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Interview: Gizzi Erskine

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Gizzi Erskine seems to be taking the food world by storm.

She first appeared on our screens in Cook Yourself Thin, where her quirky, individual style and easy going, warm nature made her stand out. Since then she’s written for some of the best foodie titles around the world, released her first cookery book: Gizzi’s Kitchen Magic, is a regular GMTV chef and is just about to break America.

Before she conquers our neighbours across the pond, she’s hosting a new cookery show, aptly named Cookery School (Channel 4, 31 January at 2.05pm), with Michelin-starred chef Richard Corrigan. Described as a mixture between Iron Chef and MasterChef, it’ll see the two professionals teaching contestants the basics of cooking, but these skills and recipes will get progressively more advanced as the series goes on. They’ll be eliminations, tears, laughter and loads of recipes to tempt you into the kitchen. The aim of the show is to empower and bring out the talent in the participants and hopefully people watching.

Stylist chats with its female teacher…

Tell us about your new show

Well, the Cookery School gets loads of contestants from different backgrounds and Richard Corrigan and I teach them how to cook. Richard is the main teacher, who’s just amazing. He had an unorthodox method of teaching, he has quite fiery methods. We kind of played good cop, bad cop, which worked really well. Off screen he’s the most generous person, he loves looking through Wiki and we’d just sit down and discuss everything and anything.

Do all participants start at the same level?

It was varied but this was interesting because, the ones who were total novices, who were a blank canvas were easier to teach than the people who came in who had some skills. They were much harder to teach as they had picked up bad habits. We cooked all sorts of things on the show from how to make bread, your own mayonnaise etc. It was amazing to see because some of them went from learning the basics to making Michelin star food.

Any interesting characters we should look out for?

Loads. There was one guy who kept singing at me, singing about pasta or whatever we were cooking. He was fun but there’s loads of great contestants on the show.

What’s your advice to people who are convinced they can’t cook?

Buy good tools and quality ingredients. But it’s very important to buy good tools such as knives, bowls, et cetera, as they’ll last you a lifetime. Then you can learn the basics. I always say that cooking is very emotive, so get the basics then you’ll get your confidence and there’ll be no stopping you.

You’ve managed to conquer the very male orientated food world. Did you find it hard or come up against any challenges?

Not really. When I started I tried to be something I wasn’t. I come from a rocker background and tried to be the next Delia Smith or Nigella Lawson. When I had the courage to be myself, when I started to wear my hair in a beehive again and dressing the way I wanted. It worked for me because it made me stand out and be different. I love Nigella and Delia but I think food needed something different.

Any advice to novice cooks wanting to make it into the profession?

Educate yourself. Go to school, learn the basics and then try all type of things in the profession – work in a kitchen, work on the magazines, TV, blog, write, try everything, travel etc. Then find what you really enjoy because there are so many outlets in this business. But above everything, educate yourself.

What are your tips on eating healthily?

Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, eat more fish and foods that will fill you up for longer, and cut out some of your red meat.

Generally what’s your typical day’s diet?

I’m definitely a little bit of everything will do you good sort of foodie. I like to start my day with something savoury and something filling, usually involving eggs such as fried eggs with some spring onions and chilli or Turkish eggs, then throughout the day I’ll eat loads of fresh fruit, for lunch I’ll try and have something healthy like salad, and then in the evenings I’ll usually eat something I’ve cooked at work. At the moment I cook a lot for my boyfriend, so last night we had slow cooked rack of spicy ribs and some hand cut ribs.

Does he cook?

(Laughs) He’s a fantastic cook, I generally cook more often but if I’m working late, then he’s great and will cook something amazing – he’s very good!

What’s exciting you about food at the moment?

Korean is my big tip. All the food writers are talking about it and I think it’s going to be huge in this country in the next year. It’s one of the most popular cuisines in the States at the moment, it’s really interesting quite spicy and lots of flavour, very fresh.

Have you got any foodie bugbears?

Umm… poached eggs! Sometimes I can do them, sometimes they turn out to be a disaster! We all have one! Generally in food I can’t stand pre-cut food like carrots or potatoes – it takes a couple of minutes! And packaging is another huge bugbear, it’s so wasteful. I love going to butchers to get my meat, and they wrap it in brown paper, as they should do, which helps flavour the meat and protect its flesh. There are some fabulous butchers popping up again now.

Any plans to do any more pop up cafes or restaurants following last year's collaboration with Innocent juices?

Yes, but I can’t really talk about them because they’re not confirmed. What I will tell you is that I’m planning to do two – one during a very popular festival, which will serve healthy food. I’m really excited about it because at festivals there’s usually just unhealthy stuff on offer. The second will be something personal…

Our stomachs are rumbling already…

Try some of Gizzi's and Richard's recipes from the Cookery School cookbook (out in March) here.

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