Inanity's Interview: Jean Christophe Novelli Tries To Teach Me To Make Macaroons

As with so many things in life we are often presented with opportunities too good to miss, especially those that involve cake. When I was asked if I'd like to interview the very gorgeous celebrity chef Jean Christophe Novelli about baking, cooking and the universe, naturally I said yes. If there was one man who could solve my macaroon problems it was going to be Jean Christophe. He started baking at 14 years old, and he's got two Michelin stars for his cooking, yes Jean Christophe would be my macaroon knight in shining chef whites!

So one Thursday I got to chat to the man himself, and yes I tried hard not to blush, or ask him anything too inappropriate. He tells me what everyone has to bake once and the quickest recipe he loves.

Hi Jean Christophe, thanks so much for talking to Inanity and the Girl today, it's lovely to chat to you.

 It's well known that you started your career as a baker How do you think that has influenced your food?

Baking is the art of the food industry. It’s chemistry and you have to learn how to be punctual – you can’t be late with baking. Making things like sweets and cakes means you have to be on time. When you cook you don’t have to focus on the timing as much. I learnt about precision, how to pour portions very well and I had to be consistent, making bread is the same every time but it’s what you add to it afterwards that makes the difference. I also learnt a lot about having the right attitude, the right manners, and it makes cooking easier. I know a lot of chefs who can’t make sweets or bread. They are good chefs but they just can’t do it. I’d do it again. I love it.

Home baking has become very popular now but a lot of people don't have the confidence to try it themselves, is there any advice that you would like to pass on to them?

• Just make plain bread, take notes and use a plain recipe, keeping it simple; plain flour, water, sugar instead of salt, and a tiny amount of fresh yeast if possible. A good tip would be; instead of using all that dough, just cut a little bit which will be your yeast for tomorrow.
• With your dough, make plaits, or cook in a terrine or on a tray. Try different types of bread like flat bread until you know your oven and then try it over and over again until it’s perfect.
• Have a good baking tray, something upon which the bread can breathe underneath it. When you’re happy with those, add different herbs and spice, and take notes every time so you can change and make it better.

You're known for being the pin-up of the chef world and though we can't imagine you'd need any help, is there a particular recipe that you've used to woo the ladies when you've cooked for them?

I don’t think food has anything to do with that! In fact I have no idea! It helps to know the person’s preferences because you can’t gamble with food, I’d want to get to know her so I can decide what to cook for her. I’m a perfectionist; I need to understand the person in order to give the food that special touch.

(I did a swoony face at this point, I think we all want Jean Christophe to understand us and cook us a lovely meal)

It's a long running joke with my readers that although I make a great cake I cannot make macaroons no matter how hard I try, have you any tips?

I would keep the mixture set in the fridge before you pipe it and start by making decent size macaroons instead of mini ones. Another tip would be to start learning to pipe choux pastry as an exercise, or mash or something else before you start piping the macaroon mixture. The key to perfect macaroons is the shape, and you must make sure you cook them at the right temperature. That is very important.

With people being busier than ever these days it's hard to get the time to cook and bake. What recipe do you think is the quickest for busy people who still want to eat home cooked meals?

I’d make a sauté of aubergines, chick peas, courgettes, mixed peppers, no salt just spices like fennel seed, cumin, coriander, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, smoked paprika,

Chop the aubergine, and sweat it up in a pan with two or three star anaise, no oil just a little Flora Cuisine, then add some water to steam them out. Cut the peppers, courgettes and everything else, add a bit of fennel, then when the aubergine is sweated enough add mixed vegetables and throw in a large beef tomato, chopped, or tin of chopped tomatoes in the pan – let it cooked very slowly for 15 mins, cover and finish with fresh basil mint, tarragon. That’s something they should all enjoy, it’s your five a day, it’s so easy, it’s like a little stew, 30 minutes process from start to finish. Colourful, healthy, not over powering, you can mix it with pasta, or pancakes, or have with salad the next day for something cold. It goes with rice, or the best would be to add some chopped sweet potatoes.

10 – mins for aubergine, 10 mins later all mix in together, then cook for 15-20 minutes, just simmer not boil.

 Is there one thing you think everyone should bake once?
Bread for sure, and a cake… and a scone… and a choux pastry… and meringue…

Thanks Jean Christophe, you've gone and made me hungry! 

So there you go boys and girls, lovely Jean Christophe talking baking on my wee blog, it's nice to do something a little different. I'm off to try my macaroons again!

Much Love

Credit: Jean-Christophe Novelli is working with Flora Cuisine to launch the first recipe book created by mums, for mums. The recipe book will be available in October through the Flora Hearts facebook page ( Customers at Asda will receive a free copy of the book on purchasing three bottles of Flora Cuisine.

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