IT IS hard to imagine the great Lord Sugar tucking into a squirrel pie. But he may well get the chance if East Bergholt’s Jess Noy has her way.

The 24-year-old cook, also known as the Gamekeeper’s Daughter, has applied for a place on next year’s BBC show the Apprentice.

“I would love the challenge of going on the show,” says Jess excitedly.

“I think I would be good at some of the tasks and I am really quite business minded and good at looking for opportunities and make the most of things.

“I also quite like Alan Sugar and think he’s probably a softie off the cameras!”

Since establishing the Gamekeeper’s Daughter 18 months ago, Jess has made an impression on the foodie world.

She has already appeared on children’s television and on ITV’s Food Glorious Food, and regularly teaches at Jimmy’s Farm and for workshops across Essex and Suffolk.

So a spot on the Apprentice may not be as daunting as it sounds.

As the name suggests, the daughter of a gamekeeper at the East Bergholt Estate Company grew up learning about game, spending her childhood in the countryside and foraging.

Even during her time at university, where she completed an Early Childhood Studies degree, Jess was far from a typical student and continued using seasonal and foraged food instead of living off baked beans on toast.

But finding a job related to her degree proved difficult and Jess was out of work for 18 months.

She explains: “I got so fed up. Then I decided I wanted my own business, but I didn’t know what to do.

“The only thing I was confident doing was cooking. I didn’t want the pressure of being a chef in a restaurant, so I started making cakes and taking them to farmers’ markets.

“It snowballed from there.”

Eventually Jess found her niche in game and making pies and pates out of venison, pigeon and duck.

Her hedgerow pesto made from nettles gathered through foraging was an instant success and Jess found she was invited to attend more and more markets.

“I have always been into foraging, ever since I was about five.

“I would go out and pick blackberries, go into the orchards and forage with my friends.

“My dad would also bring things back,” remembers Jess, a self-taught cook.

“I remember going out with my dad in his Landrover and feed the pheasants and then there were the shoots and I would be the beater to flush the birds out.

“I have been quite lucky and fortunate in where I have grown up.”

A self-confessed foodie, it was not hard for Jess to develop a passion for food, considering both her parents prepare meals from seasonal, fresh and foraged foods.

So when a friend suggested she call her business the Gamekeeper’s Daughter, it seemed a perfect fit.

She says: “I have always been into my food and as gamekeeper, my dad was always bringing home game for dinner.

“Every Saturday after a shoot, dad would bring back pheasant so Sunday lunch would always be roast pheasant – I actually used to get bored of it!

“The thing with my dad’s cooking is he would sometimes throw everything in, it was quite funny. He once put pate into a casserole and it was disgusting!”

Jess’s version of experimental has been well received, with her fusion style combining game meats with Thai and Indian flavours.

Her squirrel pasties got her noticed by the Sun newspaper and on an episode of CBBC children’s show, Incredible Edibles.

Jess says: “When I started this business, I wanted everything I did to be unique.

“Game has a reputation for being old fashioned and people put it into stews because they don’t know what to do with it.

“Then one day I thought, you can eat squirrel – I’ll do something with it and see how it goes down.

“I was a bit nervous when I first made them, but I sold out every time because people just wanted to try it.

“It has quite a rich flavour, a bit similar to duck, a bit like strong rabbit.

“But it is really fiddly to make because there is hardly any meat on and you have to pick it all off.”

The tandoori-flavoured squirrel samosas and mini pasties were mixed in with nuts and while most people were willing to give it a go, some were a little offended.

Jess explains: “Some people said I was being cruel, but you could say that with any meat.

“The thing is the squirrels, just like the game I use, are free range. They are not intensively reared and live good lives eating nuts and berries which is why they have good flavours.”

Children’s channel CBBC was not offended, but instead wanted to help educate its young viewers about seasonal and foraged foods that surround us in its programme, Incredible Edibles.

A television crew and presenter Stephan Gates visited Jess and her dad for the day, went out with her dad to see how he traps the squirrels, then brought them back to Jess, who made them into a pasty.

The younger audience seem less squeamish and more open to ideas, says Jess, who has finally been able to use her degree studies and teach children cookery classes. At a workshop in Lowestoft she took in a selection of foraged herbs, nuts and nettles, along with some venison and after identifying all the ingredients, made a green nettle pesto and venison, or Bambi, burgers.

Jess laughs: “They were really enthusiastic, but I thought they would be wary and not like the idea of eating Bambi.

“Instead they asked me if Thumper was going to be in there too!”

As well as her increasing teaching schedule – the most recent one will be held at the Mistley Kitchen in Manningtree – Jess is still attending numerous farmers’ markets and will be at the Colchester market tomorrow at Colchester Arts Centre.

As well as being the youngest stall holder at the markets, she is also niche in being one of a few, if not the only one, to sell game products.

“I want to get into street food now, selling venison chilli con carne, venison burger, Thai rabbit curry,” explains Jess.

“I think people want it, especially at events and festivals.

“I am also applying for funding from the Princes Trust so I can have a purpose built kitchen as I’m currently using my mum’s kitchen.

“It gets a bit difficult when she is cooking for friends and I’m getting in her way!”