Lisburn home cook hero Suzie Lee ushers us all into the kitchen in new TV show
Jenny Lee chats burgers, sticky toffee pudding and cooking in front of the cameras with Lisburn accountant and mum-of-two Suzie Lee
HAVING already been declared the winner of the BBC’s Best Home Cook 2020 by Mary Berry earlier this year, Lisburn woman Suzie Lee Arbuthnot is back on our screens, trying to encourage us to leave convenience food shopping behind and to put on our aprons.
“I’m on a mission to get people back into their kitchens. Cooking from scratch is nothing to be scared of and anyone can be a home cook hero,” says 36-year-old Suzie.
In Suzie Lee’s Home Cook Heroes, she takes one key ingredient per episode (chicken, rump steak and eggs), which provides the basis for three different meal options. ?
“I just think people have lost their confidence with cooking. The rising level of obesity is all driven by convenience foods, but making good food that is healthy is really not that difficult.”
Detailing a range of simple techniques, short cuts and money saving tips, Suzie takes viewers through a range of family-friendly dishes based on readily available ingredients.
These include Chinese favourites from her childhood like Beef Ho Fan and egg fried rice cooked on a barbecue, through to roast chicken dinner, and indulgent deserts such as sticky toffee pudding, using her 'secret ingredient' – dates.
“Sticky toffee pudding is a dense mix, but by using dates and boiling them in the pot you make it super fluffy and lighter,” says Suzie who also reveals that you can transform what might otherwise be an ordinary, run-of-the-mill burger into the ultimate homemade hamburger by using a combination of pork and beef mince and by making your own sauce, simply mixing mayonnaise with ketchup and sweet relish.
“The mixture of meats give the burger a different, really juicy texture,” she enthuses.
Viewers can also discover a range of new cooking skills and ways of adding variety to mealtimes, including how to make homemade tortillas and rice noodles.
Each episode features a local family, who road test one of Suzie’s recipes. All filming took place under Covid-19 restrictions, with the testers' self-shot footage providing a portrait of the fun and sometime chaotic nature of cooking as a family.
Suzie believes that “food is the glue that holds families together”, and encourages her own children, Zander, aged five, and two-year-old Odelia, to get involved in the kitchen.
“They absolutely love being in the kitchen with me. Our lives can be so busy, but cooking together is another way you can spend quality time with your children,” she says.
Suzie grew up surrounded by food, as her family run the Man Lee Chinese takeaway in Lisburn, and from the age of seven she would be earning her pocket money there chopping and peeling vegetables.
While her father still runs the family takeaway, it’s her late mother Celia that Suzie credits as her “home cook hero” and for instilling in her a passion of cooking, "as well as a determination to succeed”.?
“I was the youngest girl in my family and literally hung on to my mum's apron strings, watching her every move and seeing how she would transform simple ingredients into something really yummy. Mum not only cooked amazing Chinese food, but had a love of baking and pastry.”
In her teens, when her sisters had left for university, Suzie enjoyed the treat of going to cafés with her mum to sample new foods and then trying to recreate them at home.
She discussed her dream of going to Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in London after her GCSEs with her mothe, but her plans drastically changed following the sudden death of Celia – from deep vein thrombosis, during a flight home from Chinese New Year celebrations in Kong Hong.
Twenty years later, after having completed a degree in Economics and Management from Queen’s University Belfast and later completing her Chartered Accountancy exams, Suzie followed her passion for cooking in applying for and winning the BBC prime time show Best Home Cook.
“Ever since my mum passed away I do live my life to the full, and with no regrets, because you don't know what might happen tomorrow," Suzie says.
“I’m staring at Angela Hartnett and Mary Berry’s cookbook in my kitchen right now. These are people that I really respect and whose recipes I use, so it was really nice to meet them in person and learn from them.
“To win and to have a Michelin-starred chef compliment my pastry and tell me I was a 'really good home cook' was a massive confidence booster.”
Suzie is keen to encourage everyone to have a go at cooking and her overriding message is “don’t be afraid”.
“Food is a necessity, not a want. Everyone starts with not knowing how to cook. It's all trial and error and I've had so many disasters,” says Suzie, who confesses she recently turned a sweet raspberry and redcurrant jam into 'concrete' by turning her back on the saucepan for a minute to do the dishes.
“But it’s from those disasters you learn to make something, to really cook. My advice is just cook and taste as you go along. Then if you think there is something lacking then keep seasoning and experiment by adding a little bit of herbs.”
While before her success in Best Home Cook Suzie had dreamt of saving for a “retirement plan” which involved opening a little coffee shop or catering company that enabled her to “potter around” with her love of cooking.
While she isn’t giving up her day job of accountancy, just yet, Suzie admits the programme has “given me a different outlook to what might be in the future”.
And will that include seeing more of her on our television screens?
“I never thought I would say this, but I would really love to do more TV. It’s been so enjoyable and brought out another creative side of me I never thought I had.”
:: Suzie Lee’s Home Cook Heroes begins on August 6 at 7.30pm on BBC One Northern Ireland, also available on BBC iPlayer. For accompanying recipes visit Bbc.co.uk/suzielee
THE ULTIMATE BURGER
For the burger patties:
Beef mince – 400g
Pork mince – 400g
1 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1 slice of bread blitz to breadcrumbs soaked in 2 tbsp of milk
salt and pepper
1 pack of streaky bacon
300g cheddar, sliced
Brioche burger baps
Beef tomato sliced
Round lettuce leaves
Pickled red onions
1 large red onion finely sliced into rings
200ml of white wine vinegar
1 tbsp of sugar
1 tsp salt
Homemade burger mayo sauce:
8 tbsp mayo
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp of sweet relish/chutney
In a bowl mix all the pattie ingredients and season well; using your hands, bring it together and form into six balls and then flatten between two sheets of parchment paper to round discs.
Heat your barbecue. On white coals, cook the burgers for about four-five minutes on each side. Don’t overcook as you want them to be still juicy. On the last couple of minutes add slices of cheddar on top so it melts with the heat.
Fry off the bacon. Mix the mayo, and ketchup and relish/chutney and taste to season.
Assemble as desired – baps, lettuce, tomato, bacon, pickled onions...