'It's not just flashy food that looks nice, hopefully it's going to last a little bit longer than that'

The  Staff Canteen

Chef Poppy O'Toole has had an unconventional route to success. Like many, she was forced to take a leap of faith when the pandemic took away her livelihood, but her decision to take her knowledge to social media paid off.

Showing off her skills honed in some of the country's best kitchens (Purnell's, The Wilderness, Allbright), Poppy has amassed a huge following on Instagram and TikTok - 146,000 and 1.7 million, respectively. 

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Now, the chef is dialling it back to something a bit more old-school with the release of her first cookbook, Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need.

Twelve elements - recipes or techniques from white sauce to flatbreads, emulsions, roasts and custard are visited in minute detail - with at least five variations on each: Core, The Staple, The Brunch, The Potato Hero, The Fancy AF. 

For example, two 'Core' emulsions are a hollandaise and a mayonnaise, followed by a 'Staple' recipe for chicken Caesar salad. A 'Brunch' recipe gives you eggs royale, followed by a loaded 'Potato Hero' salad and a 'Fancy AF' recipe for steak Béarnaise with crunchy roast chips. 

Additional 'Chef Tips' offer an extra technical edge many cookbooks lack, that exactitude which can make the difference between a well-executed dish and a total disaster.

"It's less about me being a chef, and more about teaching my audience some of the basic stuff," Poppy explained in an interview earlier this year

"You work in levels to get to this fancy dish," - like in the Confit chapter, which starts with confit garlic and culminates with a dish of confit garlic prawns and sun-dried tomato and spinach polenta - "which you don't need to go to ten different shops to get ingredients for, but if you put it out in front of people, they go, 'wow'."

Rather than teaching people how to make a whole dish, she said, "it's more about giving people core skills." 

Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need is not an Escoffier anthology, nor is it an in-depth guide to Koji alchemy, but that's not the point: it bears the message that good food is within everyone's reach. Everyone has a comfort zone, and you have to work inside it before you can go beyond.

If it pushes any of her readers out of theirs, forces a millenial or two to swap their smartphone for a book, or, God forbid, to consider a career in cooking, Poppy will have done her bit for the future of food.

In her words, "it's not just flashy food that looks nice. Hopefully it's going to last a little bit longer than that." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 31st August 2021

'It's not just flashy food that looks nice, hopefully it's going to last a little bit longer than that'