Richard Corrigan Interview
Michelin-starred chef Richard Corrigan gives us the lowdown on his new Cookery School show.
If you were going to learn to cook, you'd be hard-pushed to find a teacher with better credentials than Michelin-starred chef Richard Corrigan.
In Channel 4's daytime series Cookery School, Richard and food writer Gizzi Erskine impart their considerable knowledge to a group of amateur and scores of viewers at home. Here, he explains more...
Your new series is Cookery School. How would you describe it?
I think it's unbridled passion, unbridled enthusiasm, and if you want to learn how to cook, you're invited. It's for everyone, from proficient cooks to those who find making griddled toast on a pan a great effort.
You and Gizzi appear to adopt a sort of good cop, bad cop approach. Is that fair?
I think Gizzi might initially have been hired as a bad cop, but I think the correct roles kind of found themselves as our personalities slotted in together. Gizzi's a cracking girl, let's be honest. For the first two weeks, she irritated me frankly. I was thinking "who are you?" - because that's the type of chippy individual that I am. But as the weeks went on and on and on, I thought "Yeah, I kinda like you, you're alright." And at the end of the show I thought "You know what? Gizzi, you're not a bad individual at all." As a matter of fact, we were a great team, thrown together, and we just made it happen. She spoke when I didn't, and I spoke when she didn't. We argued like hell, the two of us, over so many things, it was ridiculous. But I think that's healthy and good, it wasn't all made-up telly with no opinions.
Do you think that being quite harsh with your students is the best way to get them to improve?
Getting results is the most important thing in life. How you get them is up to the individual. My approach was shock and awe for the first two days, and then when you've shown me that you're capable of learning, I'll listen to you.
Do you take that kind of approach in your own kitchen?
Yes. If I was in the army I'd certainly be training people up and down the hill all the time. But I like to have a bit of fun and a bit of a laugh as well. You have to let your hair down sometimes. There has to be a sense of humour. And you have to earn respect. If you have that aggressive attitude but no respect, then you've got a big problem. We certainly didn't have a problem on Cookery School, we had a great laugh.
Did you reduce any of the contestants to tears?
I'm not interested in reducing people to tears, I'm not interested in humiliating anyone. But some of them, you could see them welling up with tears as the comments came out of my mouth. And then you just want to roll all the comments back up again and say sorry!
Did you unearth any really talented cooks in the show?
The people who made it all the way through to the final were a cracking bunch, I mean really cracking. We had some really high calibre judges come in, and they said the standard was unbelievable. These were seasoned pros who came in and were blown away, it was incredible.
And these were people who came in with no real cookery skills at the beginning?
Some of them initially were terrible, it was like watching the Muppet Show at first. You'd think "Oh here we go, he'll be gone in an hour." We really pushed these people, put them through hell, broke them down and rebuilt them. But by the end, there were plenty who I'd have gladly given a job to.
Did you enjoy the experience of teaching?
I took the role of teaching people quite seriously. I'm old-fashioned, I still believe in the world of master craftsmen, I just do. But I learned a lot, too. My approach at the beginning was a little bit full on; I learned to take a step back and observe, and to pull people up at the right times. Cookery School has taught me about how to teach.
In the kitchen, what item do you depend upon the most?
A decent frying pan. We're one of the few restaurants that still relies on our pans - everyone's into their slow cookers and gadgets and this and that. I still love my copper pans and my cast-iron frying pans.
What should every store cupboard contain?
Every store cupboard should contain a little jar that must be cooked as often as possible: Enthusiasm.
What's your guilty food pleasure?
Heinz baked beans on toasted soda bread. I don't do late night snacking, but beans on toasted soda bread has to be the ultimate, ultimate snack food.
Who's your food hero?
I like Rick Stein, I've always liked him. He's managing to age gracefully, and that's all any of us can hope for, to do that.
We're coming up to Valentine's Day pretty soon. What would your advice be to anyone trying to impress their valentine in the kitchen?
Half a dozen oysters and a bottle of decent Burgundy. Try that, it's a great start. We've also got a recipe in the cookery book, for Asian Oysters - raw oysters in an Asian dressing. Do them, with a nice bottle of Chablis.
What's the thing that most people get wrong when cooking? What one culinary tip would you give to the nation?
Taste your food. Taste it and taste it and taste it. People don't taste what they cook, and then they put it on a plate and say "Oh, this doesn't taste so good." They haven't seasoned it or spiced it, and they end up with food that tastes of nothing. And they get demoralised and disillusioned, and they order a takeaway next time.
Lastly, why should people at home watch Cookery School?
I think people should watch the series because there's a lot of integrity, an awful lot of skills and knowledge being passed on. It really will help people at home with their cooking. And it'll entertain as well.