It is said (by my wife, anyway) that there is nothing sexier than a man who cooks. And if that's the case, there is no-one on Planet Kitchen sexier than swoony chef (my wife's words) and father-of-three Jean-Christophe Novelli. But is he as tasty as he looks, you know, on the culinary expertise front? Parentdish decided to give the French master a grilling.
Tell us about your own children? Are they fussy eaters?
I have three children: Christina, 26, Jean, four, and Jacques, who's two months old.
At first Jean was fussy, but I've managed to play with his appetite to keep him hungry as long as I can, then anything I offer him he will eat. The first time he says 'yuck', then he begins to try it, then he says: 'I want some more'. It's hard at first, but now he eats spinach and broccoli as if they're lollipops. He won't eat eggs after watching a story on Peppa Pig about chickens, can you believe that? But now, I cook them in a way he doesn't know they're eggs, he thinks they're pancakes.
It's all about routines with kids. For Christina, I make a tagliatelle of chicken with mushroom powder. She's gluten-free – so I make a tagliatelle of vegetables, courgettes carrots, cucumber, celery cut into strips with a peeler, and I use that instead of pasta, it works just as well. The youngest one is still on bottles.
Who does the cooking in your house?
I do. There's always a mixed veg on the go. It's always a dish with tomato, or mixed peppers or aubergines and always a white meat, fish or eggs. Everyone eats the same thing more or less: there's always some potatoes or sweet potatoes and carrots. I sauté them with a bit of sugar and my son thinks they're chips. Apparently he had an argument at school because they had chips and he said 'they're not chips, my daddy said these are chips!' What I do is sauté them with sugar, which makes them colour very quickly.
When you were growing up, what was your favourite dish?
I used to love, and I still enjoy, my mum's stuffed mince tomato, baked in the oven – it's just perfect. Very simple, minced meat; lamb or beef, mixed with onions, shallots and garlic cooked together. Then fill up the raw tomato with its skin on, with the mince and a bit of cheese and finish in the oven for 15 minutes – no wine, no cream nothing, just natural juices. It's perfect in the evenings, if you don't want carbs.
Who did the cooking in your childhood home?
My mum, no one else. She inspired me to appreciate what is the most important things about being alive; eating properly, cooking, self-confidence. She had great knowledge about what you're dealing with, where the ingredients come from, time of the year, seasonality. She was also very good at using leftovers – that might be a subject for my next book!
What inspired you to be a chef?
I always thought I would be a baker, from watching my mum and grandmother making pasta and bread. I love the chemistry and the smell, the live issue of the yeast. I love the fact it's never the same and it's something you need. And I knew that would be enough for me. You can do without a car, but you can't do without food, it's an essential.
Keith Floyd inspired me a lot. Marco Pierre White was a massive influence to me and many other chefs too.
What time-saving tips for cooking and mealtimes can you share?
Prep yourself in advance so things don't have to be chopped at the last minute. Cook things at a high temperature quickly and then let them infuse. People should separate what is prep and what is cooking, at work you would never have the same chef prepping and cooking. One is consistent and one is impulsive and active, so you can use this at home too.
Any advice for getting kids to eat their greens?
Add some sweetness to it, what I've tried to do is introduce something they don't like to something they adore – what they don't like isn't personal it's just a habit.
Make them a little hungry and make sure they only eat at set times, no snacks in between, then they will have a little something of what they don't like, because they want to eat more.
I make two meals every night – one for my kids; one for me and my wife.
What suggestions do you have that would appeal to both children's and adults' tastebuds?
I'd make a sauté of aubergines, chick peas, courgettes, mixed peppers, no salt just spices like fennel seed, cumin, coriander, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, smoked paprika, Chop the aubergine, and sweat it up in a pan with two or three star anise, no oil just a little Flora Cuisine, then add some water to steam them out.
Cut the peppers, courgettes and everything else, add a bit of fennel, then when the aubergine is sweated enough add mixed vegetables and throw in a large beef tomato, chopped, or tin of chopped tomatoes in the pan – let it cook very slowly for 15 mins, cover and finish with fresh basil mint, tarragon.
That's something they should all enjoy, it's your five a day, it's easy, they're bound to enjoy that.
It's like a little stew, 30 minutes process from start to finish. Colourful, healthy, not over powering. You can mix it with pasta, or pancakes, or have with salad the next day for something cold. It goes with rice, or the best would be to add some chopped sweet potatoes.
• Jean-Christophe Novelli is working with Flora Cuisine to launch the first everyday recipe book created by mums, for mums (and dads!), called 'Let's Get Cooking'. It is available now through the Flora Hearts Facebook page. Asda customers can receive a free copy on purchasing three bottles of Flora Cuisine.
Here's a very tasty example of what's inside....Lemon-Ginger Chicken Nuggets
Serves: 2 people or 4 – 6 as tapas
Prep: 10 mins
Cook 15 – 20 mins
4cm piece fresh ginger
Juice of half lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into even-sized strips
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp flour
25g fresh breadcrumbs, for coating
2 – 3 tbsp Flora Cuisine, for shallow-frying
1. Squeeze the juice from the ginger by grating it, placing in a cloth and squeezing.
2. Combine the ginger juice, lemon juice and garlic and rub this mixture over the chicken strips, seasoning with a little salt and pepper.
3. Coat the chicken first in flour, then in beaten egg and finally in breadcrumbs.
4. Heat the Flora Cuisine in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a low heat. Gently fry in batches until cooked through and golden.
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