22 November 2011
A Sneak Peek Into The Top Billing Test Kitchen
Two of the questions I get asked most often is where the recipes in the Top Billing magazine come from and what goes on behind-the-scenes. Today I invite you into my kitchen to see what's cooking and also share the top brands the kitchen is equipped with.
Essentially, the Top Billing test kitchen is a normal household kitchen, but in the middle of Top Billing HQ. I've always boasted that I have the best office in the building – its sunny, light and warm and situated behind our reception area so, whether intentional or not, visitors are often greeted with the smell of freshly baked biscuits or something delicious simmering away on the stove. This of course, drives my colleagues crazy who suffer greatly for the spreads created in the magazine. Don't be too quick to sympathize with them though, after photographer Angie and I are done styling our photographs, all the , dishes become Top Billing lunch. This is quite important for me, as general feedback is vital and of course, the joy of cooking is all in watching your hard work being hungrily devoured!
Our test kitchen is as normal as possible – there are no industrial ovens or fancy equipment. It is very important that when I'm testing recipes for the magazine, an environment exactly like that of the reader is created – I need to accurately predict how the recipes will turn out for you.
The process starts off with brainstorming a story idea or food feature according to the season or trend. From there, I do research and come up with a few ideas for recipes, making sure there is an even balance of sweet and savoury dishes in each issue. Over the years I have built up a massive database of basic recipes and I work with these, developing and adding or removing ingredients to create something new and interesting. The Top Billing magazine reader loves to entertain so I try and create recipes that are simple and easy but have that 'wow' factor when served to guests. The recipes are usually tested the day before a photoshoot and I try and get as many people as possible to taste the dishes to cater for every taste and opinion. This is definitely a perk of working at Top Billing and there is usually a mad dash when the finished dishes are placed in the staff kitchen – the Top Billing TV editors, in particular are renowned for their uncanny sixth sense and most days I merely have to open the test kitchen door and they're ready and waiting, cutlery in hand! In our office the term 'you snooze, you lose' really does apply!
Once I'm happy with the quality of a recipe, it is ready to be shot. We shoot the food in our test kitchen as its important for our photograph set-ups to be close to the kitchen so the food looks freshly prepared. Photographer Angie only uses natural light when it comes to photographing food and after we've set up the angle, lighting and I've played around with which plate, cutlery etc to use, the food is finished off and placed in the shot. A small brush and olive oil is always on stand-by to add a little gloss to warm dishes if necessary, while a small misting bottle of water comes in handy for salads, fruit, veggies and drinks. Contrary to popular belief, food stylists don't use fake food or chemical substances anymore – everything is natural and as realistic as possible.
Another common question I get is which appliances and gadgets I use in the test kitchen and which brands survive the wear and tear! Here is a list of some of my favourite things in our test kitchen – the things I simply couldn't cook without:
The latest addition to the Top Billing kitchen is the very sleek-looking range of Russell Hobbs appliances. I am simply in love with the Pro-Mix – it makes mixing, kneading and whisking effortless in the massive 5.5L bowl (which is genius when it comes to tripling or doubling recipe batches) and looks fabulously stylish on the worktop. It also comes with a mincer, pasta maker and veggie slicer .The food processor makes easy work of preparing pastry and of course, no kitchen should be without a stick blender. Working with these beautiful appliances makes me happy!
The kitchen is fitted with a Defy convection oven and gas hob as well as a Defy fridge. The oven is my favourite and always, without fail, bakes perfect cakes and really proved itself during the week I tested souffle's for the magazine – it produces exceptional results every time.
Being trained as a chef I obviously have a (rather disturbing, as I've been told) obsession with knives – Wusthoff knives are my favourite as they're sturdy and so well-balanced. My trusty Wusthoff Classic chefs knife has worked very hard in its 5 year life span having worked 17 hour shifts, 6 days a week in incredibly busy restaurant kitchens for 2 years and its still as sharp as the day I bought it. Exceptional value for money.
Le Creuset pots are my other love and we have the beautiful Carribbean blue range in the Top Billing kitchen. These pots never disappoint in heat retention and even heat distribution and although one suffered terribly at the hands of an intern who left a pot of rice on the stove for over an hour, the black basmati charcoal was scrubbed away easily and the saucepan was left completely unharmed – amazing.