With his Elvis-like charm and speedy yet scrumptious dishes, Isaac Carew is about to get your appetite all shook up.
Why did you call your book The Dirty Dishes? A lot of chefs are promoting clean eating and I wanted to stand out and be a bit cheeky. When you cook great food, you’re always left with dirty dishes. My philosophy is to make food that brings happiness. If you’re overthinking your food or on a restrictive diet, it is going to make you unhappy.
Who taught you to cook? My mum was quite thrifty; she used to do a red lentil soup and a banging cauliflower cheese. Money was short when I was growing up in London. My dad was a French-trained chef – he used to work at the Groucho Club in Soho. As a kid I learned a lot from being in the kitchen with him. And I worked for Angela Hartnett at The Connaught, where I found my love for pasta.
Earliest food memory? Sitting on a bar stool in one of my dad’s restaurants when I was six, watching him cook. One of his kitchen porters brought me the biggest slice of layered chocolate gâteau I’d ever seen.
Big break? Getting a book deal has been my biggest achievement so far. I am dyslexic, so at school facts, figures, essays and exams didn’t come easily to me. But I did know about flavour combinations, spices and the magic of producing a self-crafted dish. Food was – and still is – my release, my meditation and my focus.
You’re also a model. Do you rein in the carbs before a shoot? I’ve just done a campaign for Jimmy Choo, but no, I don’t need to rein in what I eat – I’m all about the carbs and fresh pasta. I go to the gym and box. I find that gives me more energy but I don’t diet.
Guilty pleasure? Sunday isn’t complete without a roast dinner – preferably beef – and sticky toffee pudding.
Last meal on earth? A massive round of sushi. I went to Japan five years ago and it was the first time I tried fatty tuna. It’s mouthwatering.
Can you sing? No, I can’t sing to save my life.
Well, you look a bit like Elvis… It’s a daily occurrence that someone tells me I look like Elvis. He was a good-looking chap, so I’m not too fussed.
Have you ever eaten like Elvis? Now that’s the definition of dirty food… I do have an Elvis cookbook. Every recipe is either with a ton of bacon or a ton of sugar.
Is it a bit too dirty even for you? It’s not something that I go out and crave.
Best first-date dish? Something simple, such as my prawn burgers, so you can concentrate on the date. They look great and you can make them and still have a conversation. And no, they don’t have garlic.
Dream dinner-party guests? Thomas Keller is an incredible chef from California who has inspired me, and Marco Pierre White. And Elvis, because it would be fun having two people who look similar at the same party.
Most useful kitchen gadget? You only need one tool in a kitchen and that’s a really good chef’s knife. The last Japanese knife I bought was around £460. For a chef, it’s worth every penny.
Hangover cure? A one-pan fry-up with black pudding. If you’re vegan you could have roasted mushrooms and smashed avocado.
Food hero? Nigel Slater. I love how whimsical he is with words. He can be describing a chip and make it sound like poetry.
If we came for dinner, what would you cook? I think you’d really like my pumpkin cannelloni. We could have white bean soup as a starter and for dessert my Dirty Chocolate Cake.
Favourite cookbook? One of the first cookbooks my mum bought me – the Larousse Gastronomique. It’s not recipes but techniques – like how to truss a chicken. It’s the bible of cooking.
Secret skill? I can hold my breath underwater for a really long time. I used to swim a lot as a kid.
What’s always in your fridge? Butter, goat’s cheese, feta, ketchup and my Dirty Sauce – a hot sauce I have just brought out. It has coconut vinegar, scotch bonnet chillies, some secret herbs and spices with a subtle tomato backbone. If you have something bland, just whack a bit of Dirty Sauce over it.
What would you never put in your mouth? Dill. If someone puts it in a dish, the whole thing is ruined.
Top of your bucket list? To see the Northern Lights and to have my own pasta restaurant.
Isaac Carew recipes from The Dirty Dishes cookbook
Did I mention that I love burgers? These make a great alternative to the classics. You simply mince the raw prawns by hand, then add the herbs. You’ve got loads of flavours in there, plus the richness of the prawns – then the lime comes through and smacks you in the face: think Mexico meets Japan meets a good old American-style burger.
This is one of my signature dishes: a really basic chocolate cake recipe that’s extra-indulgent thanks to all of the chocolate sauce and delicious walnuts. It also looks really elegant with raspberry dust. This is a special take on a chocolate cake I’ve had on every single birthday since I was born – although this one hasn’t got Smarties dotted on the top highlighting my age!
Everyone needs a good chilli recipe and this is my go-to version. Like all good chillies, it’s got a real kick, so I serve it with homemade guacamole to add a bit of coolness. I added the crushed tortilla at the end as it gives a nice change in texture. This is perfect for feeding large groups of people and you can also make it in advance and freeze it.
This is a Moroccan-inspired dish. It’s a great little number for the family – chicken legs are quite cheap so this is good for anyone who’s cooking on a budget. They’re also really easy to cook and make a nice change from a fillet. You get the good fats from the avocados and quinoa is a great source of fibre.
I made truffle fries when I was working at Cielo restaurant in Miami for Angela Hartnett. They were deep-fried so this is my healthier take. Everything here has strong flavours but they work really well and don’t overpower each other.
I love blueberries and the camomile gives a nice floral touch. These are also the most calming pancakes you’ll ever have because camomile is known for its soothing qualities. Perfect for a relaxed Sunday morning – whack on a bit of classical music and eat these in your dressing gown. The compote takes a bit of time, but it’s totally worth it.
No Sunday roast is complete without a sticky toffee pudding or, in this case, a sticky toffee loaf. For me, this just shouts lazy Sundays: you’ve eaten your roast, been out for a walk, then you’re on the sofa when the sticky toffee pudding comes out. You can buy ready-made ones but nothing beats making your own. Just don’t overcook the base because that will dry it out – and no one likes a dry sticky toffee pud! Serve with vanilla ice cream.
MORE ISAAC FOR LESS
The Dirty Dishes by Isaac Carew will be published by Bluebird on 7 March, price £20. To order a copy for £16 (a discount of 20 per cent) until 17 March visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15.