Who needs cookbooks? Top chefs’ favourite ultra-simple recipes

Over the past 50 years, the chef Alice Waters, owner and chief ideologue at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, has played a pivotal role in the popularisation of local, seasonal cooking. In her 2017 memoir, Coming to My Senses, Waters boiled her rationale down to its essence, almost literally. Her favourite recipe, she wrote, is: “Go cut some mint from the garden, boil water, pour it over the mint. Wait. And then drink.”

Can exceptional flavours really be that simple? To find out, G2 asked a selection of top chefs for their favourite simple recipes, where a minimum of cooking transforms a few ingredients into a killer dish.

Seasonal strawberry slushie

Bindu Patel, chef-owner, Sanctua, Leicester

“As a child, my biggest loves were strawberries and Slush Puppies. In summer, we’d go fruit-picking, gather a glut of juicy strawberries and Mum would blend them with sugar and ice to create the most amazing slushies. Being Asian, you’re introduced to chillies and heat early and mum would grind black pepper on top, which brings out the flavour in strawberries.”

Tuna salad by Joe Wright.

Tuna salad by Joe Wright. Photograph: Ben Wright

Tuna salad

Joe Wright, chef and co-owner, Porta, Chester

“Hot weather encourages simplicity; good produce prepared with little faff. The Spanish excel at this. I often recreate a dish I was first served on the beach in Almería: roughly chopped tomatoes, good olive oil, fresh oregano with tinned ventresca tuna. No cooking whatsoever. The Spanish love good tinned seafood and ventresca is the prized tuna belly, line-caught, cooked in seawater, filleted and tinned by hand. It’s food of the gods.”

Michelin-starred Rice Krispie cakes

Simon Hulstone, chef-owner, the Elephant, Torquay

“I love to gently melt marshmallows in a bain marie to blood temperature, and mix through Rice Krispies. Set it in a tray, cut it into pieces, dip them in melted chocolate and people bloody love ’em. This is Michelin cooking: we only use a top-end Kellogg’s and proper Flumps.”

Khatta kheera

Irfan Khan, head chef, Lucknow 49, London

“This is a street snack in India, but I love it as a simple summer salad, too. Chop a cucumber into cubes, sprinkle chaat masala, cumin powder and black salt over and finish with a squeeze of lime juice. On hot days, there’s no better way to cool down.”


Labneh. Photograph: Yana Margulis Rubin/Alamy

Labneh with za’atar

Stuart Ralston, chef-owner, Aizle, Edinburgh

“In New York, I worked with an Israeli chef, Shlomo Kashy, who introduced me to labneh, basically a Middle Eastern yoghurt. You can find it in the UK now. He would spoon it into jars, top with good-quality olive oil and a warm za’atar spice mix of dried marjoram, sesame and sumac, and then dip warm bread into it. It was a revelation.”

Burnt-butter cabbage salad

Mary-Ellen McTague, chef-owner, the Creameries, Manchester

“The nutty, caramel flavour of burnt butter – beurre noisette in French – lifts everything. You put butter in a pan, apply heat till it turns a nice golden brown, take it off the heat, let it cool and strain it. It will keep for months in the fridge. It’s a brilliant dressing for fish, particularly meaty roast fish such as turbot, and it’s really nice on cabbage and celeriac. With four ingredients – grilled cabbage, burnt butter, salt and lemon juice – you can produce a pretty good lunch.”

Caldo verde

Elaine Mason, ‘chief soup-bunger’ and owner, Union of Genius soup bar, Edinburgh

“It’s the simplest soup I do: five ingredients, 40 minutes and brilliant at any time. It’s savoury and warming in winter, nourishing and tangy in summer. Dice and fry an onion, two potatoes and four garlic cloves in olive oil, add a litre of ham stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Fry about 15cm of good cooking chorizo in a dry pan. Tip the chorizo and its oil into the stock, with a big handful of shredded kale and a teaspoon of paprika and smoked paprika. Give it 10 minutes to get itself together, grind black pepper over and enjoy.”

Ras by Mayur Patel.

Ras by Mayur Patel.


Mayur Patel, head chef and co-owner, Bundobust, Leeds

“Gujaratis love having a sweet dish alongside savoury ones, I guess to act as a counter to spicy heat. Ras (or aamras) is pureed mango with salt and cumin seeds – gently toasted in a dry pan to release their oils, then crushed in a pestle and mortar – stirred through, to taste. I normally eat it with aubergine and bean curry, but I’ve got many childhood memories of Mum making hot buttered rotis for me to dip in freshly pulped ras.”

Courgette carpaccio

Stephen Harris, chef, the Sportsman, Whitstable

“Simplicity is much easier in summer. I go into my polytunnel, pick a courgette, peel ribbons from it, drizzle them with good olive oil, lime, salt and a few herbs, leave it five minutes and it’s stunning. Supermarket courgettes don’t smell, but pick one in the garden and it smells, I think, of mint and truffles. There’s so much going on there.”

Tomato salad

Mark Birchall, Moor Hall, Aughton, Lancashire

“In summer, I get terrific tomatoes from a grower near Southport. I blanch, peel and chop them, dress them with olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pickled shallots and add St James ewe’s milk cheese. It’s a great family supper, especially with barbecued mackerel.”

DIY pane, burro e alici

Tim Siadatan, chef and co-owner, Trullo, London

“Quality salted anchovies, salted butter and crunchy bread served in three piles on the table – assemble and eat. I came across this at London’s Terroir and thought it was French until I visited Rome, where it is everywhere. It always makes life happier.”

Roast sardines and beans

Rebecca Seal, co-author, Leon: Happy One-Pot Cooking

“Partly due to having small children, I need to cook with as little prep as possible. I’m obsessed with things you can put on a tray, bung in the oven and produce a meal from. For this, you halve loads of cherry tomatoes (it’s a summer dish; I wouldn’t risk out-of-season tomatoes), chuck them on a baking tray with tinned white beans, olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper for 15 minutes at 180C/160C fan/350F/gas mark 4. Then season and place whole sardines – or fillets if you’re funny about bones – on top of the ingredients for another eight minutes. Remove from oven. Eat, from the pan if necessary.”

Blackberry apple jam by Sharon Hearne-Smith.

Blackberry apple jam by Sharon Hearne-Smith.

Blackberry apple jam

Sharon Hearne-Smith, author of The No-Cook Cookbook

“Crush the berries with a fork, stir in grated apple, honey and cinnamon to taste. Add chia seeds, which magically thicken it into a beautiful jam – one healthier than bought. I’m a mum to two small children and we love this jam with yoghurt and granola.”

Tomato and ham skewers

Isaac McHale, chef, the Clove Club, London

“Take 10 ultra-thin slices of smoked pancetta and 10 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes. Wrap each tomato in slice of pancetta, like a belt. Skewer the tomatoes in sets of five – carefully put two skewers in each set, so you can turn them – and grill until they’re warm and bursting and the pancetta is melting. Eat slowly and smile.

Smoked mackerel pate

Sally Abé, head-chef, the Harwood Arms, London

“You’re stirring a few ingredients together – two smoked mackerel fillets, a tablespoon of creme fraiche, lemon juice, salt and horseradish – to create a thing of beauty. Don’t overmix it, you want lovely pieces of fish in there, add the creme fraiche slowly to get the consistency right and it needs a good amount of lemon juice to cut the mackerel’s fattiness.”

Pistachio, rose and cardomom marzipan by Sarit Packer.

Pistachio, rose and cardomom marzipan by Sarit Packer.

Pistachio, rose and cardamom marzipan

Sarit Packer, chef and co-owner, Honey & Co, London

“Pistachios and rose water give our marzipan a Middle Eastern twist. Mix ground pistachios, icing sugar, lemon juice, a little lemon zest, a drop of rose water and ground cardamom together until it is a smooth paste; working by hand helps extract the oil from the nuts. Tear off bite-size pieces and roll them into balls. It’s a delicious sweet treat after dinner, served with strong coffee or fresh mint tea.”

Super summer cabbage sauerkraut

Douglas McMaster, chef-owner, Silo, Brighton

“Take a handsome pointed cabbage, shred it, massage it with coarse salt until it softens and starts weeping. Pack it into a jar submerged in its own juices. Let the cabbage hang out for a few weeks until it is transformed.”

Egg salad wrap

Dev Biswal, chef-owner, Ambrette restaurants, Kent

“This is similar to a kathi roll, a popular street food in Calcutta where I grew up. My boys love it. Season an egg with salt and pepper, add a cube of butter and fry the mixture like an omelette. Put a tortilla wrap on top (it will stick to the omelette), turn it over, add salad and a sauce and roll it into a wrap.”


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