Life

Tom Kerridge: Cooking for yourself changes your mindset and makes you feel better

Inspired by his own family, Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge tells Jenny Stallard why he's on a mission to get us all cooking from scratch again

Tom Kerridge with his family, Acey and Beth

COOKING can often take a backseat at home. With busy schedules, the different likes and dislikes of each family member to contend with, plus the nervousness that the thought of cooking from scratch can trigger, it's all too easy to become a bit too reliant on convenience food.

It's a habit that Tom Kerridge is determined to change, however. With his new book and TV show, Fresh Start, the Michelin-starred chef is keen to get more of us back to cooking from scratch, and make kitchens the true heart of the home again.

It might not seem easy, but it's key to a healthier 2019, he says.

"It's quite hard to make that big step to lose weight and eat healthier, if you don't know how to cook," acknowledges Wiltshire-born Kerridge (45), who famously shed 12-stone himself.

"A lot of the recipes are in there to get people just cooking again; easy, quick pasta dishes," he adds of his new book. "Things like a turkey schnitzel with coleslaw. Things to get you back into the rhythm of being in the kitchen, but also, alongside the show, it becomes about family. Instead of taking individuals into the show, we've taken families and people who have a reason why they want to come back to the kitchen and cook."

It's about building family life around food, notes the chef, who owns Michelin-starred Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow, a town on the Thames about 30 miles west of London. "What it's done is encourage people to spend time together, and to spend time with their families and make it a hobby, to make food that tastes nice and the kids are interested in. You've got to start kids young, get them interested in where things come from."

Kerridge's own family inspiration just turned three years old in December... Since becoming a dad to Acey, his son with wife Beth, the chef is even more conscious of what he prepares and eats at home than ever. Although, he admits: "I have the same problems as everybody else. It doesn't matter if your dad is a Michelin-starred chef, if you want fish fingers for tea with baked beans, that's it. I've learned – and I'm trying to teach myself – that parental guilt is a massive thing that everybody has, so it's not just you."

He proudly adds that Acey chose cucumber and carrot from a buffet at a party (although he is allowed to enjoy the sausage rolls and crisps!). "If good food is part of your everyday life, there isn't anything wrong with letting your kids have something naughty every now and again.

"If they grow up thinking that burgers and takeaway pizzas is tea, then that's wrong. But if you show them how to make pizza; that's where you take control of that. You're putting the stuff on the pizza that you want to eat. It makes food fun, and that's great."

You don't have to re-stock the pans cupboard, he says, but having a good, sharp knife is an essential.

"If you buy better equipment, you might enjoy it more. If you're really good at DIY but you are working with a really cheap screwdriver and it keeps falling apart, but then you buy a flash one, like an electric one from a DIY shop and it makes your job easier and smarter, it's a bit like that for cooking equipment," he explains.

"You haven't got to spend a lot of money – but the more you enjoy cooking, the more you'll spend because it becomes a great hobby, rather than it just being a chore.

"Just cooking for yourself brings across many positive results in lots of different ways, whether it's weight loss or just your mental outlook of positivity, your skin feeling better, or working together as a family," Kerridge adds.

"There's lots of positive side-effects in cooking for yourself. You cook tea, it was delicious; how great is that? Rather than, 'I microwaved tea, it was all right'. That leads to a new mindset and makes you feel better. It's not like we're asking people to climb Mount Everest here. It's having a go at cooking."

:: Tom Kerridge's Fresh Start by Tom Kerridge is published by Bloomsbury Absolute, priced £26. Below are two recipes from the book for you to try. Tom Kerridge's Fresh Start is on BBC Two, Wednesdays.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH PASTA BAKE

(Serves 6)

1kg butternut squash, cut into chunks (about 2cm)

1tbsp olive oil

500g macaroni

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the cheese sauce:

60g butter

60g plain flour

1L whole milk

1tbsp liquid aminos

60g Parmesan, finely grated

1/4tsp freshly grated nutmeg

For the topping:

A handful of sage leaves

40g sun-blushed tomatoes, roughly chopped

50g fresh breadcrumbs

2tbsp pumpkin oil (or use olive oil)

2tbsp pumpkin seeds

Green salad to serve (optional)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 220C/Fan 200C/Gas 7. Line a large roasting tray with baking parchment. Place the squash in the roasting tray. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Cook on the top shelf of the oven for 25 minutes or until the squash is tender and browned at the edges. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly for a couple of minutes. (Keep the oven on.)

Tip three-quarters of the roasted squash into a blender and blitz to a puree; set the rest aside. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the macaroni and cook until almost al dente (two to three minutes less than the time suggested on the packet).

Meanwhile, for the sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for one minute, then whisk in the milk and cook, whisking, until the sauce thickens slightly. Lower the heat and add the liquid aminos, Parmesan and nutmeg. Stir until the cheese has melted, then stir through the squash puree to make a rich, smooth sauce. Take off the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the macaroni, add to the sauce and stir well. Tip into a large, deep baking dish, about 25 x 30cm. Scatter over the rest of the roasted squash, the sage, sun-blushed tomatoes and breadcrumbs. Drizzle with the oil. Place on the middle shelf of the oven, turning on the oven grill at the same time. Bake for 10 minutes.

Take out the dish, scatter the pumpkin seeds evenly over the surface and return to the oven for five minutes or until the topping is golden. Serve at once, with a green salad.

ROASTED MOROCCAN CARROTS WITH LENTILS

(Serves 4)

800g baby carrots, scrubbed

1tbsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed

1tbsp Aleppo pepper flakes

3tbsp blossom honey

3tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

3 celery sticks, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1tbsp ras el hanout

2 x 250g packs cooked Puy lentils

2tbsp water

A handful each of parsley and mint, roughly chopped

150g feta cheese, crumbled

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon, to serve

Method:

Preheat the oven to 220C/Fan 200C/Gas 7. Line two baking trays with baking parchment. If any of the baby carrots are bigger than the others, cut them so that they are all an even size, then place all the carrots on the lined baking trays.

Sprinkle the carrots with the crushed cumin and pepper flakes and drizzle with the honey and two tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil, sharing equally between the trays. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, giving the carrots a good stir halfway through cooking.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining one tablespoon oil in a saute pan. Add the onion and cook for four to five minutes until it starts to turn brown. Add the celery and garlic and cook for another two minutes.

Stir in the ras el hanout and cook for one minute, then add the cooked lentils with the water and warm through. Remove from the heat and stir in half the chopped herbs.

Divide the lentils between warmed bowls and pile the roasted carrots on top. Scatter over the remaining herbs and crumbled feta, then zest over the lemon. Cut the lemon into wedges and serve on the side.

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