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Interview with Poppy O'Toole

Maddy Clegg interviews 'Poppy Cooks' following the release of her debut cook book.

By Maddy Clegg, Food Editor

Maddy Clegg interviews 'Poppy Cooks' following the release of her debut cook book.

Poppy O’Toole, otherwise known as ‘Poppy Cooks’, has just released her debut cookbook: POPPY COOKS: The Food You Need. She’s grown a huge following on social media, earning herself the title of ‘the poster girl for TikTok cooks’ by The Times. Her cooking is all about making the basics brilliant and encouraging everyone to just have a go in the kitchen. We sat down to discuss her new book, favourite recipes and her spotify musts when cooking up a storm!

M: You mentioned that when you wanted to start making videos you didn't want anyone to laugh at you so you chose TikTok as a platform. You now have 1.8 million followers on your page, how does that feel?

Poppy Cooks | Louise Hagger

P: Well, it's quite a lot to kind of get your head around! On the few occasions I have gone out, I have been recognised which is not what I am used to at all. I’m extremely grateful for all the followers’ support but it is very new to me having worked as a chef for 10 years in the background!

M: On Tik Tok you’re obviously limited to creating content in a matter of minutes. How was the experience of being able to cultivate your own book without that time pressure?

P: It was really good fun. All of the recipes that are in the book are the stuff that I enjoy eating; there’s no judgement attached. The book isn’t about transforming people into Michelin starred chefs, it’s just about bringing delicious food into the home. I want anybody to be able to open my book, whether it’s someone with a high skill set in the kitchen or someone who is just about holding knives. It’s encouraging people to have freedom in the kitchen, go for it and if it doesn’t go quite right then you can try again till you get something that smells delicious!

@poppycooks #duet with @urhdj83 a potato pizza?! 😱🍕 #roastmypotatoes #spud #potatotiktok ♬ original sound - Potatoes 🥔

M: It’s so encouraging to hear you say that because ultimately cooking is a learning curve, isn't it?

P: Yeah! A lot of perfection surrounds food these days. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t do Instagram a few years ago because I was embarrassed that the way I eat at home is very different to how I cook at work. I just want something quick and delicious that I can shove in my gob and enjoy every mouthful! It doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be delicious food – ‘the food you need’, excuse the pun!

M: Do you have any advice to students who have started at university and haven't cooked much in the kitchen and might feel a little overwhelmed by it?

P: You need to just have some blind confidence. At the end of the day, sometimes the best food comes out of the weirdest combinations. One of my favourite things I ever made when I was younger when looking through my cupboards was a toastie filled with a can of tuna, a tin of spaghetti hoops and some cheese – delicious! Everything can be made so simple; you’ve just got to have a go. Taste while you go along to get to know what flavours and seasoning you like. Once you know what you like to eat, just make it easy. If you like pasta, try making different sauces from what’s in your cupboard and just experiment and have fun. Instead of seeing it as a chore, see it as an escape from studying for half an hour to make something delicious and nutritious that’s going to help you.

M: If you could only take one recipe from your book to a desert island, which one would you take with you?

P: I am quite a greedy person and I like to shove things in my mouth. One of my favourite ones to eat and is perfect for students, in the batter chapter, is the potato bhaji burger. You can make it vegan and it’s just everything about an onion bhaji that’s fantastic then mixed with potato, then battered, then fried whilst sitting in a bath of mango chutney. It’s spicy and sweet, you have texture and all these flavours, it’s just everything and one of my favourite things to make.

M: I think every student can get on board with your love of potatoes. What crowd pleasing potato would you recommend for students to cook in a slightly poorly equipped kitchen?

P: I think you've got to keep it simple. A good roast potato is a crowd pleaser, you put a bowl of those out and people will literally just eat them with nothing else. When I have friends over I just make a bowl of roasties and everyone is so happy. All you need is a saucepan and a tray for the oven.

M: Are there any chefs that have particularly influenced your cooking and your love of potatoes, or who you have followed throughout your career?

P: Well, I've always been a fan of celebrity TV chefs. I routinely watched them on telly with my grandparents and my mum, so I love a bit of Delia and Nigella. Another favourite is Keith Floyd who just used to get drunk in people’s houses and start cooking which was hilarious. So, I think I’ve been influenced by them in terms of secretly always enjoying cooking on camera. For the potato recipes, I mean, you've got people like Pierre Kaufman. He holds three Michelin stars and now sells potatoes on a farm…the best inspiration for potatoes there is!

M: You’ve obviously worked with Michelin star chefs in their restaurants, so how is it to have the creative freedom on TikTok to make your own content rather than always answering to head chefs?

P: Yeah, it's really great. Over the past year and a half, I've been able to discover how I like to eat and what sort of food I like to cook. I’m not going to whack out a gel every time I want to cook anything at home, so it's been nice to see my style come through. It’s a lot more of home cooking and comforting food than a lot of the chefs that I've worked with will ever make. That’s what I love and enjoy teaching people to make the best at home as well.

M: In your book you mentioned you love to belt out Brittany in the kitchen. Do you have any other go-tos on the speaker when it's all getting a bit much in the kitchen or if you're just having a great time?

P: I am a massive fan of Stevie Wonder and all the pop princesses: Britney, Christina, Lady Gaga- all of them! But also, I'm a big fan of Jamiroquai which might be a bit embarrassing but, sorry, but I love them, I just love them. Anything jazzy and a bit funky is my cup of tea!

Featured Image: Louise Hagger

Check out Poppy's new book: The Food You Need - published by Bloomsbury, priced £16.99. (photography by Louise Hagger)