The Handbook
The Handbook
We can’t quite believe it’s been 4 years since John Whaite won the final showstopper challenge in The Great British Bake Off with his ‘Heaven and Hell’ creation. He’s been pretty busy since then, with a cookery school in Lancashire and three books under his belt. His most recent, Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients steers away from baking, proving he’s no one trick pony. At the start of May, John launched an afternoon tea he designed for The Royal Horseguards Hotel in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. We caught up with the Greenwich resident to see what he loves about London, how he spends his weekends and which order he spreads jam and cream onto scones…

How did the tea with The Royal Horseguards come about?

It was, oddly enough, through the charity Stonewall. I was doing some work with them and they put me in touch with the folks at The Royal Horseguards and we just clicked.

What was your favourite part of the tea to create?

I enjoyed all of it. My recipes are usually domestic, so be able to use my professional pastry training was a dream. I offered a selection of ideas to the head chef, he tested them, and loved them all. I thought a general mix of different forms and flavours would be perfect.

Any Northern influences? Mini Eccles cakes perhaps?

Sadly not. They’re all inspired by flavours of the Commonwealth. If I’d have had my way, they’d all be based on Lancashire classics, but that would mean a lot of lard and minced beef! Perhaps not appealing for her Maj! 

If you could cook one thing for the Queen what would it be?

Well, despite my answer above, I’d actually love to cook her some hearty fare. I bet she’s sick of fine dining. I’d give her something sloppy in a bowl, and we could eat it off our laps in front of the telly. I imagine I wouldn’t be invited back…

Dream guests to cook for?

Anyone down to earth, greedy and chatty. I welcome anyone with open arms, but if they turn out to be aggressively dull and/or on a diet, I swiftly ask them to leave.

Ideal London weekend?

All my weekends right now are spent teaching at my new cookery school, John Whaite’s Kitchen, but when I do get a rare weekend in London we [John and his boyfriend Paul] have a lie in, wander down to Heaps sausages in Greenwich for a full English breakfast. We’ll maybe see a film at the Picturehouse, or wander around Greenwich market for some street food. We’ll then head into Soho or Shoreditch for a few beers, then stumble home and eat (usually a Carbonara or Marmite spaghetti – that’s all I can manage when I’m a little worse for wear). Failing that, we’ll go to a restaurant somewhere and feast!

London’s best kept secret?

Blackheath. It’s such a cute little place with a few good cafes and has survived the hustle and bustle of tourism in Greenwich. Also, Pedler in Peckham Rye is one of my new favourite restaurants!

Favourite spot to eat out?

That’s like asking a mother which her favourite child is – it’s almost impossible. Brunch has to be at Heap’s Sausages in Greenwich or Duck & Waffle. For lunch, I don’t think you can beat the chicken wings at Shakfuyu – I only went for the first time a few weeks back and I couldn’t believe how awesome it was. There are so many great places to eat. I don’t like this question :( I want them all!

Slap up dinner out or cosy home cooked meal?

Depends on my disposition. If I’m feeling frisky, then dinner out with cocktails and a long dancing session afterwards. If I’m feeling as though I need a quiet one, then dinner on our laps in front of a good film is all we need.

Friends are coming over last minute, what do you whip up?

Well, pretty much everything from my new book is quite quick (except for the things in my slow-cooked chapter). But my Rice Krispie-coated chicken with stilton and sriracha sauce is pure filth, especially when accompanied by a cold beer.

Which other cookbooks do you have on your shelf?

I have about 500! The ones I love to read most are Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries, Nigella Kitchen and How to Eat, Harold McGee if I’m researching and need some scientific facts.

What’s not worth the faff?

Definitely filo pastry. I always use a shop-bought all-butter puff pastry if I’m recipe developing as it’s quicker, but you can’t beat the flavour of homemade rough puff pastry.

Ingredient you couldn’t live without?

I’m all about sour at the moment, so I’m hot on tamarind, sriracha, garlic and anchovy right now (not all together).

If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life what would it be?

That, again, is a very cruel question to ask a food addict. I’m going to cut this interview short if you continue threatening me with moderation! (I’m just kidding. But I won’t answer that!).

Proudest career moment so far?

Opening the doors to my cookery school. After two years of hard work and renovations, problems and solutions, planning, testing, retesting, research, it was overwhelming to start teaching and to such a wonderful response from students.

What’s next? Or can you relax for a bit?

Who knows. I am always thinking about the next thing – I feel like inside I am tripping over myself. I’ve forgotten how to switch off. I have a few ideas up my sleeve though.

Final question: jam then cream or cream then jam?!

If it’s clotted cream, then I treat that like butter then spoon the jam on top. If it’s whipped cream I spread the jam on then spoon the cream on. I know I’ve probably offended a few folk now, but I insist that they lighten up; it’s only a scone, love.

John, it’s been a pleasure.

A Right Royal Afternoon Tea is available until 27th November at The Royal Horseguards Hotel