Model turned chef Isaac Carew gets dirty with new cookbook
I thought I was going to do modelling for a year or two years, make some money, and then go back straight into cooking. It didn't work out like that
ISAAC Carew's chiselled looks might be somewhat familiar – he's been the face of huge fashion campaigns for Topshop and Hermes, as well as being regularly pictured on the arm of his Grammy-winning superstar girlfriend, Dua Lipa.
But what you might not know is that before embarking on his high-profile modelling career, Carew trained as a chef, cutting his teeth in restaurant kitchens with some pretty big names in the industry. Now, after a decade of modelling, the 33-year-old is going firmly back to his food roots – his "actual passion".
He's already been busy sharing cooking videos and recipe ideas (interspersed with smouldering selfies and loved-up pictures with Lipa) on Instagram and YouTube – and his debut cookbook, The Dirty Dishes, seems a natural follow-on.
"I thought I was going to do modelling for a year or two years, make some money, and then go back straight into cooking. It didn't work out like that," says Carew, who was scouted outside London's Selfridges. "I put cheffing on the back-burner and I realised that, as much as I loved travelling the world, meeting people and working for amazing clients, my passion is food."
The Dirty Dishes is a collection of 100 recipes and photos that would be just as at home on Carew's Instagram page (mostly shot from above and in muted tones), and the focus is food that's fast, simple and full of flavour, using the kind of quality ingredients you'd expect from someone who grew up in professional kitchens (his dad and godfather are both chefs too). Although there are plenty of colourful soups and salads, it's mainly about satisfying, hearty food – "all the carbs and full-fat butter" – that you could whip up quickly mid-week, or impress friends with on the weekend.
On the face of it, cakes (sticky toffee loaf with rum), homemade pasta (nduja tagliatelle), burgers (aubergine and lamb) and indulging in stacks of pancakes (buttermilk with blueberry and chamomile compote), might not seem a naturally harmonious fit for someone from the modelling world – but Carew says it's a common misconception that if you're a model, you can't love food.
"Obviously, if I've got a big job coming up, I'm not going to eat a burger and chips every day, but I've never really had to focus on my image in that way," he says (lucky him). "I work out, I box, I did a 100-mile cycle for charity last year - if you have a varied diet, you're going to be fine. If you restrict yourself, it's going to be boring, and you'll probably start binging."
And that's exactly the message he wants Dirty Dishes to send. The name, he says, is "a bit tongue in cheek – because a lot of books are about clean eating, healthy this and healthy that, so I wanted to bring the love back to food.
"I just want to get people into the kitchen, cooking and having fun," he adds enthusiastically – with straight-forward recipes for interesting combinations, and just the right amount of ambition for those who already know their way around a pasta machine, or want to whip up a homemade chilli sauce.
So what does Lipa think? "She told me she loves it, so that's a bonus," he says with a smile. "I haven't given her a signed copy yet, I wanted to make it extra special."
A fast-becoming power couple, the pair probably look as if they're always attending music award parties – Lipa has won two Grammys and one Brit so far this year alone ("Absolutely mind-blowing," Carew proclaims, "I'm super proud").
"With Instagram, everything can look super-glamorous and fancy but at the end of the day, we're just normal people, in a normal relationship, two people who love each other," he adds.
They cook "all the time" together at home. "She's a really good cook," Carew gushes. "The other day, she cooked fried garlic samphire with seared tuna and roast potatoes. We never cook the same thing twice, we keep it varied and change it up all the time."
Carew describes his cooking style as "modern European with a heavy Italian influence", which is in part thanks to working under Michelin-star chef Angela Hartnett at London's famous The Connaught. "Before working with her, I'd never made fresh pasta, ravioli, tortellini or anything, but when I started working on the pasta section, I instantly fell in love with the craft of making pasta from scratch."
There's a recipe in the book that Carew says is a "little homage" to Hartnett, the white onion soup he used to make in her restaurant 10 years ago, apparently one of her signature dishes at the time.
Well before his face was plastered on the digital screens on Times Square, Carew also worked under award-winning Colombian chef Juan Manuel Barrientos Valencia at ElCielo in Miami. But it's TV chef Gary Rhodes who he credits with inspiring him to go to culinary school in the first place; he followed his food hero to the same cooking school, East Kent (formerly Thanet) College.
From age seven, he dreamed of being a chef. "I remember sending letters to my dad with a business plan I'd come up with for a restaurant; I named it, I designed a menu," he recalls. That's still an ambition he has - "I'd love to get back in the [professional] kitchen and I definitely want to have my own restaurant; I'm thinking maybe in two or three years. I love the craziness and camaraderie you get in kitchens."
First though, he'd love to follow in similar footsteps as Jamie Oliver, doing TV and more books. Something tells me we'll be seeing a lot more of Carew – less designer fashion, more chef's whites.
:: The Dirty Dishes: 100 Fast And Delicious Recipes by Isaac Carew, photography by Susan Bell, is published by Bluebird, priced £20. Available now.
:: HOW TO MAKE ISAAC CAREW'S CHICKEN LEGS WITH QUINOA AND AVOCADO
Sometimes, you just need an easy recipe up your sleeve for a quick and healthy mid-week dinner. Harissa packs a punch and chicken legs usually come cheaper than breasts - and for a health kick, quinoa is a great source of fibre and protein.
Ingredients (Serves four)
95g rose harissa
Sea salt and black pepper
1 red onion, quartered
4 skin-on chicken legs
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Preheat the oven to 200C (fan 180C/gas mark 6).
2. In a bowl combine the harissa, a glug of olive oil and salt. Add the red onion to the bowl, then add the chicken and mix together, making sure everything is evenly coated. Lay it all out on a roasting tray and roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
3. Heat a medium saucepan and add the dry quinoa. Toast for one minute, then add the garlic and 800ml cold water. Cover with a lid and bring up to the boil, adding a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes until nearly all the liquid has gone.
4. Meanwhile peel and de-stone the avocados. Dice them roughly and squeeze over the lemon juice. Sprinkle with another pinch of salt.
5. Divide the quinoa and chicken between four plates and serve with the avocado.
:: STICKY TOFFEE LOAF WITH RUM
"No Sunday roast is complete without a sticky toffee pudding, or in this case, a sticky toffee loaf," Carew writes in his first cookbook, The Dirty Dishes. "For me, this just shouts lazy Sundays: You've eaten your roast, been out for a walk, then you're on the sofa when the sticky toffee pudding comes out."
Be careful not to overcook the base, notes the model-turned-chef, because it will dry out. Serve with a classic vanilla ice cream.
Ingredients (Serves four)
200g medjool dates, de-stoned and chopped
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g brown sugar
150g butter, softened
2 large eggs
150g self-raising flour
1/2tsp mixed spice
1tbsp baking powder
For the toffee sauce:
250g Muscovado sugar
125ml double cream
1 double shot of rum
Vanilla ice cream to serve
900g loaf tin or 23cm round baking tin
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (fan 160C/gas mark 4). Pop the dates in a bowl and cover with 400ml boiling water. Add the bicarbonate of soda and leave to soak and cool.
2. In a bowl or stand mixer, mix the brown sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and whisk together. Next add the cooled dates and most of the liquid and whisk until combined. Finally, add the flour, cinnamon, mixed spice and baking powder. Mix until fully incorporated.
3. Next, line and butter the loaf tin or baking tin. I prefer to use a loaf tin for this recipe. Add the cake mixture and pop in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the knife comes out clean.
4. While the sponge is baking, start making the toffee sauce. In a pan, heat the butter and sugar together until melted, then add the double cream. Bring up to the boil then add the rum.
5. When the sponge is ready, dot with a few holes here and there. Pour half the sauce over the sponge while it's still in the tin and allow it to soak in for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the tin, slice thickly, and serve with vanilla ice cream and the remaining sauce.