From his days working as a chef in some of London’s most revolutionary restaurants to being one half of the judging duo on MasterChef UK, Australian-born John Torode has picked up a thing or two on impressive cooking. Wowing diners and restaurant critics may be a breeze for John, but it’s classic, comforting home-cooking that he loves best.
It was his Nanna who paved the way to the kitchen, opening John’s eyes to how cooking can transform ingredients so basic into something astoundingly delicious. Case in point: her famous roast chicken. As John says, “the food she cooked was always simple, but delicious. ”His latest cookbook, My Kind of Food: Recipes I Love to Cook at Home, captures exactly this. It’s all about what John loves to cook for family and friends. The recipes are simple to follow and hint at his years spent in restaurant kitchens in the way they transform basic ingredients into impressive, fuss-free meals. Read on to try some of these recipes at home; we’ve also included a few to pair with the McGuigan Founder’s Series wines so that your meal is sure to impress, whether you’re cooking for family, friends, or a MasterChef judge!
How would you describe your cooking ethos?
I don’t believe ethos is really a thing, as an ethos is something that has been considered and worked out in a formulaic way. For me, the food that I love to eat is the food that I love to cook! The food that the people I know and love like to eat, that too is the food that I love to cook. To cook well is to cook from the heart for those you care about, be it customers, close friends or your family.
What first sparked an interest in cooking?
When I was five years old, my Nanna showed me how to make the gravy for her amazing roast chicken. It was my first cooking lesson. I had many more over the course of the four years my brothers and I lived with her, stood on a stool beside her, over a combustion stove, listening and learning. Her food was always honest and delicious and generous and has, I believe, made me the cook I am today. It is true that now when I look back I realise that my nanna was a great influence, but I did not know it then.
What sort of meals do you remember most fondly from your childhood?
Honestly it was never meals but bits: crispy roast potatoes, fluffy piklets, grilled lamb cutlets and gramma pie. I also remember bowls of soup on a Sunday with hot buttered toast, porridge with brown sugar and even the crispy end bit of the leg of lamb – but not really the meals themselves.
How did these influence your cooking style, and the way you cook at home?
All my food is about one thing: being tasty. Food is about making people smile.
What are the main struggles you see from contestants in the MasterChef kitchens, and what advice do you offer to them?
We all know that ambition can be friend and foe. Being crazy ambitious can be a contestant’s downfall, but then again, playing it safe can often be just as bad! Ambition, ambition, ambition…
What are the biggest changes have you seen in terms of restaurant-style cooking over the years, and how have these affected the way people cook at home?
Choice is the biggest change in the food world over the past two decades. A restaurant is no longer a place someone dresses up to go; it’s now a place to eat. Great food is everywhere. Many people now try and recreate the food they eat in restaurants and I don’t know why. Let the restaurants do the hard work and washing up!
What are easy changes home cooks can incorporate to make their cooking the best it can be?
Simplicity is the key. Keep it really simple when you’re cooking at home but always make a choice: either be happy to cook or get a takeaway…and I mean that! It’s important to be true to yourself and who you’re cooking for.
Are there any trends that you advise home cooks against?
Water baths are for commercial kitchens and baths are for relaxing, having a bath at home should involve bubbles and not a piece of salmon or beef!
What advice would you offer to a novice cook that wants to host a dinner party?
Little plates and cheese are key! That’s what I say, serve cheese and little things… don’t go big, keep it small. Some cured and a few simply grilled meats, fresh bread and salad to serve, ice cream and chocolate sauce for dessert and cheese, cheese, cheese!
Have you ever had any major kitchen disasters? And if so, what did you do to recover?
No, not really…and if I had I wouldn’t tell you!
This interview is from the May 2016 edition of Easy Food.