Property Queen Kirstie Allsopp on learning to cook - and why you should too
From tackling fussy-eaters to mastering simple Sunday roasts, Kirstie Allsopp's got it all covered in her first cookbook, as Kate Whiting discovers.
TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp is best known as one half of the Location, Location, Location double act - and we already know she's talented at scouring for properties and giving straight-talking advice.
But now her debut cookbook, Kirstie's Real Kitchen, has just hit the shelves and she's on a new mission, to inspire people who think they can't cook to give it a try.
"It's a book for people who are not that confident about themselves as a cook. There is a big 'can-do' part of my life, which I've only recently realised," she says. "The fun bit is doing things in a certain way that people then say, 'You know, I didn't think I could do this, and now I can'. And then you think, actually, this is really a job worth doing."
Kirstie once knew very little about cooking herself
To write the book, Kirstie, 46, mined her experiences of learning to cook, from her days as a single 20-something, to becoming a mum and step-mum to four boys. Recipes are split into categories like Big Dishes, Children & Fussy Eaters and, of course, Christmas.
"Cooking didn't play a huge part in my childhood," she admits. "My mum was fascinated by people who were interested in food. She used to say, 'Oh my God! So and so sits in bed and reads recipe books!' She was just amazed anyone would do that.
"I bought my first flat when I was 21 [in the early-Nineties] and mortgage rates were 14%. Now there is a much bigger eating-out culture among young people, but it really didn't exist back then. If you wanted to see your friends, you had to cook, and that is what I did. But it was a really steep learning curve... Old friends of mine will tell you there was a whole year of chicken tikka, because I'd learn to do one thing."
Sometimes her partner doesn't like her food!
She says she's not "a risk-taker in the kitchen", although she does experiment on her property developer partner Ben Andersen more now than she used to.
"If it's disgusting, he'll say something really sweet like, 'Not sure how successful that is!'"
Her nanny often cooks for her fussy kids
Kirstie has two sons with Ben - Oscar, nine, and Bay, 11 - as well as two older step-sons, Hal and Orion. She admits that her nanny Heather does "the majority of the cooking for the children in the school term" ("It's probably another reason why I'm so keen to cook when I can," she notes).
But the boys are "all bloody fussy if you ask me", and she thinks the challenge of cooking for fussy children is one of the reasons women give up trying.
"I remember a stage when, if I cooked for the children, I would be like, 'Actually, I don't want to do it any more, can we just have a sandwich or an omelette?'
"When you become confident in your food, you can do very quick things. So now, if given a fish, I am happy to get some peppers and tomatoes and bung them in, with a bit of marinade. It is not a stress.
"But if you're going to teach yourself to cook, you have to teach your children to wash up. That's a fair division of labour. If we don't cook, how do we teach our children to wash up? There is a whole generation of children that have never had to get scrambled egg off a pan - it is not right!"
But now she loves being in the kitchen
Her happiest times in the kitchen now are Sunday mornings, when she's making the roast and catching up on The Archers.
"What I really like doing is cooking something for lunch on Sunday, plus something I can freeze for the following weekend or for the week, plus something that uses leftovers. I like that kind of multitasking cooking. If I'm going to make pesto, then I'm going to make enough for three or four [meals] - it's more economic and less wasteful."
She's also a big advocate of healthy eating but says she hasn't focused on that in the book because, "if you're trying to get people to start cooking, you can't lecture them on diet at the same time.
"The absolute key is to encourage people to cook more," states Kirstie. "Once you start cooking more, you realise what goes into food and you start being more careful about what you eat. I think it is very hard to have a healthy diet if you don't cook."
Kirstie's Real Kitchen by Kirstie Allsopp, photography Rita Platts, is published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton, priced Â£25. Available now