a pear cider.

Rees' book, The Cotswold Chef, A Year in Recipes and Landscapes, shows how to use seasonal products in your cooking. It includes a monthly guide to what's fresh and gives away a few secrets on how to get the most from your food shopping at farmers' markets and elsewhere.

For readers outside the Cotswolds, there's advice on finding alternatives to the local ingredients quoted.

Rees also conducts tours and cooking lessons from his home near the village of Bisley.