She looks as nice as pie, but TV chef Gizzi Erskine gives domestic goddesses and foodies a right roasting on her cut-throat new show
21:41 GMT, 21 September 2012
21:41 GMT, 21 September 2012
Gizzi Erskine brings out the knives in the kitchen and out of it
For a woman who made her name two years ago on a show called Cook Yourself Thin, it’s a surprising admission – Gizzi Erskine is trying to lose weight.
The TV chef is half a stone heavier than she wants to be and can’t blame it on anything she’s made for work – or the chocolate treats that made G founder James Averdieck, the co-presenter of her latest show, a 30 million fortune.
‘Haribo sweets are my downfall,’ she admits.
‘The hours we were working for this latest show were ridiculous, so I started eating sweets, thinking I needed the energy.’ But then the weight crept on. ‘So I started eating well again: a good breakfast, houmous and carrot sticks for snacks. ’
Gizzi has been compared to Nigella Lawson, but you can’t imagine a more different pairing. There is Nigella, fingers in her mouth, extolling the virtues of butter heaped on cream heaped on sugar, and always dressed in black.
And then there’s Gizzi, who is more edgy than sexy – and with a vintage style that’s definitely her own.
She bounces in wearing a white 60s mini-dress with a beehive and flicky eyeliner, and gives me a hug. She’s as sweet as Haribo in person – but on TV Gizzi doesn’t mince her words.
Her new show Cooks To Market on Sky Living is a mixture of Dragons’ Den and a Mary Portas production. Each week, Gizzi and James Averdieck meet two pairs of would-be food entrepreneurs trying to sell homemade wares.
Gizzi and James give them advice on their product, then throw them into competition against each other – first to see who can package the most products in six hours and then who can sell more of their wares at Covent Garden market. The winners get to pitch their produce to a panel of industry experts, ranging from Harrods buyers to marketing gurus.
Gizzi is a plain speaker – there’s a touch of the Simon Cowell about her – and admits reducing a few people to tears on the show. ‘I was watching it yesterday thinking, “Oh God, did I really say that” It’s bad. I don’t like making people cry but I’m tough, so expect criticism. If you go to someone for advice, you should want to hear it.’
She is definitely qualified to dish out the advice, – unlike domestic goddesses of the Nigella variety, Gizzi, 34, who presented Cookery School on Channel 4 and is a regular on This Morning, is a trained chef. She came top of her class at Leiths School Of Food And Wine, then edged her way up from styling food for magazines.
Gizzie is a plain speaker and there is a touch of Simon Cowell about her
‘Domestic goddesses have their place, but I’m a professional cook,’ she says. ‘Plus, I’m not domestic at all – my house looks like a bomb’s hit it. But because I’m young and make an effort with my appearance, I find that people – men – expect me to know nothing about the job. I used to do food prep on TV shows for top chefs and they’d suddenly say, “Oh, you’re good at chopping.”
‘Sometimes the cookery scene feels very much like a boys’ club. Even when I worked with [Michelin-starred chef] Richard Corrigan on Cookery School, he didn’t look happy when I walked on set. It was as if he was thinking, “Hmm, this is going to be just great.”
After about two weeks, he began to realise I was more than that. He started complimenting me on my palate, and by the end of the shoot he was introducing me to his chef friends, saying, “She knows everything.”’
Gizzi didn't always intend to be a chef and did an apprenticeship in body piercing
The middle daughter of a photographer and model, Londoner Gizzi didn’t always intend to be a chef. The death of her father from cancer when she was 15 hit her hard and she admits she went ‘off the rails, drinking cider at Piccadilly Circus’. She left school without taking her GCSEs and started an apprenticeship in a body-piercing shop.
But cookery was a constant comfort. ‘Food is the one thing that’s always been there,’ she says. ‘On Sundays, Mum would put Diana Ross and the Supremes on. I’d get a duster, and one sister would be window cleaning while Mum would Hoover. Then we’d start cooking, peeling veg and whisking batters. That was our cool time together.’
By the time she was 22, she was tired of body piercing and signed up for Leiths. Ten years on she says, ‘I’m so happy right now, I can’t tell you.’ Gizzi is also bringing out kitchenware and fashion ranges, working on a pop-up restaurant and creating special dishes for Zizzi restaurants.
Somehow, she also needs to find time to get married to her photographer fianc Dean, with whom she lives in a house in east London full of 60s art and dead animals. ‘I’m obsessed with taxidermy,’ she says. She’s also thinking about children, ‘but not yet. I still want to achieve so much more.’ The boys’ club had better watch out.
Cooks To Market, Wednesday, 8pm, Sky Living.