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‘It’s just a roast dinner at the end of the day. No pressure’: John Torode and Lisa Faulkner reveal the secret of a stress-free Christmas feast

© ITV/GERAINT WARRINGTON/ShutterstockJohn Torode and Lisa Faulkner chill out in the kitchen
John Torode and Lisa Faulkner chill out in the kitchen

The first hints of Christmas cheer usually arrive alongside frosty weather, woolly jumpers and twinkling fairy lights.

For culinary couple John Torode and Lisa Faulkner, however, this year’s festivities began a little differently, as filming for their new TV series meant turning their home into a winter wonderland during the summer heatwave.

“It was a boiling hot July and we were in jumpers and eating Christmas dinner,” explained Faulkner of setting the scene for the festive special of their popular ITV series, John And Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen.

“We always shoot Christmas early in our business anyway but it was still nice to have Christmas in the summer – and John is like a Christmas elf, I have to say!”

“Once the tree goes up, it doesn’t really matter, I just love it,” replied Torode, who has been a judge on MasterChef since 2005. “Every single part of it. I love the presents. I love the buying. I love the cooking. I love the family. I love having everybody around. The whole lot. And because I grew up in Australia, I don’t mind if it’s hot or cold. I don’t really care, as long as it’s Christmas.”

Now that the big day (the real one) is almost here, the couple are planning to recreate the relaxed atmosphere that has made their TV show so successful, focusing on fuss-free recipes and family-style serving, rather than the petite, polished portions you would find on restaurant menus.

With five children between them – Torode has four children from previous relationships, while Faulkner has a daughter, Billie, from her marriage to fellow actor Chris Coghill – the pair are well-versed in preparing meals for big groups, and told P.S. it’s important to focus on having fun, not working up a sweat in the kitchen.

“We’ve changed the way in which we do Christmas dinner these days,” explained Torode on a joint call with Faulkner. “We used to put everything on plates and dishes on the table, but we realised that the table was too big for people to actually get to everything. So, we have a buffet situation.

“We often put this amazing amount of pressure on ourselves. Sometimes people just need to sit back and go, ‘OK the reason my family come and see me is because they love me and actually it doesn’t really matter what I make.’”

Lisa and John at ITV Palooza in 2019 © Anthony Harvey/Shutterstock
Lisa and John at ITV Palooza in 2019

One way to ensure you can cut down on time and faff – not to mention expense – is to swap a full-sized turkey for one of the festive recipes included in their TV special, which airs on Christmas Eve.

Torode continued: “Lisa, as always, has come up trumps and has made this amazing Christmas Day traybake for the show which is done with turkey fillets, bits of bacon, pigs in blankets, stuffing and potatoes all in one tray.

“You don’t need to put it on plates. Just drop the tray on the table for everybody and let them choose what they want to eat and pile up their plate any way they like. Take the pressure off because it is just a roast dinner at the end of the day.”

“Remember, if you don’t cook there are shops,” added Faulkner. “Some people don’t like cooking and Christmas should be about being together, really. Just think of it as a nice roast dinner or whatever lunch you want because it doesn’t have to be turkey and roast potatoes.

“Everyone gets very fixated on tradition and what it should be, and while I love tradition and what it should be, different families have different traditions. People are blended, things are changing, so it’s also about just bringing everyone together.”

Although the Torode-Faulkner household is relaxed and laid back once the food is served, Faulkner admits some of her husband’s professional training does come into play for the preparation. Lists are prepared, stations are set up, and there’s even a queuing system for the buffet to prevent “traffic jams”.

The 50-year-old said with a laugh: “John is very good at divvying up, so the day before he’ll have made a list and we’ll all know what we’re doing – and we’ll each have our own ‘stations’ because, you know, his is the chef. It’s hilarious.”

Torode interrupted: “I have lots of lists in my head but I do like to have a system, too. I do like things to be in order, and I do like stuff to be in the right place.

“And I do like a larder with all the tomato tins in the same place, don’t I darling?”

Faulkner replied: “I thought I was an organised person until I met John. He takes over the cleaning of the kitchen and it looks like Molly Maid has been in – it’s incredible!”

John Torode and Lisa Faulkner film their Christmas special © GERAINT WARRINGTON
John Torode and Lisa Faulkner film their Christmas special

Combining Torode’s decades working in restaurant kitchens and Faulkner’s self-taught skills, the fanatical foodies say they aim to “make food for people that want to cook”, offering classic recipes for their fans, including vegetable lasagne, toad in the hole with onion gravy, and chickpea daal. But just because they can cook from scratch every night doesn’t mean they do – whether it’s a jar of sauce or pre-made pastry, the chefs say it’s perfectly OK to do a few easy time-saving swaps.

“John is a trained chef, a brilliant chef, and with his experience there’s nothing he doesn’t know about food,” explained Faulkner, who had starring roles in shows including Spooks, Holby City and EastEnders before winning Celebrity MasterChef in 2010, which launched her cooking career. “To have him telling us why and how things work and also the proper way to do things, it’s incredible. I’ve learned from that, but I suppose I’m a mum cook – that’s how I think myself really – and so there’s always a jar or banging things into the oven if it’s easier.”

Torode continued: “For me, it’s that sense of reality. It’s great being a chef and cooking in restaurants but actually in a restaurant you’re trying to cook food for people who can’t cook at home. So that’s no good for something like John And Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen. Lisa brings me down to earth and says, ‘No, John, they won’t be making fish fingers, mate, they’re going to buy them, so just get off your high horse.’

“I have no problem whatsoever that recently, when Lisa was away, I wanted a steak and cauliflower cheese, so I bought a steak from the butcher and some cauliflower cheese from the supermarket.

“I’m not shy about saying that any more – I used to be embarrassed about it, but not these days. I probably also wouldn’t make, for example, my own hummus. I would buy it, whereas probably 20 years ago, I would make my own hummus because it wasn’t as accessible. But you know, things are changed and moved in the world of food, it’s quite incredible.”

Once the busy festive season is behind them, Torode and Faulkner will quickly start filming again for series eight of John And Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen, fitting in shoot days between other projects and everyday family life. And while some couples might find it difficult to live and work together, they say their busy schedules mean spending time together on set is all the more special.

“We don’t get to work together very often – I know it might seem like it but we really don’t,” said Faulkner, who has a recurring part in Waterloo Road next year. “John’s doing his stuff and I’m doing mine and then we get together to film, and usually it’s very condensed so we shoot a couple of shows a day. We have a lovely 10 days of chatting and cooking and it’s really nice because I actually get to see my husband. We’re very lucky that we do get on.”

“We really are like ships in the night,” Torode, 57, added. “We are out the door, doing different things all the time. It’s a joy, actually, just to spend a day together. It’s a privilege to work with somebody like Lisa who loves food so much.”

Desert island dishes

MasterChef winner Lisa Faulkner in 2012 © Shutterstock / Featureflash Phot
MasterChef winner Lisa Faulkner in 2012

Are there any guilty pleasures you’ve introduced to each other?

John: “Hotdogs, caramelised onions, mac and cheese, and a bread roll.”

Lisa: “John did convert me to kedgeree.”

John: “Lisa really likes my cherry cola float with ice cream and chocolate sauce too…”

What’s your go-to easy meal?

Lisa: “John’s chicken and noodles and ginger is probably the all-time favourite in our family.”

John: “Lisa’s sausage and bean sourdough bake. It’s bread, sausages, and some tomatoes. Everyone loves it.”

What are you most likely to order from a restaurant menu?

John: “Lisa could probably look through a menu and say, ‘John’s gonna have that and that’ because it’ll be things that we don’t ever cook at home. I will always eat pigeon, quail or a veal chop or something like that. Or sauteed liver.”

Lisa: “I’ll always want to eat Japanese. We always love sushi, sashimi, tempura.”

What was your favourite dish from your childhood?

Lisa: “Roast chicken, or chicken tarragon that my mum used to make.”

John: “My nana’s roast chicken. People have chicken all the time now but when I was a kid we’d have chicken twice a year so it was a real treat.”

John And Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen Christmas Special, Christmas Eve, 11.30am, ITV