Your favourite recipe you cook for yourself?
I have to admit, I don’t spend a lot of time cooking for myself these days! But I love a simple pasta dish, one that comes together in a pan while the pasta boils in another. Lashings of garlic and chilli is always my go-to base, plus whatever I have in my fridge – sometimes a rasher or two of bacon and some capers; other times a handful of bitter radicchio and some fresh cherry tomatoes right at the end. And always finished with a decent grating of parmesan. Effortless, uncomplicated dishes like this that come together quickly give me a lot of satisfaction after a busy day!
The one thing you always have in your fridge?
Jalapenos! I adore spicy food, so I throw these pickled chillies in heaps of dishes – shakshuka, Mexican wraps, pasta sauces and salads – I even use a spoonful or two of the liquid when I make salad dressings. They last forever so there’s always a jar or two in my fridge.
If you could impart one piece of cooking knowledge to everyone, what would it be?
Taste as you cook! It’s really important to season every step of the way, from salting the water when you’re cooking grains or blanching vegetables, to adding more layers of seasoning to every component of your meal. Forget what the recipe says, use your tastebuds to add flavour to the dish!
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Ooh that’s a tough one. It’d have to be cheese. So much variety – I could get behind the idea of a cheese platter for dinner every night!
Can you recall the moment when you knew you wanted to pursue a career in food?
When I was (a lot) younger I started a food blog that documented my travels around Europe and Asia. I loved sampling different dishes, and exploring new cultures via their cuisines. I was working as a copywriter and the idea of marrying words and food seemed like an excellent career choice, so I jumped into freelance food writing. The problem with freelancing is that you still have to eat… so I started making extra serves of my weeknight dinners for hungry friends with no time to cook. And the rest, as they say, is history! Almost overnight I went from hobby home cook to business owner and JUK chef.
Your go-to dinner party meal?
I like sharing food at the table, especially when the components can be prepared in advance so I can spend more time with my friends instead of being stuck in the kitchen. In the warmer months you’ll find me dishing up a Thai-inspired larb: minced chicken or pork cooked off with sesame oil and aromatics, served alongside lettuce cups and bowls of condiments and fillings so guests can build their own spicy larb cups. It’s a light yet filling meal, and everyone can try their own combinations.
Who is your food hero?
He’s pretty much a household name now, but I’ve always loved the way Yotam Ottolenghi uses big, bold flavours in a fresh, modern way. I can still remember my first visit to his café in Notting Hill in London back in 2008 – I was like a kid in a candy store!
What music, if any, do you like to listen to while cooking?
Kitchen time is my chill time, and at the moment I’m listening to a lot of Leon Bridges.
Biggest kitchen disaster?
I’m really good at melting spatulas.
Your guilty pleasure?
In all your travels, where have you experienced the best food (and what was it)?
There are so many dishes! But I think one of my most memorable would have to be eating hummus in Israel – you can’t even begin to imagine how creamy and rich it is. There are restaurants that serve only hummus, with bread and pickled vegetables on the side. I’m dreaming about going back one day…
Is there one cookbook you go back to time and time again?
Bill Granger’s Bill’s Everyday Asian is my go-to for quick, bold flavours. I’ve added my own twists over the years but there is still some fantastic inspiration in this cookbook, and they’re simple recipes!
The kitchen utensil you can't live without?
A long metal fish slice with a wooden handle – I bought it from a second-hand store as a food prop but it’s quickly become my favourite spatula – it has enough flex that it can get down the sides of a frying pan, it is thin and sharp for prising food from the bottom of pans and it’s un-meltable (see biggest kitchen disaster, above!)
You're currently craving?
Fresh cherries – the epitome of a kiwi summer for me.
Any advice to new cooks?
Don’t be scared to start somewhere. And remember, a recipe is only a guide – you’ll truly become a cook when you take a recipe as your base and then add your own flair!