Award-wining food writer, cook, food stylist and presenter.
Author of the flexible cookbook series.
Guest Chef in our own Divertimenti Cookery School.
We are delighted that Jo Pratt was able to take time in her busy schedule to sit with us for a catch up.
What started you off down the journey of being a cook and who inspired you?
I had always loved cooking as a child, with my mum and both grandmas. They each had very different styles. My mum kept up with the latest fashionable dishes and was always hosting dinner parties, one grandma was traditional, precise and a total perfectionist, and my other grandma was very slapdash and made things up depending on what she had in the cupboard at the time. They each made cooking seem interesting and enjoyable. As soon as I had to choose my GCSE’s I knew I’d work in food in some way or form, I just didn’t quite know there was such a variety of areas I could go into at the time.
What I didn’t expect at all was the direction I have ended up in. I was fortunate enough to work with the late Gary Rhodes very early in my career and that was the best start ever as working with him introduced me to the world of cooking on TV, writing for magazines, and books, food styling, live demonstrations and product development.
Congratulations on your latest book, The Flexible Baker.
75 delicious adaptable recipes that are accessible for home cooks to enjoy.
What was your inspiration for this book?
Thank you, I am really excited about this book. After my previous book, The Flexible Family Cookbook I realised that people felt less confident in adapting baking recipes than those cooked on a hob. Pastries, biscuits, breads etc can be a challenge when you need to take certain dietary requirements into consideration.
I have to say it was perhaps the most challenging to write out of all my books, as it was during lockdown…a time when I couldn’t go out to cafes, shops, markets or restaurants for inspiration, there were flour shortages, egg restrictions and I was home schooling!!
When it came to creating the recipes, I did a lot of research reading magazines, using social media or looking online for inspiration, and tried to make sure there was a really varied selection of both sweet and savoury recipes. I reached out to a lot of friends and neighbours, dropped parcels on their doorsteps of my bakes for feedback.
Could you tell us a little about what we can expect from this book?
The Flexible Baker is divided into 6 chapters: Savoury, Breads, Cakes and traybakes, Biscuits and cookies, Pastries, and Puddings and desserts. There is also the Flexible Bakers Store Cupboard section and a brilliant dietary index to refer to when cooking for specific dietary needs or requirements.
All of the recipes include adaptations to help cater for all manner of allergies, intolerances and lifestyle choices with ingredient swaps and flavour options, without compromising flavour or appeal.
Do you like to carefully plan or just start mixing ingredients and see where it takes you?
When I’m developing recipes, I generally have a rough idea what I want to make, draft a recipe and make notes when I’m cooking. Then I’ll write up the recipe properly afterwards. If I just start mixing and see where it takes me it’s hard to keep track of the exact quantities I use. It’s vital when you have recipes in print that they work for people when they follow the ingredients and method.
Bakeware is addictive! What is the last piece you bought for yourself?
It certainly is. I’m running out of space to store it all, however it doesn’t stop me from buying more! The most recent item I bought was a nice new non-stick brownie tin. I can’t however bring myself to get rid of my old one though…it’s been part of my bakeware family for years!
What would you say are your top 5 essential kitchen tools are?
(If it’s something we stock please feel free to be specific).
When it comes to baking I would say the following are my essential suggestions:
Digital scales. The most important thing with baking is to have precise weights, and with most digital scales you can ‘add and weigh’ meaning you reset to zero continue to add to your bowl as you go.
Measuring spoons. If you’re a keen cook and find you are likely to be making more than one recipe at a time it’s handy to have a couple of sets of measuring spoons on the go. One for dry and one for wet ingredients. I like 5 spoon sets (1 tbsp, 1 tsp, ½ tsp, ¼ tsp and 1/8 tsp). This set in Divertimenti practical but look lovely too.
I use my silicone spatulas all the time not only for mixing batters and sauces but for scooping and scraping everything from the sides and corners of bowls for minimal waste, but in pans too as an alternative to a wooden spoon. They are super heat resistant, don’t stain like wood and are lovely and colourful too.
Traditional Ice cream scoop. The best piece of kit when making cookies and biscuits as you can get a consistent size and shape every time. I also use mine to divide muffin or cake batter into tins for even quantities and less mess going into paper cases. You can get them in various sizes.
Dough Scraper. Perfect for scooping and lifting not just dough but also pastry and pasta from worktops and bowls. The best thing though is you can scrape the sticky residue on the worktop after you are done (those annoying bits that stick to your dish cloth when wiping up). I also use mine to scoop up chopped onion/grated veg from the chopping board.
As a food stylist, we know you’ll have an impressive tableware selection.
If you could choose one of our lovely brands to set your table with, who would it be?
I absolutely LOVE the Jars range of ceramic tableware in Divertimenti. They’re a lovely selection of subtle colours, shapes and sizes that still allow for to shine. It can be a difficult balance sometimes – and I think this range has it all.
What is your favourite cuisine to cook for entertaining?
I find that I generally gravitate to either Spanish or Italian when entertaining. I love having a selection of dishes to graze on to start (lots of tapas or anti-pasta) then move onto a simple main dish such as a Paella or beef ragu. Dessert won’t follow a cuisine – I guess it all depends on seasons or dietary requirements as to what I’ll make but always like to have two desserts to offer. The leftovers are always very much enjoyed throughout the following week.
Every time I entertain, I intend on keeping note on what I served to people and never get round to keeping on top of it. I’m sure some of my friends have the same dishes every time they come!
What is your favourite restaurant?
I constantly change where my favourite places are to eat out. I feel the experience of dining out not only depends on what I eat, but also the atmosphere and who I’m with plays a big part too. My most recent meal out was Rick Stein, Barnes for my husband’s birthday. The children came too, we had a fantastic table overlooking the water, the sun was setting and the food super delicious.
Do you cook with your children?
When they were young I would always make sure they were encouraged to cook with me in the kitchen, and they would always love baking cakes, bread and biscuits. I am a big believer in the more you get children involved in the shopping, preparation and cooking, the more positive relationship with food they will have as they get older. My two are not perfect by all means and can be fussy at times but they enjoy the social side of cooking and eating which is so important.
Do you do all the cooking at home?
Not at all, my husband Phil enjoys getting stuck into cooking at the weekends, and according to the kids, he’s the best at making pancakes so now leave weekend brunch to him!
Now the children are young teens they love taking over in the kitchen as well. My daughter Rosa will bake anything with chocolate in, and will also make a brilliant Mac’n’Cheese, and my son Olly is mastering various pasta sauces and pizzas.
What is your favourite dish to make?
Right now I am really enjoying making savoury rustic tarts. The Tomato Puttanesca one in The Flexible Baker is so easy and utterly delicious. The rough pastry is rich and buttery and you can switch toppings depending on what you have in or seasonal favourites. Fig, Prosciutto and Walnut is another favourite topping, especially scattered with a bit of tangy blue cheese.
As for sweet dishes, I will always have a batch of Brownies on the go. Super easy and you can throw all sort of treats in the batter such as nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chunks, crushed biscuits, marshmallows etc. Once made they will last up to 1 week.
Where can we buy your new book?
It’s available in many places, including selected Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, some independent book stores, Waterstones and Amazon.
Get a steak peak at one of those new recipes right here on our edit - a Rhubard & Ginger Streusel Traybake!
What’s next for you?
I’ve a selection of food festivals coming up where I’ll be demonstrating baking recipes from The Flexible Baker (https://foodiesfestival.com)
I am also going to be hosting the Chefs stage at Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park, Chiswick in September, which will be a very fun filled weekend of top-quality food and music.
I am also really excited about a new project called Sammy Satsuma, which is the UK’s first fully personalised cookbook and illustrated story books for children. A fantastic cartoon character of the child is created which is then featured in the books with other characters including Sammy Satsuma, Buster Banana, Peter Potato and Becki Broccoli. Our aim is to use storytelling and characters to introduce children to cooking and create a healthy, balanced relationship with food, making cooking fun, helping kids get comfortable in the kitchen from a young age.