December 2020 marks one year since the fabulous Ulrika Jonsson hosted two sell-out, hugely successful Divertimenti supper clubs. Ulrika is originally from Sweden, and began cooking at the age of 12, heavily inspired by her step-father. A TV presenter and best-selling author, Ulrika went on to star in the final of Celebrity Masterchef. She agreed to give us an insight into her cooking background, inspirations and passions!
We're very much hoping to announce in 2021 a Summer Supper Club with Ulrika. Follow us on Instagram to be first to know!
Yaxell Samurai Challenge
Ulrika also took part in our Yaxell Samurai Challenge whilst she was at our Cookery School. Yaxell knives are famous for their sharp blade and cutting abilities, we wanted to see just how sharp they were. We challenged some Ulrika to slice through water bottles! We think she rather enjoyed it too! Take a look ...
1. When and where were you when you first put on an apron and decided that you enjoyed cooking?
Believe it or not, I had a very strict upbringing and my stepfather never let me go out. He was and still is a great cook so when I moved to England at the age of 12 to live with him and my mother, I just used to spend my weekends cooking. My favourite and ‘only’ cookbook at the time was ‘The St Michael All Colour Cookery Book’ – basically a Marks & Sparks cookbook. But it was brilliant because in its classic 70s photography I could see what it was I was supposed to create and it became my little bible.
2. Who's been your biggest inspiration for you to start cooking and who do you feel you've learnt the most from?
I guess my stepfather, Michael Brodie, will have to be my biggest inspiration for cooking. I used to stand next to him in the kitchen and observe. I listened, too – something my children don’t seem to want to do in the kitchen. But I learnt so much about provenance and culture, too, as he was very well travelled. And because my early childhood before the age of 12 had been pretty malnourished, I just couldn’t get out of the kitchen. I just loved food. Even school dinners. In the evening we would sit down and watch Keith Floyd on the telly and he was just the main man as I was concerned. I loved his irreverence and the way he connected with the food (and bottle). God, I miss him.
3. With a near victory in Masterchef and two hugely successful fully-booked Divertimenti supper clubs under your apron strings, you’ve hopefully got confidence in your abilities as a chef…when did you first realise that you could take your cooking skills out of your own kitchen and onto a wider stage? Who gave you the support and confidence that any of us need would need to take that leap?
To be honest, I’ve never felt that I could take my cooking skills out of my own kitchen but what Celebrity Masterchef made me do was to ‘force’ me out of my comfort zone and into a new arena. It was really daunting at first and I remember feeling deeply disorientated – cooking in a STUDIO in front of cameras – but I was so keen to do the show, I just cracked on. I think having done big family events and catering part of my sister’s wedding 18 months ago, just prepared me for ‘catering’ on a bigger scale. The “Mass Catering” challenge on Celeb Masterchef sat better with me than being in a restaurant kitchen. Maybe that’s what I’m made for……. Support-wise, I just rely on myself but also I’ve got to know so many people in the cooking/chef community that I sometimes throw them wild questions.
4. Tell us what it was like cooking for nearly 50 guests at your first Divertimenti supper club! You managed to make it all look very calm – what were the highlights and were there any moments of panic? Were there any kitchen tools you used that made life easier?
Gosh, that first Supperclub was a real Baptism of Fire. Because I’d insisted on doing more or less everything myself – including flowers, party favours, schnapps, place settings, bread, pickles AND all the food – the run-up was absolutely mind-blowingly relentless. But the great things about the Divertimenti kitchen is it’s BIG and it has so many ‘devices’. I used the Magimix Cook Expert to make the dill mayo which was speedy and brilliant. I just loved having EVERYTHING at my disposal. It was a real luxury.
5. Would you do another Supper Club (obviously we’d hope it would be at Divertimenti…)? If so, what’s on the menu and which season of the year do you enjoy most?
I would LOVE to do another Supper Club! I loved it so much and felt such an overwhelming sense of achievement because the feedback was so lovely and personal. The atmosphere was warm and lively and that made me so happy. I think next time I would aim for something more Spring or Summer-like. I have to say that Spring offers up so many different flavours, it would be hard not to come up with something lovely that time of the year.
6. How would you best describe your cooking style? Is there a strong Scandinavian influence?
I really love traditional British foods but I always lean back on my Swedish roots (if that’s physically possible), so I come up with a happy mix of the two. The Swedes have always lived their culinary lives at the behest of nature and the climate and I like that relationship and reliance. I know foraging has become very trendy over the past few years; as has pickling and fermenting. We’ve been doing that for generations and I love that aspect. Seasonal definitely is best.
7. Every cook has their favourite tools in the kitchen. If you could choose just your favourite 6 items to take to a desert island with you (let’s assume it miraculously has a proper kitchen and well-stocked fridge and cupboards!) what would they be?
8. You’ve mentioned that you love a good knife – any favourites? Tell us more about this passion!
I’m still learning about knives. The first ones I got just before I did Masterchef were Zwilling – and they made such a difference to prep time. Then I’ve got a Wüsthof which I love, too. And recently was lucky enough to get a Yaxell Ran and I have to say, they’re works of art. Not only are they amazing but they really look so beautiful, too. If I was given they choice between some diamond jewelry or some posh knives, it would be the knives every single time.
9. Which restaurants do you particularly enjoy and what makes them special? Most memorable meals/dishes?
I live such a distance from London that I’m slightly limited in what independent restaurants you can get where I live. But I love London for that alone: the sheer choice. You can have anything at any time. For me a meal is so much about the atmosphere and the service. The food, obvs, is important but good food can’t save bad service whereas good service can potentially save rubbish food.
I’m sure that’s why for me, when I have people to eat, or when I did the supper clubs at Divertimenti, it was really important to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere. I think that’s something that stays with people for a long time – remember how it made them feel.
So, as restaurants go, I’m pretty out of touch but I love Italian food and the River Café has been a favourite since it first opened and my stepfather who worked in Hammersmith, took me there for lunch one time. I like the old fashioned Italian restaurants, too, and there’s one in Knightsbridge I first went to when I was 21……Signor Sassi. But I love all cultures and foods and would love a new experience – I love North African, Lebanese, Vietnamese etc.
Out where I live I go to The Crooked Billet in Stoke Row, Oxon. It used to be my ‘local’. I know the staff and the owner and have been there for my birthday celebration for the past 9 years. I just love it. Very relaxed; atmospheric and GREAT food. Lots of lovely memories.
10. We’re all spending more time at home - if you were trying to encourage a novice cook to forget home deliveries and prepared ready meals – what would you suggest they started with to learn the joys of cooking and baking at home?
I was having this conversation with my son Cameron just last weekend and we both acknowledged how ‘therapeutic’ we find cooking. But I understand not everyone does. Many see it as a chore and an impossibility. I would actually start with anything……by all means start with something simple like a simple pasta sauce/dish. But the first bread I EVER made was sourdough and I had NO idea it was so complicated and I actually think that helped my approach. If I’d seen it as a mountain to climb I might never have tried. I’m amazed what people can pull off when they push themselves.
I tend to be quite ambitious because I always think: “It’s got to be possible” and then sometimes I feel exasperated but I always learn from my experiences.
I would love it if people just took the time to do some cooking. Not throw whatever they find in the fridge in a pan. To think about it; maybe ‘pimp’ someone else’s recipe by adding something you like and trying different things. It can be very liberating.
11. Do you typically like to work from recipes or to be more freestyle?
I get inspiration from recipes. I see or read something I like and then I’ll “pimp” it to suit me. Or it will inspire me to go in a different direction from the original but I’m definitely NOT a person who gets everything from the fridge and hopes for the best. I like planning and I’m a stickler for prep…….(yawn…..)
12. Any favourite cooks/cookery books/social media you enjoy following and find inspiration from?
I mainly follow cookery-orientated accounts. I love Diana Henry; Julie Jones who is the Queen of Pastry; Sabrina Ghayour; Gill Meller; Gennaro Contaldo who reminds me daily that Italian food is bloody magnificent; Milli Taylor and Claire Thomson (5 o’clock apron). Simple, warm, inspirational all of them).
13. We can see from your Instagram posts that you take huge care over what you prepare and present at home – even when you’re cooking for yourself. Is cooking a form of relaxation?
For the most part, I actually find cooking a great escape. No one bothers me; I can just get on with things and be left to my own devices. Maybe a way of getting away from the rest of the world but at the same time you’re thinking of others because you’re preparing food for other people so they are at the forefront of your mind. It’s therapeutic and grounding. If I’ve not been in the kitchen for a couple of days, I start getting a bit agitated and start tapping my fingers and whingeing. A bit.
14. The desert island also has a wonderful dining table, with 6 chairs. For a foodie dinner party, which 5 guests would you most enjoy having there? You’re doing the cooking!
Gosh, that’s a tough one. Of all the people in the world, you want humour and entertainment; someone to bring some interesting conversation; someone to admire and worship and maybe someone to argue with………
So: Bruce Springsteen; Robin Williams ; Margaret Thatcher; and then JFK and Marilyn Moore for the sexual tension.
15. ….and what would you choose to cook?
If it’s a desert Island, I’m guessing it would be warm……..so I’m thinking something light and fresh. I love the food of Spring and Summer, so I’d be going down that route.
16. If you’re away on holiday, do you prefer to relax and let someone else do the cooking or eat out – or do you love to cook even when you’re away?
The funny thing is that I love going away and NOT having to cook because it makes a change from being at home. BUT having said that, after a few days (sometimes a few hours) I really miss being in the kitchen and I’m itching to do some cooking. For me it’s like cleaning my teeth (it’s nothing like cleaning your teeth but…..) it’s something I just have to do every day. I truly feel lost if I don’t spend time in the kitchen prepping or cooking something…..
17. When (one day…) we’re allowed to travel wherever we like again and to relax without curfews cutting the perfect evening short, where will we find you heading for your perfect meal out and who are you taking as your guest(s)?
I’d need a recommendation. I’d like to explore something new. I have found these times of Lockdowns make me want to get out there and explore more. Funny, how being restrained does that to you….???
18. Have you managed to make foodies out of your children? Who’s your biggest fan and who’s your biggest critic?
My kids (or Ungratefuls as I like to call them) are becoming a bit of a pain. They used to love everything I made but now they’ve decided they’re critics instead. However, my oldest, Cameron, 26, is a real foodie and loves cooking. He’s always sending me photos of meals he’s prepared or he calls me to ask a question. I find it so endearing and it does mean I’ve done something right. My youngest, Malcolm 12, also likes to cook himself simple little things, too and it really fills me with joy.
19. Do you enjoy cooking for someone you’ve started to date? Do you have a go-to dish?
I have never really dated, to be honest. I’ve been married or gone to restaurants and then sometime into the relationship maybe eat at home – and I’m 53 now so I can’t really remember all the things I might have cooked over the years. I would prob ask if said-person had any likes/dislikes/allergies and then do something I LIKE!
Thankfully, I’ve never had to cook for a chef. I think that would be the death of me……. I’d be too embarrassed.
20. Finally – and they had to get the last question! – you’ve got three very attentive (and hungry looking…) Bulldogs at home. Do you cook anything special for them?
They’ve been brought up on RAW food all their lives. So, all I need to do is serve their raw meat which is ready-prepared from the fridge.……but all my Bulldogs have a penchant for potatoes, cheese and cream. I don’t give them much of that because it’s just not good for them