If a dinner party usually means you wander wildly out of your culinary comfort zone and end up making a last-minute call to the local takeaway à la Mrs Doubtfire, don’t feel guilty: MasterChef’s John Torode admits he turns to fellow professionals, too.
Torode explained he’s not worried about using his favourite takeaways when catering for friends.
“If I’ve got friends coming over and I’m really, really busy, I’ve got this great Indian takeaway – well, it’s not really a takeaway, it’s a shop which does pre-cooked Indian food in East Finchley – and what I do is I’ll put two chickens in an oven, then I’ll drive to East Finchley, pick up some Dal, some Sag aloo, some Chana masala, some other bits and pieces and I’ll come back and put them next to the chickens in the oven,” he said, having advised as much in his new book My Kind of Food.
“Then I’ll go and have a shower, get the table laid out, get the wine out and then when the fifteen or twenty people come, I get it out and it’s chicken and curry.”
Sharing my disbelief that a professional chef doesn’t whip up everything from scratch, Torode dismisses the takeaway concern. “Why not? Why would you not?” he asked.
“If you live in Thailand, you don’t make curry sauce at home, you buy it along with the fresh ingredients and put it all together. You don’t go and buy a whole cow and cut it into steaks, you go to a butcher. So what’s the problem with going to someone who’s professional? There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
“People using jars of sauce and stuff, I’m not big on that,” Torode added. “But curry paste? Fine. Buy the curry paste. Don’t make it, that’s boring. I think everyone’s understanding that, in your own home, you can’t do it all. There’s so much great stuff on the shelves.”
Torode, who’s working with BBC Good Food to encourage people to get confident cooking ten meals rather than the average six*, said the reputation of British food is changing because we’re talking about it: “That’s the starting point.” he explained.
“London is definitely on par with New York and definitely places like Australia, which is a culinary juggernaut,” he said. “We’re actually discussing food and that’s good. We’re recognising that things don’t need to be cremated. We’re realising that a boiled egg is a fine, fine thing. So is a piece of toast with good quality butter. I don’t think it has to be posh or snobby or over the top.
“I think everyone was quite frightened about talking about food,” Torode added. “Twenty years ago, talking about food around the dinner table was akin to talking about religion, politics and sex. I think people are willing to talk about food, have their own opinions; say they don’t like stuff, happy to complain in restaurants. That can’t be a bad thing.”
Torode himself is getting ready to head back into the MasterChef kitchen, with filming on series eleven of the BBC show kicking off in two weeks. For the judge, he says it’s the people that make the show a continued success.
“They come in with their own energy, their own ideas, their own excitement, their own feelings, their own loves. There’s a huge amount of energy in those type of shows.”
*The average person can cook six different meals according to a new Good Food survey. Read the full results in BBC Good Food magazine, on sale now