Hold onto your pressure cookers, a fresh produce of home cooks are returning to our screens for a brand-new series of Best Home Cook, and this time it’s a celebrity version.
The 10 stars from the worlds of sport, TV, comedy and politics will be challenged each week serve up brilliant and tasty food to impress the trio of judges, former Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry; Angela Hartnett, MBE and chef; and television presenter and produce expert Chris Bavin.
Thankfully, not even a pandemic could stop this year’s show from going ahead. Unlike previous series where contestants have lived together, this year’s celebrities haven’t and there’s a revamped kitchen to give everyone plenty of space.
The BBC were keen to protect Mary Berry while filming, so you’ll notice some unusual measures were put in place. Notably, a 15ft mezzanine platform overlooking the kitchen was specially built to give the judges a unique vantage point to assess each contestant’s cooking skills.
Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a dramatic shift in people’s attitudes to home cooking. "For a lot of people, it’s been about falling back in love with cooking, having a bit more time to maybe explore different recipes and try new things," Bavin told The Independent.
“Particularly food we would have traditionally eaten out at restaurants or ordered as takeaways; it’s been great to see people attempting to replicate them at home. People have become more resourceful because they are shopping less frequently and of course – we’ve become a nation of banana bread and sourdough experts,” he adds.
Celebrities taking part in the BBC One show include former professional rugby player Gareth Thomas, cabinet minister Ed Balls and Rachel Johnson the prime minister’s sister, who has said she “literally can’t boil an egg”.
Reality TV star Fearne McCann and comedian Ed Byrne will also star alongside some other well-known names.
Ahead of the new series, we asked previous contestants, Sarah Woods, Georgia Salamat and Suzie Lee Arbuthnot for their advice and favourite tools to help you on your way to becoming a top home cook.
From knife sets to food processors, here’s everything you need to nail home cooking throughout lockdown and beyond, and even join in on the weekly challenges from home.
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Suzie Lee Arbuthnot: Winner of ‘Best Home Cook’ 2020
“Give everything a go, cooking is all about experimenting and trial and error. Google techniques and watch videos, there is always an 'easy' version of what you want to make out there if you haven't built your confidence up yet to make the 'advanced' one,” says Suzie Lee Arbuthnot, winner of last year’s Best Home Cook.
“Taste as you go along and learn what makes something tasty for you, whether it is a squeeze more of lemon than what the recipe says, do that! Recipes are guides and new recipes are created all the time through adjusting old recipes," she adds.
When asked her three items she couldn’t live without in her kitchen, the first essential she mentions is her gas oven. When she won the show, she purchased this Leisure PR100F530K duel fuel range cooker (Currys PC World, £1,249) to replace her 25-year-old electric oven.
At the time it was the only way she could celebrate as only seven people knew she had won before the show aired. Having “finally paid the oven off during lockdown” she uses it daily, so it really is her prized possession, says Arbuthnot. Being a gas oven it gets to a good heat when cooking, particularly useful when using a wok, she notes.
Adding that there is a hot griddle plate to the right which has either a flat surface for pancakes or soda bread making or a ridged surface for getting those great chargrill marks on steak and vegetables. "I genuinely don't know how I cooked with my old oven for so long!" If you’re in the market for a new oven then, this seems to be a good one to invest in.
As for a piece of equipment that will do it all for you, she recommends this Tefal 8-in-1 multi-cooker (Amazon, £64.99), hers was a wedding present from eight years ago and is still going strong.
“For me, I use it as my slow cooker, my rice cooker and a steamer. It is so versatile, that I use it at least four or five times a week. It also has a delay timer and a keep warm function, which is particularly handy when it comes to preparing and planning meals ahead of time,” she notes.
Finally, she recommends this Kenwood triblade hand blender (Kenwood, £79.99) since it’s another loved item in her kitchen.
Another wedding present, Arbuthnot says she uses it in so many of her recipes. It has two different soup blitzing attachments, a whisk and it a food processor bowl, which you can blitz, grate, slice with. It is an all-rounder, she adds.
If you’re still feeling daunted by the prospect of giving home cooking a real go, the series winner says: “Practice and be patient with yourself, your confidence will grow and soon you will be cooking and baking without even thinking about exact ingredients. Cooking is meant to be fun so just give it a go!”
Georgia Salamat: Runner-up of ‘Best Home Cook’ 2020
“Be adventurous!” Georgia Salamat told The Independent when asked her top tips for anyone looking to be a successful home cook.
“It’s so easy to get stuck in your ways when cooking at home, myself included. But honestly, when you start to play around a bit, combining flavours and ingredients you wouldn’t necessarily use it will open so many doors. You will inevitably have a few disasters, but that’s also kind of part of the fun,” she adds.
On that note, she has two books she’d recommend, whether you’ve been cooking for years or just picking up a pan for the first time. Her first pick is Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi (Amazon, £13.50).
“Another cookbook which is great for a home cook just starting out is Half Baked Harvest by Tieghan Gerard (Amazon, £22.50),” recommends Salamat.
“All the recipes are so yummy and super easy to make. Also, the food photography and styling in this book is absolutely stunning and gives you inspiration on every page,” she adds.
As for her kitchen utensils she can’t live without, it’s her chef knife. While that kind of seems super simple, she highly recommends you investing in a good knife, as it will make your life a whole lot easier.
As for the one she uses, it’s this Zwilling professional chef’s knife (Amazon, £70.14), which is from one of our favourite brands, since the Zwilling pro set of knives (Zwilling, £229) took the top spot in our review of the best kitchen knives.
“Excellent quality, the blades are super sharp and made from ice-hardened steel, which means they should last for years (they come with a lifetime warranty),” noted our writer. Adding that “the plastic handles and full tang make these a weightier choice, but in a good way, and we found them well-balanced and a joy to use”.
If you’re making big pasta dishes or tagines, Salamat recommends this Le Creuset cast iron shallow casserole dish (Amazon, £179.14), once you’ve cooked up the dish, simply put it in the middle of the table and let everyone dig in, she says.
If you’re looking for a deeper dish, the Le Creuset cast iron round casserole dish (Le Creuset, £240) landed a spot in our guide to the best dishes thanks to its versatility and being a “culinary classic”.
As a final kitchen must-have, it’s this Ninja professional chopper (Amazon, £24.99), which she claims to use every time she cooks. The device does the hard work for you by chopping, mince. and pureeing ingredients.
At just £25, it’s an affordable addition to your cooking set-up, and according to Salamat, “it’s so easy to clean and lends itself to so many different things”.
For some final words of wisdom, don’t “be scared to try new things or shy away from something because it looks a little overwhelming, be confident and you really will surprise yourself”, Salamat told The Independent.
Sarah Woods: Finalist of ‘Best Home Cook’ 2020
“Be organised and prep like a boss,” is the advice last year’s finalist, Sarah Woods, would give to you if you’re looking to excel at home cooking.
“Organisation is a must in a busy, time-poor schedule, and I’d recommend that you make your freezer your friend – be that by batch cooking and baking or making sauces ahead and freezing. Indian food often requires a lot of garlic and ginger prepared, so if you purée these and make your pastes ahead and freeze, it vastly reduces cooking time," advises Woods.
“If you don’t want to chop onions, you can roast them whole, which gives a real depth of flavour and then puree and freeze. Then when it comes to it, you can cook a great curry in no time, but it will still taste like you’ve slaved over it for hours. And by using your time effectively and prepping ahead, cooking won’t feel like a chore.”
When playing around with spices, she recommends a heavy-duty unpolished granite pestle and mortar, while hers came from India, they are easy to come by online and at various cookware retailers. This granite pestle and mortar (Not On The High Street, £29.95) looks fit for purpose.
Made from 100 per cent granite, the combination of rough and smooth makes it ideal for grinding spices, seeds, pestos and garlic. Woods recommends investing in a good one, particularly because it lasts for life. But “don’t forget to toast off your spices” before you grind them, she adds.
The next recommendation from Woods is a KitchenAid and this 4.8l number (Currys PC World) landed a spot in our review of the best stand mixers thanks to its ability to perform well across all three of its functions: kneading, whipping and mixing.
Having discovered the joy for baking after the show, Woods notes that although buying a KitchenAid is an investment, it’ll take the hard work out of cooking and it has great attachments too, like the pasta machine.
“If you want to take your home cooking to the next level, then you need a temperature probe,” Woods told The Independent. Luckily, they’re fairly affordable, with this OXO softworks digital instant read thermometer (Dunelm, £13) costing just more than £10.
It’s particularly useful when baking, for example, “macarons and Italian meringue because you must heat the syrup to specific temperatures,” notes Wood.
But she also adds “it’s a good gauge for checking if your roast is cooked through. Nervous cooks often overcook their meat as they are anxious about undercooking, so a probe should give you lots more confidence”.
In a final bit of wisdom, she adds that “all you need to be a good cook is to have an appreciation of great food, the skills can absolutely be learnt”.
Looking for some baking inspiration? We asked Bake Off contestants their advice on everything you need to be a star baker