In­tro­duc­ing lit­tle Miss Per­fect Felic­ity Cloake in the kitchen

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

Felic­ity Cloake has just made a batch of choco­late chip cook­ies. They are lux­u­ri­ous yet light, as big as hockey pucks, com­pletely scrump­tious and oh, yes, I’d love an­other, thank you. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to Felic­ity, they’re not per­fect. Re­peat, not per­fect. ‘I chopped the choco­late far too much,’ she says. She pours a cup of ex­cel­lent cof­fee and pushes it across her kitchen ta­ble. The cof­fee is not per­fect, ei­ther. ‘It’s not Fair­trade,’ she sighs. ‘I feel slightly guilty about that. I fight a bat­tle ev­ery time I go to the su­per­mar­ket.’

Such stan­dards! Yet per­haps we should ex­pect noth­ing less from the woman known as the Per­fect Cook. In her three cook­books and her news­pa­per and mag­a­zine col­umns, Felic­ity’s mis­sion is to rig­or­ously test es­tab­lished recipes to find the best el­e­ments. She then uses these to pro­duce the per­fect dish, us­ing the ex­per­tise from es­tab­lished cook­ery au­thors. She does this with a quiet author­ity one can only ad­mire. ‘People get touchy about oth­ers of­fer­ing ad­vice on how to cook. You set yourself up with a high bar when you call some­thing per­fect.’

Felic­ity Cloake is 31, with a scrubbed face and un­com­pli­cated hair. She oozes trust­wor­thi­ness the way a figgy pud­ding oozes spicy fumes.

It is her metic­u­lous ap­proach that sets Felic­ity apart. Each week she se­lects a dish, then sources five or six recipes for it from her collection of over 200 cook­books. Her li­brary in­cludes ti­tles from El­iz­a­beth David, Si­mon Hop­kin­son, Nigel Slater, Delia Smith, Jamie Oliver and Nigella. Then, in her or­di­nary kitchen with her four-burner hob and do­mes­tic fan oven, she rig­or­ously tests these recipes. Fi­nally, tak­ing the best el­e­ments from each, she will cre­ate a mas­ter recipe. Re­cent tri­umphs in­clude clam chow­der (thicken with flour, not crack­ers), cof­fee and wal­nut cake ( Nigel’s is bet­ter than Nigella’s) and tiramisu (Jamie Oliver adds or­ange, Felic­ity does not ap­prove).

To this end, her life is spent cook­ing and shop­ping, then do­ing more shop­ping be­fore cook­ing. From the three-storey town­house in north Lon­don, which she shares with bar­ris­ter boyfriend Richard and her dog, a cairn ter­rier called Wilf, she sal­lies forth with empty bags and re­turns laden. When I visit, she’s made six batches of goulash, con­clud­ing that shin of beef is the best cut to use, as rec­om­mended by Hugh Fearn­leyWhit­tingstall. The house pul­sates with the rich aroma of pa­prika and lard, while the fridge is crammed with goulash.

Felic­ity’s new cook­book, Per­fect Too, has 92 recipes that have gone through her strict tests. It’s an en­ter­tain­ing read, even if you’ve never picked up a saucepan in your life. How­ever, she likes to choose recipes that ‘most people who cook a bit will know some­thing about’. Over the next three weeks, some of them will be se­ri­alised in TV Week, in­clud­ing tarte au citron and beef Welling­ton.

Straight­for­ward grub that’s pop­u­lar and de­li­cious is Felic­ity’s spe­cial­ity. Ev­ery­thing is sub­jec­tive, she feels, but there are a few recipes she thinks she fi­nessed un­til they were spot on.

‘A ragu Bolog­nese, which I think is pretty per­fect. A mous­saka I thought I re­ally cracked.’ But she says au­then­tic­ity can be over­rated. ‘If it works, go for it.’ Nei­ther is she a slav­ish re­specter of culi­nary rep­u­ta­tions. For her, it’s all about what works.

She’s not afraid to sug­gest Delia might have got it wrong, or El­iz­a­beth David’s recipes are un­der­pow­ered for the mod­ern palate. She also dis­misses Pippa Mid­dle­ton’s ef­forts. ‘I haven’t used her recipes, al­though I’m sure they’re won­der­ful. I did see her book in the Ox­fam shop win­dow and I con­tem­plated go­ing in and buy­ing it but I had the dog with me so I didn’t. Oh, that sounds catty! I just think Pippa and I are do­ing dif­fer­ent things.’

Felic­ity’s books pro­mote nour­ish­ing food. She was ap­palled by a re­cent sur­vey that claimed the most pop­u­lar evening meal is sand­wiches. ‘People say they don’t have time to cook, yet the aver­age per­son spends four hours a day watch­ing TV. It’s a life skill. People should know how to do it.’ She cites Nigella’s spaghetti and Mar­mite as an easy sup­per.’ So what did ev­ery­one have to eat to­day at Felic­ity Tow­ers? Felic­ity had av­o­cado on toast and a bis­cuit, Wilf had squid, Richard made him­self a plate of tuna with Felic­ity’s roasted gar­lic salsa and left­over lamb-rice. ‘He mixed it all to­gether into a sludge, put Ja­panese may­on­naise on top and ate it. Re­volt­ing,’ she says. But at least it was home-made.

Felic­ity Cloake test­ing a new recipe at home

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