Photo: © Yuki Sugiura
By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
“This book, ‘My Kind Of Food’, is a document of my life in food, and of my travels and my loves,” begins the introduction to John Torode’s brand new cookbook. “Why did I decide to write it? Because cooking is what I do and what I have always done. I do it professionally and it is my way of life, but cooking is also the way I relax. It is the thing I dream about the most; it makes me smile and it is something that I am proud to be able to do well.”
Filled with a vast concoction of recipes, ‘My Kind of Food’ is resolutely accessible to even the least experienced of home cooks. Featuring six chapters, the book’s sections range from the likes of ‘Brunch to Lunch’, ‘For the Family’, and ‘In a Rush’, through to ‘And to Finish’: a selection of sumptuous Puddings. If a binder of tricky recipes that require obscure ingredients and advanced techniques is what you’re after, ‘My Kind of Food’ probably isn’t for you, instead this selection of the Masterchef judge’s favourite recipes to cook at home is ideal for those in search of a relatively simple, yet satiating, meal at the end of a long day.
So, tying in with the release, we got John on the phone to give us a little more information about the book, as well as his love of cooking.
Hi John, what have you been up to today?
“I’m about to sign 600 books. That’s a good start isn’t it (laughs). I’ve just been running around doing bits and pieces, you know? Normal stuff that people do, nothing too exciting.”
To begin, could you tell us a little bit more about the book’s origins?
“The book is, really, made up of recipes that have never been written down, because I’ve always just made things. I’ve never sort of weighed stuff out; I just make stuff. So what I’ve had to do is sit down and write all of the recipes that I cook at home, all of the time, so it’s thing that I’ve cooked over, and over, and over again. All of the issues, and everything that can go wrong has all been ironed out and sorted so that it makes sense to people.”
When did you come up with the idea and how long has the book taken to complete?
“Well, to be fair, myself and the publishers talked about various ideas and teaching people to cook and being inspired by food. So I guess that this book has really been about 18 months in the making. Now it’s here, and I first saw the finished book about two weeks ago and 18 months of hard work and cooking, and photography, just looking through at stuff. It’s been a good fun ride.”
There seems to be a strong focus on Brunch, in ‘My Kind of Food’. Is that something that plays a big part of your day-to-day life?
“There is one whole chapter dedicated to Breakfast and Lunch because, you know what, it’s that time on a weekend when families get together. I mean we’re all so busy now, many people don’t get a chance to sit down with their family at dinner time, or even to have Sunday lunch, any more. But there’s something very nice about getting up with the kids and Breakfast and Brunch before everybody gets on with their really busy day. I also think that in Australia, where I grew up, you’d go out for Brunch, you know – you’d go to the local Café and everybody does it, but here I don’t think people do it as much. It’s getting better, but its nowhere near the prominence that somewhere like Australia has got, and I’d like to promote Brunch. I think Lunch and Breakfast are, as I say in my introduction, the food of Emperors.”
All of the recipes within the book seem to be very accessible, how important do you feel that it is for people that don’t have any professional training to attempt to cook great food at home?
“To be fair, this book is not based on a professional. It’s not for a professional cook or somebody that works in a kitchen to take and get an idea from. This is about people at home, and I haven’t written this book for chefs, I’ve written this book for people. Some people are just starting out, and there’s even some stuff in there for children to cook, and stuff for people who are a little bit frightened of food. There’s also stuff in there for people who want to be a little bit more adventurous, and want a challenge. But really, the most important thing is inspiration. I’d just like people to be inspired a little bit and open the book and say “ah, that looks cool.” When people cook from my book, I would like them to put their own spin on it. I’d like them to put in the things that they’d like to eat with it. Do you know what I mean? If you follow a recipe, that’s a really lovely thing, but make notes on the book and change the recipe and do something so that it becomes yours, I think that’s really important. Say you’re making a Birthday cake for someone and you copy it out of the book, you don’t write ‘Happy Birthday Sue’, you write ‘Happy Birthday (whoever’s Birthday is on it) so, of course, you’ve already changed it. So I think that’s really important to me. Accessibility: absolutely paramount for being successful.”
You’ve been a chef for quite a long time now, when did you first fall in love with cooking?
“I don’t know how you’d really define that. I think it’s the same as falling in love with a child, I think it just happens and you don’t really know, for that sort of reason. Food is so emotive, I mean you go through parts of your life when you don’t even realise how much you love it and how much you enjoy it. Food has always been a part of my life, and I think that around the world it’s a part of everybody’s life. I mean were born to eat, and if you don’t love food that’s a bit of a weird thing, isn’t it? There’s only one person in my life that’s ever said to me “it’s just fuel, I can’t be bothered with eating”, and I found that a bit sad really. I mean that’s the way they are, but I found it a real shame, but I’ve always loved it. I’ve always eaten and I’ve always enjoyed it, and I’ve always cooked and I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I’ve been cooking professionally since I was 16 and went to college when I was 20, but I’ve always, always cooked.”
Back to the book, there seems to be a real mix-up of different Cuisines, however, through your TV work, you show a real passion for Asian flavours. When did this love of Asian food come about?
“The world is a massive place, and I think we now eat food from all around the world. Asia is Australia’s neighbour, in the same way that Italy and France are England’s neighbour, so people cook Italian and French food – as I do now – because of its proximity to another country, and I think that the influence of the Asian community in Australia through the 1970s and 1980s really changed the face of Australian food, and Australasian food – as it is now – has a lot of Asian flavours in it, and that’s really where it all comes from. But I hope that any body in the world will be able to pick this book up and go “ahh, I like that, because that is the food that I like to eat.” And I also hope that people dabble in other things and try new things that are a little bit different, and that’s really the whole idea of ‘My Kind of Food’ because you can’t define it.”
From the whole book, do you have one favourite recipe for a dish that you tend to make far more than others?
“(Laughs), that’s the point of the book, they’re all… If you were to ask me the one thing that I make when I’m alone, by myself, what’s something that I cook all of the time? For me, a Roast Chicken is an amazing, amazing thing. I love Roast Chicken, I just think it’s brilliant, but for me – if I’m at home and I’m by myself – I will probably make myself a bowl of Spaghetti Carbonara. I think it’s a bloody wonderful thing. It takes stuff that comes out of the cupboard, and what most people have in their fridge. It takes an Egg, some Bacon, a pack of Spaghetti and some grated Cheese. And if you can make a joyous meal out of things that come out of the cupboard, then I think that’s a great, great thing.”
Also, to tie in with the book release, we have the recipe for John’s Nanna’s Roast Chicken for you to enjoy at home, fresh from ‘My Kind of Food’.Photo: © Yuki Sugiura
“When I was 5 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 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. I can still smell and taste everything she cooked and as I got better and after much practice she finally entrusted me to cook the roast – this roast, with her gravy. So I dedicate this to you, Nanna. Thank you.”
Enough for a family of 6
1 large chicken, about 1.5kg
50g butter, softened
For the stuffing
1 onion, diced
100g smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
150g fresh breadcrumbs
grated zest of ½ orange
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
100g sausage meat
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the mash
2kg potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks about the size of a golf ball
200ml milk, plus extra if necessary
50ml double cream
70g butter, plus extra if necessary
For the gravy
2 tablespoons plain flour
To make the stuffing
Heat the oven to 200°C/gas 6.
Melt the butter in a frying pan over a high heat, add a pinch of salt, two grinds of pepper, the onion and bacon and fry for a couple of minutes so the bacon smells good but isn’t crispy. Take off the heat and mix in the rest of the ingredients.
To stuff and cook the chicken
Rub the chicken all over with the butter. Stuff both ends of the chicken with the stuffing and tie the chicken legs together with string. Lift the chicken breast-side up into a roasting tin.
Put the chicken in the oven, turn the oven down to 190°C/gas 5 and roast for 1 hour. Turn the chicken over so that it sits on its breast and cook for another 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven, drape the chicken with a sheet of kitchen foil and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
To make the mash
Put the spuds into a large pan, cover with cold water and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, until tender. Drain well, shaking off all the excess water, then put them back in the pan (off the heat), cover with a tea towel and leave for 5 minutes.
Mash the potatoes with a fork – a fork doesn’t squash the spuds like a masher does. Put the pan on a low heat, add the milk, cream and butter and mix well. Add salt and white pepper – lots if you’re me.
To make the gravy
Take the chicken out of the tin and put it on a board (get rid of the foil). Place the tin over a medium heat and sprinkle the flour over the chicken juices. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the tin to lift up all the brown bits and make a paste. Stir and cook for 2–3 minutes. Pour in 250ml of water, turn the heat up, bring to the boil and whisk to get rid of any lumps. Add more water and keep it boiling until it’s the consistency you like.
Pull the chicken apart and pull out the stuffing. Big dish of chicken, big bowl of mash and stacks of gravy. Loads of food for the family.
Recipe extracted from My Kind of Food by John Torode (Headline) £25.