The Happy Foodie caught up with urban hen-keeper, food stylist and A Good Egg author Genevieve Taylor to find out why Nigel Slater is her food hero, and how she turns out the perfect poached egg every time.
What was the first cookery book you ever bought?
There were always loads of cookery books around when I was growing up – mum was a bit of a collector, but the very first cook book that was all mine was a classic Mary Berry cake book, bought for a birthday when I was about 12 or so, I think. And I still have it to this day.
Who is your food hero and why?
It has to be Nigel Slater – his outlook on food is probably the most in tune with my own; take a few simple things and treat them right and you will make yourself and your loved ones something delicious to eat. I love the way that food for him seems so easy, so intuitive. Plus he has a passion for gardening that I share wholeheartedly. Whilst I still don’t feel I’m a very good gardener (I’m often too impatient!), there is a connection to the soil that is totally essential to my being.
Who is your favourite food blogger?
This is probably criminal to say but I don’t really follow any food blogs. It’s not that there aren’t some amazing ones out there with lovely recipes and stunning pictures but, as someone who spends their days writing and testing recipes and making food for TV commercials and stills photo shoots, I am always working with food. So, it’s partly a time pressure thing, but also that I want my work to come from within me, rather than being exposed to too many outside sources. And when I’m writing a book I actively avoid looking at other people’s books so that I know what I’m doing remains true to my vision.
Do you come from a long line of great cooks or are you the first passionate foodie in your family?
Yes, I think I probably do. My grandmother on my dad’s side was a professional cook (I think in a hotel), and my great-grandmother on my mother’s side was apparently an amazing home cook. Mum was also a great cook and went to catering college after she got divorced from my dad. Growing up in a single parent household with a hard working mum meant I had loads of opportunity to get into the kitchen and experiment from a young age – mum was only too happy to come home and find I’d made the evening meal!
Who first taught you to cook and enjoy food?
Probably mum in the first instance – she always cooked proper food, no ready meals (although I do remember the odd ‘Fray Bentos’ pie on nights when she was totally knackered!). Also, I learnt a lot in home economics at school and had a really inspirational teacher. I wish cookery at school was once again a genuinely important part of the curriculum and think, with time, a lot of the nation’s bad diet problems could be solved if everyone was taught the basics of feeding themselves as a child.
Which dish says ‘home’ more than any other to you?
Stew and mash. Lovely.
Have you discovered any exciting new restaurants this year?
With young kids (and expensive babysitters!) I don’t get to eat out as much as I would like, but when I do I tend to go for something like a really amazing curry – something that I just know I wouldn’t be able to do better at home.
How do you make a perfect poached egg?
I use a deep frying pan rather than a saucepan. Bring the water up to a rolling boil then turn it down to the gentlest simmer possible. Take the freshest egg you can get your hands on (happily, this is where my ‘girls’ excel and my eggs are can be literally minutes old) and crack it into a little cup. Lower the cup as close to the water as possible and gently, gently slide it in. Leave it completely alone until it is set to your liking. Now a confession. I don’t particularly like runny egg yolks, so I poach mine until they are set to a soft ‘fudgey’ consistency.
How do you like your steak?
I’m pretty particular about my steak! It’s not like me to be especially fussy but I think if you’re having steak it has to be right. And for me that is crisp and deeply caramelised on the outside, and really rather rare in the middle – so cooked in an exceedingly hot pan without turning for a couple of minutes on each side. Ribeye for preference, cut fat so that it doesn’t overcook in the middle whilst you’re getting the all important colour on the outside.
Is there anything that you just can’t cook, no matter how many times you try?
Not really. As part of my job as a food stylist I’m expected to be able to cook whatever is asked of me. But my first pancake of a batch is always, always terrible and usually goes to the dog.
Is there anything you really dislike eating?
Oysters, yuck. Way too grown up for me.
What is your ideal destination for a foodie holiday?
South East Asia – the perfect combo of spicy, hot and sweet. Yum.
Who would be your dream dinner party guest and what would you cook for him/her?
David Attenborough. As a lifelong nature lover with a degree in biology, I spent the first 9 years of my working life making natural history television programmes, and David ‘A’, as we affectionately knew him, is a true hero in my eyes. But I wouldn’t try to wow him with complicated dinner party dishes. That’s just not my style. I’d just cook him something simple, tasty and generous using as much grown from my garden as possible.