The Handbook
The Handbook

Feeling a bit lacklustre in kitchen? Or just feeling overwhelmed that you’re making all three meals every day? God, how we miss Gail’s. Granted, this might be a classic case of middle class problems, but we could all use a little inspiration in the kitchen.

So, we’ve gone straight to London’s top chefs to steal their home cooking tips. If there’s one good thing to come out of quarantine, it’s that we should all be better cooks.

From Theo Randall to the Wild by Tart girls, here’s what they had to say.

Bryn Williams, Head Chef at Bryn Williams at Somerset House

  • Don’t rush out to buy more food, but instead be creative with your current store cupboard essentials and ingredients that you might already have in your fridge or freezer.
  • Ensure you’re boosting your immune system by getting a nutritionally balanced diet and factoring in one of your five-a-day to every dish.
  • Meal prep for the upcoming week and plan ahead what meals you can cook for dinner that will also give you leftovers for lunch.

Jemima Jones & Lucy Carr-Ellison, Co-Founders of Wild by Tart

  •  Easy one-pot dishes are saviours – throw everything in, let it bubble away and hey presto. Plus, they save on washing up.
  • Use every part of your veggies – put the off-cuts into a pan with herbs (fresh or dried) cover with water and simmer to make stock. That way, you’ll always have a go-to stock.
  • Utilise your leftover herbs to make flavoured oils.

Theo Randall, Theo Randall at the InterContinental

Keep it simple and use up what you have in the fridge and store cupboard. The below dishes are my three easy tips that can be adapted to the ingredients you have…

  • Soup

Soup is a great way to feed lots of people and very easy to make and serve. Start with celery, onion and carrots and cook in olive oil with a pinch of salt for 20 minutes. Add some tinned tomatoes, white beans and some blanched chopped greens. Cook for 10 minutes and purée half and mix together. Serve with a dash of olive oil.

  • Cooking Pasta

When you cook pasta, start with a large pot of salted boiling water. Add 125g of dried pasta per person for a main course. Boil for 2 minutes less than the packet suggests. Make the sauce in a large frying pan.

Remove the pasta from the water and add to your sauce, using a slotted spoon for short pasta like penne or a pair of tongs for long pasta like spaghetti.  Add 2 ladles of water to the pasta and sauce. Cook on the heat and stir with a wooden spoon or toss for a further 2-3 minutes. This will finish cooking the pasta – also the starch from the pasta will thicken the sauce and allow the pasta to absorb the flavour of the sauce.

Check the seasoning and serve on hot plates.

  • Simple Pies

Finely chop some onion, celery and carrot and cook for 10 minutes in olive oil. Chop up some mushrooms and add to the celery, carrot and onion – add a pinch of either thyme or rosemary. Cook until the mushrooms have no more liquid.

Cut up chicken into 2cm pieces – skinless thigh is best but breast will work. In a frying pan add the chicken and cook in butter until the outside is slightly golden. Add the chicken to the celery, carrot, onion and mushrooms. Add a tub of double cream, reduce down by half. Check the seasoning and turn off the heat.

Place in an earthenware or deep roasting dish. Take some pre-made puff pastry and cover the dish. Crimp the edges and brush with a beaten egg yolk with some milk. Place in an oven for 30 minutes at 180c.

Serve with some cooked greens tossed in olive oil or butter.

Rose Mann, CEO & Co-Founder of Farm Girl

  • I would suggest adding herbs and garlic to everything and anything, this is a simple way to bring out the flavours from each individual ingredient and really make the most of the food.
  • Try to use the entire piece of food you’re working with. For example, if you are following a recipe and it says half a banana – adapt the recipe and double the recipe to use the whole thing. Getting creative and using the whole food is important so that you don’t need to throw anything away. Avoiding waste and making the most of leftovers is so important during this time where food may be sparser and food shops less accessible.
  • If you are keeping food or storing large batches of something, make sure to wrap and maintain it properly so it keeps longer, use reusable bags or other sustainable packaging to keep food fresh. I like to wrap bread in an airtight bag to ensure it stays fresher for longer.

Steve Groves, Head Chef at Roux at Parliament Square

  • Clean up as you go!
  • Keep it simple and concentrate on getting the maximum flavour out of each ingredient.
  • Buy ingredients that will give multiple meals. For example, rather than buying chicken breasts buy a whole chicken and break it down, you’ll the have the breasts (two that are the same size!), the legs for a nice casserole or curry, the carcass and wings to make a soup or a broth or a ham joint that can give a great stock. Plus, ham for slicing and some for a pie or similar.

Apollonia Poilâne, CEO and Third Generation Baker at Poilâne

These are my tips for making one loaf of bread last a whole week…

  • Slice your bread in half

Slice your bread in half and keep one half in its paper bag. Put the other sliced half in a freezer bag to keep your bread ‘fresh’ for up to two months. You can prop the slices directly in the toaster for a morning toast.

  • Feel your environment

If you prefer your bread on the wet side, I suggest covering your loaf in a cloth before inserting it into its paper bag. If you prefer your bread on the dry side, I suggest leaving the loaf just in its paper bag and tuck a plastic bag around it to permeate it a little.

  • Cutting your bread

Cut the bread slices as you need them to avoid slices from drying faster. A fun tip would be to use one slice of bread as a guard to reduce dryness. The slice used as a guard can then be used for breadcrumbs.

  • Spray with water for vitality

If your final remaining slice of bread lacks vitality at the end of the week, spray some water on it and put it in a warm oven for a couple of minutes – you’ll have hot bread.

  • Cook with it

Bread is not only a food but also an ingredient. In fact, in French, the verb ‘mitonner’ refers to bread added to the soup to thicken it. While most would use starch or flour today, pieces of crustless dry bread are a delicious alternative.

Iain Smith, Head Chef at No. Fifty Cheyne

  • Use a good cast-iron grille pan to BBQ steaks, veg and fish at home. It works particularly well on asparagus and I always recommend Le Creuset as an investment.
  • Invest in a good blender, something with enough power and control. Sage is particularly good.
  • If you want to get it consistently right, always use a timer.

Vitelio Reyes, Executive Chef at Amazonico

  • Be inventive. There are so many ways to create exciting dishes with store cupboard staples such as rice and eggs. Read recipes online and dig out those old cookbooks.
  • You can never have too much chili.  This might be the Latin American in me but chili really livens up most dishes.  Even sweet things – try it with pineapple or mango for a fresh and light dessert
  • Eat locally and seasonally wherever possible. It’s especially important at times like this to support local shops and suppliers and eat what is in season. Let the ingredients speak for themselves and that way, when you are cooking, it’s hard to go wrong.

 Eran Tibi, Head Chef & Founder of  Bala Baya 

  • Have as many versatile ingredients as you can get your hands on. These could be ingredients which have long expiry dates, are nutritious or can be used in many ways when cooking. Look to tinned food such as chickpeas, lentils and beans.
  • Make sure you have dried goods such as flour and sugar as you can make lots of delicious things with these. For example, a tasty flatbread or pita bread to go with hummus. I am hearing people are struggling to purchase yeast. You can actually make your own by creating mother dough, which left after one week can be used to cook sourdough.
  • Have a pot of land. By this, I mean a pot to plant seeds to grow soft and hard herbs. They might take a while to establish, but they will really help in the long run. Grow rosemary, sage, coriander and chive to elevate dishes.

Martha Ortiz, Head Chef & Founder of Ella Canta

  • Always have a very tasty tomato sauce properly seasoned with a dry chili pepper of your preference. It can be kept in the refrigerator or freezer and used with pastas, fish, eggs or as a dressing in sandwiches.
  • I also recommend having homemade mayonnaises that can be seasoned with different ingredients and flavors every day. These flavors and ingredients can be as exotic as you like – we use cilantro seeds, turmeric, cacao, chili powders and other herbs and spices.
  • I love making frozen, homemade fresh fruit purées as they can be used to blend smoothies and fruit shakes at home.

Sally Abé, Head Chef at The Harwood Arms

  • Organisation! Make sure you’ve got everything you need before you start cooking and always, always read the whole recipe through before you start cooking. Now is a great time to get round to rearranging your kitchen cupboards and drawers – I’ve just done mine. Keep utensils and objects closest to where they’re needed – e.g. pans near the hob.
  • When you’re paring and peeling food, keep a bin or a bowl on the counter for your trimmings – it saves you running to and from the bin all the time.
  • Make a plan about the meals you’re going to have for the week and check what you’ve got in your cupboards first, it stops you buying things unnecessarily and wasting ingredients.

Adam Handling, Chef & Owner of Frog & Adam Handling Chelsea

  • Make a delicious cauliflower and chickpea curry – roast the cauliflower leaves in oil and salt for a crispy, crunchy topping
  • If you have overripe bananas, make a banana bread with just a few simple ingredients (or a banana milkshake as the weather warms up).
  • Ramen noodles are so quick and easy to make – add some fresh chilli, herbs, lime and ginger. Very fragrant, filling, and tasty.

Surender Mohan, Executive Chef of Jamavar and Bombay Bustle

  • Before preparing a dish, keep all the ingredients ready in front of you. This will save your time while cooking as you won’t have to search for items in-between.
  • If you have to prepare gravies or sauces which are tomato based, then it’s a good idea to broadly cut tomatoes, cook them in a pan with the lid covered, cool them and make a puree. It can last in the refrigerator for a few days too.
  • Always plan for your menu two days in advance. It will help in giving you time to arrange for fresh items like vegetables
  • You can peel garlic and keep the cloves in the refrigerator for an entire week. You won’t have to peel them every time.

Christophe Marleix, Executive Head Chef at FOLIE

  • I always have a bottle of olive oil that is marinated with herbs, citrus skins, garlic and chilli in my fridge. Perfect for enhancing a salad, fish or grilled meat.
  • I love to cook whole vegetables at low temperatures, 130/140 degrees with herbs, olive oil, a little honey, salt and pepper. Vegetables of preference include carrot, celery, potato, turnip. It can take one to two hours depending on the vegetables but the end product is very tasty and it’s easy to make, the more it’s cooked the better it is!
  • For me the best way to cook chicken, whether whole or thighs, is to start cooking cold and to heat up. The meat will not be dry and really juicy because it’s not  a fatty meat.

Masha Rener, Head Chef at Lina Stores

  • Any sauce that you’ve cooked can be easily preserved and sterilised. Pour your cooked sauce into a glass jar and close tightly with a lid. Then place the jar into a big pot with boiling water, and boil for an hour. That way you sterilise the sauce and it keeps for longer without being in the fridge.
  • Remember to organise your fridge and use the shelves correctly to keep your food fresh for longer. You keep the dairy on top, the meat and fish on the middle shelf and the vegetables at the bottom. Cooking in the right way starts with an ordered and clean kitchen, and that includes your fridge.
  • Now that people are spending more time at home, it might be worth to take that time to reorganise your kitchen cupboards as you never know what you’ll find back there. You may rediscover kitchen equipment that you had forgotten about, with which you can make recipes you never had time to make.