Last Sunday I was very kindly invited by McArthurGlen to visit the Cheshire Oaks Food and Drink Festival and to interview Stacie Stewart . I'm an absolute novice interviewer but a huge fan of Stacie's so I decided to be brave and said yes. She was a pleasure to interview and was genuinely enthusiastic in her response to all my questions, which helped me relax a lot more. The food festival was lovely and we had a stroll around the stalls afterwards picking up some amazing maple popcorn and some blueberry white Stilton. It's a fairly long post but I really hope you enjoy it. I've made a gorgeous chocolate cake from her book, Stacie Bakes, which I'll post about next week because you've got plenty to read today and I'd hate for you to miss the recipe. Here we go!
You've had a lot of success since doing Masterchef, how does it feel getting to do what you love everyday?
I feel really lucky, if I'm having a hard day I think that 'I make cakes for a living' and I feel very lucky. It's hard work, you have to sacrifice a lot of your time, you have to sacrifice nights out because when you're starting a business you really have to knuckle down and get as much done as you can but it's like a seven day a week job to start with but then once you put the hard work in you can really reap the benefits of doing your own thing and getting to do lovely things like this.
Do you know what you'd be doing if you hadn't gone on Masterchef?
I'm the easiest to please girl in the world. I was a cleaner in Morrisons for about six years and I loved that, then I worked in an office and I loved that so I'd probably be in an office but I'd be gutted if I wasn't doing something in food because food is the one thing I'm good at. When I worked in Morrisons, all my family worked there, my mum and two of her sisters, my boyfriend at the time and a couple of my friends so it wasn't like I was going to work.
Is there a recipe that you never get bored of baking?
There's probably two and they're both pretty similar to each other. The madeleines that I'm going to bake today, they literally take twenty minutes from start to finish, including baking and everybody loves them. They're suitable for breakfast, afternoon tea or you can do them as a dessert with a little scoop of ice cream and some honey drizzle. The other one is my orange and almond cake, everybody loves that one. It's so moist, it keeps for about two weeks.
What else are you baking today?
I'm also making some rum and raisin fudge and I'm making my take on a ferrero rocher.
I love the book and the thing I love most about it is that each recipe is really personal to you and there's a story to go with each one. Did you have a list of all these recipes even before you ever thought you'd write a book or did you have to come up with them all?
I had them all done. The first book is always the easiest, like when an artist writes the first album and they've got their whole life's worth of songs to choose from, that's the same as me. I had all of my recipes literally since I was 4 or 5 that my Nana used to hand write out for us, it was just a case of deciding which ones to put in. Obviously I had to come with some new ones but I had everything pretty much done.
Stacie's rum and raisin fudge.
What recipe would you recommend to someone who was just getting into baking? Something that would give them confidence to keep going, especially because some people might jump in at the deep end.
I completely agree with you. The dish that I got kicked out of Masterchef for, that was me jumping in at the deep end. My gin and tonic dessert. I hadn't practiced it, I thought 'oh that'll be good, I'm a baker, I can do it' and it went completely wrong in front of six million people. But it's in the book and it actually works when you take the time to do it. The recipe I'd recommend, it's really classic but it's a Victoria sponge, or scones. To be a good baker, you have to know how to do the basics.
Have you ever had any big disasters in the kitchen?
Yeah, I think a lot of things are trial and error. The banoffee tart in the book, it's like a banoffee pie but then I thought 'everybody's got a banoffee pie recipe in their cookbook so I'm going to try something a little different'. I tried it with a few different bases, none of them worked, they wouldn't cut right. So I thought 'stop trying to overcomplicate things, just do something simple', so I did a cheesecake base with crushed biscuits and butter and I layered the condensed milk up so it's sort of a banoffee pie cheesecake but it worked really well.
The one I really want to make is the banana pudding.
Oh that is unbelievable because you pour the water over at the end and even when I was doing it my Nana was saying 'just do it, it'll be fine'. So you make your cake and then you literally pour a kettle full of water over the top and I was like 'Nana you've just messed that up', she said 'just trust us'. I put it in the oven and it just makes a sauce, it is unbelievable. Yeah I've had a couple of kitchen disasters, everyone has them. I've dropped two wedding cakes!
Who's been your biggest influence throughout your career in food?
My Nana, definitely. She is still alive, I see her nearly everyday, she only lives at the end of the road. She taught me how to bake from around four. I've got nine cousins, there's only about 18 months between the oldest and the youngest and we're really really close. My Nana used to have us lined up on our little steps next to the oven and we'd all be doing different processes. She was just massively influential, she wasn't a great cook but she was just influential in teaching me to make stuff from scratch. Apart from that, I think the first chef I remember thinking 'wow, he's doing something really different' was Jamie Oliver when he first did The Naked Chef. I always thought cooking was big plates, little portions but then Jamie Oliver came and changed all that.
What is your favourite ingredient to use in your baking?
Rosewater. I'm terrible for it, I absolutely love to put rosewater in things because I love the turkish delight flavour. I'll do a bog standard 225g butter, sugar, eggs and flour and I'll do something abit different so I'll zest some orange in, put some orange blossom in and then some ground almonds and I'll call it a Turkish orange blossom and honey cake or something.
My take on a gorgeous chocolate cake from Stacie's book. I'll post the recipe next week.
You've gotten really into fitness and clean eating lately and you look really good. How do you fit that around all the baking? I know I struggle.
I'm quite disciplined when it comes to cakes. I'm not disciplined with anything else though. I've just had two chocolates for breakfast. I've made cakes nearly everyday for as long as I can remember so it doesn't tempt me anymore. It's better because I don't make cakes personally for me anymore. It's only me and my Mum at home and I'm so busy I never get a chance to bake for myself and I'm strict enough not to bake for myself because I will eat it. If I really want something I will have it but I'll try and make it clean. I do a really nice clean chocolate cheesecake.
Baking is really popular and has grown in popularity for the last few years but there are still not enough people getting into the kitchen and cooking. What do you think could be done to get more people to cook from scratch?
I think there needs to be more education of how quick things are to make. People go in the supermarket after work and what are they going to choose? Are they going to choose a tin of tomatoes, some mince, an onion and some cumin, which are the building blocks of a chilli and it'll cost less or will they go and get the jar, where all those four ingredients are already mashed up for them? They're going to pick the jar because it's convenient.
It drives me mad when you see people buying jars of Dolmio for £2 when it's a tin of tomatoes and some herbs. You can buy it separately for 60p, why are you buying a jar of Dolmio? I think it's a lack of education.
Does your love of music ever influence what you're cooking?
I cook a lot of soul food. The Northern Soul Stackette in my book, that was kind of inspired by music. Whenever we go to all-nighters we dance from eleven at night til six in the morning in small Northern towns like Stoke on Trent, when we come out people say 'there'll be a cafe or there'll be a McDonalds' and there is nothing. Not even a burger van. I started to do a Northern Soul stack, which you'll have seen in the book, it's just a massive loaf of bread scooped out, filled with loads of really nice things like ham; cheese; grilled peppers; artichokes, just keep piling it up, pat some of the bread back on top to pack it out, lid on top and wrapped in clingfilm. When you come out, just dice that up and give everybody a slice and people go mad for it. But that was kind of born out of a love for Northern Soul.
I love that your recipes are classic but they've always got a twist on them. Is that where you always work from, to think about something that's quite common but how you can make it abit more modern?
Definitely, I'm never going to be the kind of chef who'll be able to deconstruct a whole meal, I'm not that good, I'm not like Heston. I just like normal, working class food but obviously, at the same time, you can't just write a book and put scones, lemon meringue pie, banoffee pie in, that's bog standard stuff. People can just go onto google and get a recipe for free, they're not going to buy a book for that so you always have to think of just one little twist to put in that makes it sellable.
What have you got planned for the future? What's next in the pipeline?
I'm busy writing a clean cookbook at the minute. That's hard because I had the first one practically written and this one's taking a lot longer and I really want to do it justice. There's so many clean eating cookbooks out there that people aren't aware of and I just want mine to be a little bit different because I've made the transformation, it's not just me putting my name to something. I was three stone heavier a year ago and just through clean eating and going to the gym, I've not been on any quick fixes. I still have treats, it's not like I'm on a cheat day, red day, green day, nothing like that. I eat what I want but I know that obviously I have to have it in moderation. Nine out of ten times you can swap it for something clean. If you want fish and chips, have them, but have a baked piece of fish with some gluten-free breadcrumbs on and some sweet potato fries.
A big thankyou to Stacie for being such a delight to interview and to Cheshire Oaks for the opportunity.