‘ You’ve got to be fairly ballsy’- the perils of cooking when your other half’s a eatery superstar

The partners of chefs Angela Hartnett, Russell Norman, Monica Galetti, Cyrus Todiwala, Jos e Pizarro and food critic Marina OLoughlin explain what its like to cook for them

According to tradition( if not basic science ), the quickest way to your partners heart is to cook them a delicious meal. But what if your partners a Masterchef judge? Or a professional chef? Or someone whose day job recently involved ridiculing a eatery for a chicken parmesan dish that resembled their nightmarish chicken centipede? As the nations amateur cooks prepare to whip up romantic Valentines meals, spare a thought for those whose other halves day chores are enough to set any heart racing. And not in a romantic sense.


David Galetti serves Asian-style cod and steamed vegetables for his wife, Monica Galetti. Photo: Frantzesco Kangaris for the Guardian

David Galetti, spouse of Monica Galetti, chef and Masterchef judge

The dish : Poached Asian-style cod with vegetables. Simply cooked fish is a real treat for us and I know she always likes a glass of bubbles with it. Is Monica terrifying to cook for ?

When I tell the regulars at the restaurant that I cook for her, theyre like: I cant believe it! She must be so hard on you! But its not like that at all. If you could see her at home, shes the complete opposite. Shes there to enjoy family hour. Is she a pussycat? Hmmm. Im not sure Id push it that far.

If you have kitchen calamities, do you get told off like a clumsy Masterchef contestant ?

Well, Ive had custard thats transformed into scrambled egg and once I tried to do a curry that was so hot “its like” drinking a bottle of tabasco just impossible to eat. She was a tiny bit riled about the curry, but we were both starved by that point, so who can blamed her? Luckily, we had some other food in the fridge.

Who does most of the cook ?

I do, actually. We both work in eateries and get fed during our change, so its only actually Sunday we get to eat together. Then its nice for Monica not to have to do more cooking.

If you do the cook, does Monica pick the wine ?

No! She wont pick the wine, shell pick the colouring. I love picking the wine too much to let her do it. Plus Ive got the cellar key.

David Galetti is chief sommelier at Le Gavroche, London


Angela Hartnett and her partner Neil Borthwick. Photo: Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian

Neil Borthwick, partner of Angela Hartnett, cook, Murano

The dish: Poached eggs with avocado, lime and spring onion. We commonly eat it at the weekend on a Sunday.

Who wears the chef whites at home ?

Nine hours out of 10 its me, because Angelas a busy, busy cook: when shes not in one of her kitchens, shes on email dealing with one of her eateries. Its nice for her to be able to relax and I just think its a nice thing to do for your girlfriend.

No combats for supremacy in the kitchen ?

Well, if Angelas cooking, I do find it quite hard to not get involved, because each cook has their own little peculiarities. So, its best if its simply one or the other of us cooking. Well, if we wish to avoid a domestic, it is.

Are there any of Angelas recipes you wouldnt try ?

Not actually. Im not afraid to cook a bowl of pasta for Angela, merely because Italian foods her thing. I like a challenge. Plus, I probably do a better task. No, Im joking!

Dont you ever get sick of cooking ?

Sure, if you cook at work and at home, you can feel like your life is one big kitchen. But a kitchens quite a nice place to expend your life.

Neil Borthwick is head cook at Merchants Tavern, London


Cyrus Todiwala and his wife, Pervin. Photo: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi for the Guardian

Pervin Todiwala, wife of Cyrus Todiwala OBE, Saturday Kitchen regular and chef

The dish : Masala scrambled egg with toast. He likes how soft I make it. He wont eat scrambled eggs out any more as its never as soft as mine. Whats he like to cook for ?

Hes actually the easiest person. Weve been married 31 years, so I know what he likes now. If I cook him my masala omelette, hes extremely happy. If were ever cooking a dinner for people, hell automatically tell: Why dont you make a dal and rice? He loves my parsee-style dal and rice.

Would you attempt his recipes ?

Actually, at the weekend, I was doing a pecan tart of his and I was getting a bit insecure about it and praying him to assist. But he merely maintained telling: You know what youre doing! Just get on with it! He has a lot of faith in me.

No interference at all ?

He has this awful habit of tidying away things when youre using them. Ill go to pick up my spatula to determine hes already washed it up. Having to run a kitchen at work, hes also incredibly conscious of not being wasteful: dont open the tap fully; dont waste water; dont use cling film, set things in tupperware. Sometimes I dont listen to him, though. Does he mind? I think so. But he knows I wont listen.


Peter Meades and Jose Pizarro. Photo: Gareth Phillips for the Guardian

Peter Meades, partner of Jose Pizarro, cook, Pizarro

The dish : Lobster caldereta. Jose does tell me I need to stick to the recipe, though. Last day, I threw in a whole bulb of garlic. Who does most of the cooking ?

Jose takes the result, obviously, while I wash up or get the herbs from the garden or run to the store. When we cook together, its when we chuckle the most. Well, Jose calls it cooking together. I call it: Me being the kitchen porter.

Do you ever take the lead ?

Sometimes, although he cant assist but interfere. I dislike that because it only totally changes my food. Candidly, its like hes got some kind of gift. Even if he merely stirs something, he somehow manages to make it savour like hes cooked it. I genuinely would rather he didnt, because I want it to savor like I made it, rather than it being a Jose Pizarro dish. I have to tell him off!

I think its a nice change for him though. At work, he simply has to look at his staff and then theyll do exactly what he wants. But when were together in the kitchen, I wont be subservient. He does guess Im a bit bossy. But I think he also quite likes that.


Russell Norman and his wife, Jules, eat her taleggio, onion and thyme tart. Photo: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Jules McNally Norman, spouse of Russell Norman, chef, Polpo, BBC2s The Restaurant Man

The dish : Taleggio, caramelised onion and thyme tart. Its a Nigel Slater recipe. Russell likes it, so I make it time and again. Whats it like cooking for the man behind a whole eatery empire ?

How do you cook for someone who feeds 8,000 people a week? Youve got to be pretty ballsy to take them on and, frankly, I tend to think my talents lie elsewhere.

So, hes a nightmare ?

Actually , no. Hes an incredibly appreciative eater. You can even prepare him beans on toast and hell be absolutely delighted. People do wrongly assume he will be dreadful, though. When we started dating and we would be going to someones house for dinner, they would be like: Oh my God! Youre not going to bring Russell? You shouldve insured my sister whos a very good cook the first time Russell came over for dinner. When he cleared his plate she was punching the air, like: Yes!

Cooking for a restaurateur: easier than you would think, then ?

Not always. Hes absolutely fine if he turns up and the snacks stimulated, but you do not want to cook around him. Hes a complete control freak in the kitchen. He cant assistance but give suggestions on how I should prepare something … I have been known to get slightly tantrumy and storm away running: Well you do it, then!

Does he take feedback well ?

There is the odd occasion hell try to challenge our little girls palates with something unusual. If they push it away, he seems entirely crushed. Its the worst thing in the world for him. Its funny, really. You can forget restaurant critics. The people he truly wants to impress with food are his little girls.

David Thomas, spouse of Marina OLoughlin, Guardian restaurant critic

The dish : Chicken larb. She likes to eat it while watching the 50 s cinema version of The King and I.
Who does the cooking at home ?

Me, basically. Marinas not enormously interested in cooking, whereas Id quite happily spend all day in the kitchen. She does occasionally do it, but she thinks that I dont like anything that she cooks. Is it true? No.

So, presumably youre the UKs most intensely scrutinised cook ?

Well, I tell people that I have to make things five times and that theyre then returned as frisbees to the back of my head as I walk away. But actually, shes quite appreciative. Although we do have differences about seasoning. I like a pinch, whereas she likes a handful. But I think thats due to her Italian-Scottish heritage.

If you opened a eatery it would get a positive review, then ?

Yes, I expect so. With a few caveats. Ive been told that my chopping technique leads to what Marina calls big ignorant chunks. Also, theres been the odd ingredient thats been balked at. It didnt go down particularly well when the refrigerator was opened to find an entire smoked animals head sitting there.

Do you ever try to get kudos from being Marina OLoughlins personal cook ?

Not really. Other people probably think that cooking for their own nationals eatery critic is a bigger bargain than it is. Although if you look at Marinas Instagram account, youll see quite a lot of photos of my cooking. Marina has got a huge number of followers, so what I attain in the kitchen actually get quite a lot of coverage. Its very gratifying. Its not everyone who has the opportunity to have Nigel Slater like their blueberry barbecue sauce.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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