Sometimes its great to get dolled up and head out for a fantastic restaurant meal, and other times, it’s great to stay at home and revel in the pleasure of a special meal prepared at home. Going that extra mile to prepare something more than an everyday dinner that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own dining table.
Home appliance icon Stoves is calling on people across the nation to celebrate the joy of not going ‘out’… and not just staying ‘in’ either. As a champion of great cooking, Stoves wants us relish in the preparation and serving of great food, so as well as Going Out Out, we also enjoy make an occasion of Staying In In.
As part of the Staying In In campaign, I teamed up with Stoves to head over to the Foodies Festival in Oxford to find out what cooking at home looks like for two winners of two of the biggest cooking shows on Tv: Kenny Tutt, winner of MasterChef 2018, and Sophie Faldo, winner of The Great British Bake Off 2017.
Watching Kenny Tutt cook, it’s hard to believe that the 35-year-old dad of two still works as a bank manager by day, and was considered an ‘amateur cook’ when he first entered MasterChef less than a year ago.
Kenny is an instantly likeable chef with bags of on-stage charisma. Heading on to the Stoves stage to whip up a stunning plate of fish tacos in just 30 minutes, he demonstrated to the eager crowd that tasty, from-scratch cooking doesn’t need to be difficult to be really impressive.
I grabbed Kenny after his demo, and we started by talking about his love for cooking and went back to where it all began.
“My mum is a big cook, and my dad just loves food. My mum’s from a big Irish background, so from a young age I would remember her cooking big family meals, and it would be chaos but lovely chaos.
“So she would get me involved. She called me her grater boy – she would just get me to grate stuff – cheese or whatever vegetables. Or peeling vegetables – I would sit there on the back step just peeling, whereas a lot of my friends would be out on their bikes and playing, I’d be there cooking!
“Then when I got a little bit older, she would let me loose on more intricate things like the humble gravy. So she’d always have me in the kitchen or helping out, and you could tell it was a love of food, taste and bringing people together.
I asked what dinner is like in the Tutt household Kenny shares with his wife and two daughters, Emily (4) and Grace (1).
“It sounds sort of whimsical, but it’s nice when you’re all around the table and even now with my daughters, they might have an iPad or something, and we say, ‘Come on, come on! Let’s have a family dinner!’ So it’s keeping that alive.
“It’s always been in my blood. My dad, if he found somewhere new had opened, he would tuck me in the back of the car, and we would drive for miles to go and try it.
“I remember there was a bagel shop open in Brighton and we lived about 20 miles away at the time, so it’s quite far! I’d like salt beef and cream cheese with gherkins. I remember it tasting like the most amazing thing I’ve ever tasted.
“And then there’s travelling! You get to see what’s out there in the big bad world. So you just fall in love with it all and then bring all that into home cooking.”
So how have all those experiences shaped Kenny as a cook?
“So people say, what sort of cook are you. I’m like, ‘Look, it depends what I fancy at the time, you know?’ I’ll do anything from a curry to Mexican food like I’ve done today, to more fine dining and sous-viding and whatever it may be, so it’s a whole raft of things.
And if they fancy making a meal at home a real occasion? What is their Staying In In favourite?
“I love the traditional fare like a really good roast dinner, but maybe use something like a nice duck and carve it at the table, homemade gravy, and you can do stuff like shallot purees, with the potatoes and just use some of the techniques to elevate the dish.
“So, meat and two veg brought to another level is what I really like to do. Then everyone comes round the table, and you serve it almost like silver service. So it’s the experience and theatre of it as well.
“But I just love that traditional British fare, that’s what I’ve always been drawn to, that’s what my mum loved. Being from that Irish background, it was all roast meats and loads of veg and potatoes and sauces and gravies and bread sauce. It’s all in my blood really, so that’s what I love to do.
And what are Kenny’s tips for anyone who is getting a bit more adventurous in cooking and perhaps wants to make a real occasion of a mealtime?
“Don’t worry about mistakes. Some of the best things come from mistakes, so it doesn’t matter if it’s not quite right or it’s a little bit overdone or underdone, just carry on. You’ll probably notice but other people probably won’t, so don’t over criticise yourself.
“The other thing I’d say is season. Don’t be scared of good quality salt, don’t be scared of good quality seasoning and taste as you go.
“And be adventurous! If you want to take a certain ingredient and flip it on its head and try something new, then try it! What’s the worst that could happen? The main thing is as long as you really enjoy it and you don’t feel stressed (as much as you can!) then go for it! Prepare yourself, prepare well and just have good fun.”
Any Great British Bake Off fan worth their salt will know and love Sophie Faldo. The 33-year-old British Army officer won hearts, minds and stomachs with her impressive bakes.
Sophie is about a multi-talented as anyone can be, having also notched up impressive credentials in rowing, as a stuntwoman and most recently working as a trainee pastry chef at the Michelin-starred Glasshouse restaurant in Kew.
On stage, she cooks with the same natural rhythm, skill and flow we saw on screen, wowing the crowds with a beautiful carrot cake and stunning millefeuille.
The crowds swarmed forward fast when her demo finished. So fast, in fact, that I wasn’t able to grab a photo before the whole lot was gone. If that’s not a sign of a fantastic bake, I don’t know what is.
We started by discussing how Sophie found her passion for food.
“I started cake decorating while I was rowing full-time and I was really poor! So it was just a nice thing to do for people’s birthdays and special occasions. I like making things to show thought and effort.
“And then it was my other half David, who’s a chef, who introduced me to haute cuisine and Michelin star food and that’s when I started to delve in a little bit deeper into desserts and flavours rather than just decorating cakes and sugarcraft.”
I chatted with Sophie about her childhood food memories and decided that an adventurous approach to food goes back a long way.
“I had a good introduction to food because my mother travelled a lot – she did Australia, Southeast Asia – so even when I was really little, our family favourite would be some sort of Thai dish. So that opened my horizons.”
Delving deeper, Sophie’s first foray into competitive cooking came about quite young.
“I used to say to my mum, ‘What’s for tea’ and she’d say, ‘There’s the fridge’ so I learned from somewhere! I suppose it forced me to cook myself. I entered Junior Masterchef when I was 11 and got to the regional finals.”
And fast forward to 2017, how did GBBO come about?
“David and I worked at a chalet out in France, and it just came up on social media, and at the time, I was looking into potentially getting into pastry as a potential career. So I just threw in an application but you never think you’re going to win it – you never think you’re even going to get picked. And before you knew it, I was in the tent, and ten months later, I’d won it!”
And how did it feel to have to keep her win a secret for so long?
“I think it was about two months, which wasn’t horrendous. The hardest thing was keeping schtum that I was on the programme. We’d come back from the alps, and everyone was asking what my next career move might be, and I had to make something up!”
So for keen home cooks who are looking to impress at dinner, what would be Sophie’s recommendations for Staying In In? And what did she learn from cooking under pressure in the tent?
“Actually they do give you enough time, but you work that time. So you think, ‘Right, I’ve got five hours so I’ve got to put all of this stuff in’, and then you think, ‘If I only had another 15 minutes.’ So they do give you enough time with the technicals, you just have to be careful not to be too ambitious.
“The millefeuille recipe I’m making today is really quick but looks really nice so just because it looks difficult doesn’t mean it needs to be difficult. Equally, nice plating and taking a little bit of effort to serve it makes all the difference.”
Viewers will recall that Sophie stayed on top of timings well in the tent, so are the time limits as harsh as they seem and what are her tips for getting the timings right at home?
“What struck me and I never realised until I started going and working in professional kitchens is that nothing is ever cooked to order – everything is pre-prepared. It’s all just plated before it goes out, so you can pretty much, with a few exceptions, do things in advance.
“And that could sometimes be days in advance, so always have things in your fridge or your freezer or your cupboard, and then it’ll take a couple of minutes to put it on a plate. Things like pastry cases can be made days ahead if stored right, so plan and don’t panic!”
If you’re feeling inspired to cook up something special for dinner, stay tuned as I’ll be sharing my own Staying In In recipe very soon!
This is a commissioned post for Stoves.