Have you always been interested in food and cooking?
My family always entertained. My mother, grandmother and aunt are fabulous cooks and operated an open-door policy at dinner time. It’s probably why I’ve never been fazed by having to feed large numbers – I actually love problem solving. My mother always seemed able to rustle up a three-course dinner for 14 from a seemingly empty fridge and it was always delicious. And yet, despite my upbringing, I didn’t really become comfortable cooking until after I’d finished university. But as soon as I completed a course at the Tante Marie Culinary Academy in Woking, I knew I wanted a career in catering.
How would you describe your cooking style at home?
What I do at TopHat is quite different to how I operate at home - especially with two small children. I like the idea of tray bakes and lots of vegetables. Whether it’s meat or fish, you can just pop it in the oven and forget about it. Top with fresh herbs and a simple supper is suddenly transformed. It’s ideal for just us or for a dinner party.
What are your top tips for easy mid-week suppers?
Aside from meal planning, I like to keep things simple. I tend to overcook at the beginning of the week and then change and swap out the leftovers as the week unfolds. Often Sunday involves a roast chicken, which then turns into stock for risottos or soups. The leftover vegetables and chicken can be added to either.
In your view, what are the most underrated meat, fish and vegetables?
I cook with a lot of chorizo – it really is capable of turning anything into something special. The flavour and colour add so much to a simple breakfast, or lots of vegetables and even fish. It’s seriously so versatile. At TopHat we also use a lot of crispy fish skin. It is a fabulous canapé base, and when crushed up adds a nice, textured and flavourful crunch to a salad. My go-to vegetables are sweet potatoes and beetroot – again, there are so many different ways to cook them.
Is there a way to make easy vegan dishes?
The best place to start is by making vegetables the star ingredients of your meal. Make sure one of the vegetables is quite substantial, for example, squash. Choose a grain or pulse to help bulk it up and ensure you’re getting enough protein. Finally, opt for lots of fresh herbs and spices to finish the dish.
In your view, what makes the perfect salad?
The dressing can really turn around a bland, boring salad. I also always use salad toppers: things like roasted almonds or pumpkin seeds, pomegranate, dried cranberries or even homemade garlicky croutons.
Do you have a favourite homemade soup?
My favourite is a homemade spicy Thai butternut squash soup with a sharp lime and coriander salsa to stir through.
We’re all trying to make our food healthier. Do you have any tips?
I have one day a week where I plan my meals and batch cook bits that can be used in many different ways. This week, for instance, I roasted a lot of sweet potatoes, and I’ll add these to salads or stir through some cooked rice later on. I truly believe it helps to be prepared.
What oils do you like to use when you’re cooking?
Predominantly, I use coconut oil as I love Asian cooking. But I also have lots of olive oils and rapeseed oils to hand, usually for those times when I don’t want the food to be over-powered by the flavour of coconut.
What do you think people always get wrong or use too much of?
Many people view cooking as complicated and time consuming but it doesn’t have to be. As mentioned, tray bakes are my top time saving tip. They really are the best when it comes to wanting to make something delicious and healthy for all the family.
Can you recommend three good cookbooks everyone should have on their shelf?
I have one or two recipes I use regularly from lots of different cook books. The ones I use the most include Diva Cooking by Victoria Blashford-Snell – it’s all original takes on the classics and I used it constantly when I was setting up TopHat. I also love her canapé book. Other regulars include Thai Food by David Thompson and River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The Cambodian Wedding Day dip is sensational.
Asian food is delicious but seems tricky to do well yourself – any tips?
It’s all about having some key ingredients in your larder. Soy sauce, hoisin, sesame oil, teriyaki sauce, chilli oil and rice wine vinegar are my go-tos, not forgetting fresh ginger, chillies, lime and garlic, of course. You can’t go wrong if you have these staple ingredients nearby.
How do you like to kick-start your weekends?
My current favourite is a hash made from leftover vegetables and mashed potatoes with chorizo and a fried egg. It’s a great recipe for getting in lots of your five a day, along with a hit of protein – a great start to the day.
What are some of your top dinner party dishes?
For a starter I tend to do something like a chicken, pork and apricot terrine which can be pre-made and stuck in the fridge or individual tartlets like camembert, fig and walnut, which can be assembled and kept refrigerated until guests arrive. Once they arrive, I just pop them in the oven – it’s minimal effort. Depending on numbers, my top three main courses are a beef or venison wellington, a stuffed roast leg of lamb or a traditional hot pot.
What are some of the simplest ideas for puddings that still have the wow factor?
In winter, something like a brioche butter pudding is amazing and so simple to make – you can even add fresh berries or lemon curd to make it extra special. Otherwise for spring/summer, a classic eton mess in a large bowl is deliciously hassle-free.
Are you a fan of a cheese plate?
I couldn’t be in my family if I wasn’t a fan of cheese – my uncle works in the cheese business, judging competitions and supplying a lot of hotels, restaurants and caterers. I love a tête de moine – it’s such a talking point and makes beautiful wafer-thin rosettes. It is so moreish and fun for a party.
Finally, what’s your secret to throwing a really good party?
Keeping the menu simple is really important – the worst thing is finding yourself stuck in the kitchen all evening unable to socialise with your guests. Always have a lovely cheese board and even a charcuterie selection in the fridge. Not only is it an easy starter option, you can bring it out if guests are still hungry or there’s an unexpected delay in the kitchen. And always make sure your fridge is well stocked with some good quality wine. If it’s just too much, get a caterer. That way you can really enjoy your guests’ company and not have to worry about the washing up.