Actress-turned-cook and Celebrity MasterChef champion Lisa Faulkner has got some serious foodie credentials and she always has a tin full of biscuits or cake on the go. Always. We like her already …
After a chequered history with a deep-fat fryer (who remembers the brilliant MI5 series, Spooks, and her much talked about exit from the show?) Lisa Faulkner found herself on Celebrity MasterChef and starting a new career in her 30s. No mean feat.
After pipping Christine Hamilton and TV presenter Dick Strawbridge to the post to be crowned the winner of the cooking competition in 2010 (and playing nice with the fryer), she went on to sweat it out in the kitchen at chef and MasterChef judge John Torode’s Smiths of Smithfield – he subsequently became her boyfriend too.
Let’s face it, no-one volunteers for restaurant kitchen shifts looking for an easy ride and the actress and foodie has since written three cookbooks (the latest, Tea & Cake with Lisa Faulkner, was published this year) and presented and appeared on numerous TV shows and festivals.
We caught up with Faulkner to talk all things tea and cake, which just so happen to be our two favourite things ...
You’ve said before that you don’t consider yourself a baker. Why did you want to do a book on cake?
There’s this thing that you have to either be a baker or a cook. When I think of a baker, I think of someone who knows about flour and croquembouches … I think of Paul Hollywood. I’m not that, I'm a cook.
I’ve been making cakes to have with a cup of tea since I was 5 years old. I always have a tin that has some kind of cake or biscuits in. Always.
What’s the main fail people make with cakes?
People worry too much about what the cake will look like. With baking, there’s an element that you have to follow the recipe because you can’t substitute one thing for another, like you can with a sauce, so you have to know what you’re doing.
It’s trial and error so don’t give up and don’t be hard on yourself. My grandma’s food was amazing but it wasn’t pretty, it was tattered and didn’t look perfect.
Where do you sit on the great butter / margarine sponge cake debate?
Mary (Berry) uses margarine but I love both. I use whatever I have.
Which three ingredients could you not cook without?
Butter, tomatoes and Marmite.
What’s always in your fridge?
Always natural yoghurt because I make a lot of soda bread, also cream cheese and lots of leftovers.
What’s the last meal you ate?
My sister cooked us all spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread. Delicious.
What’s the biggest mistake people make when it comes to dinner parties?
Experimenting before dinner parties instead of doing something they know. Dinner parties should be about your mates coming round, there shouldn’t be any kind of pressure – but there always is.
Best piece of cooking advice you’ve been given?
Never apologise for your food. Nobody knows what your food is meant to look and taste like apart from you.
What made you want to take part in MasterChef?
I have no idea. They caught me on a good day.
What does a winning dish need to have?
It has to be food that you love to cook because then it will always taste good.
What are your top pieces of kitchen kit?
A good knife, I have two, a big one and a small one, you don’t need any more. Also a good mixer and a chopping board.
Does cooking at home get competitive with John (Torode)?
No. It’s so funny, people think that when we cook for each other that it’s like a TV show, but it's not.
Is it all about cooking now rather than acting?
I’ve been cooking, cooking crazy. I went for an audition recently, but I don’t think I’ll get it. I’ve been concentrating on cooking now for five years now, it’s what I want to do: cooking and writing recipes.
How do you relax?
Cooking. If I’m stressed, I’ll look in the fridge and cupboards and I’ll make a cake … that makes me feel like home. It’s sad, really.
Has your home and childhood been a big influence on your food?
I’ve learnt everything from my mum. I was a child of the 70s and I still love a chicken kiev.
The quickfire questions:
Tea or coffee?
Oh god, tea. I’m a bit of an addict.
Best place to get cake?
Homemade. I always make my own.
Chocolate and cheese.
Best 15 minutes dish?
What would your last supper be?
A roast dinner.
Dish you would like to abolish?
Liver or kidneys.
A Year in my Kitchen by Skye Gyngell.
Favourite chef or cook?
John (Torode) obviously, Nigella and Nigel Slater.
Do you diet?
No, I don’t deny myself anything but, at the same time, I won't eat a lot of it.