I have more than 100 cookbooks. But the one which recently crept into my heart, and into my kitchen where it perches unceremoniously on my Kenwood Chef, is For Family & Friends by Nicky Stubbs. To be honest, when I first saw it I fell in love with the cover. Then I was captivated by the clever selection of recipes for all kinds of meals – from simple, homely suppers to relaxed dinner parties with friends. Yes, I thought, I can make these.
It’s not that I can’t cook. I can. It’s just that, more often than not, I felt uninspired and resentful about having to cook supper night after night after night.
The fact that I know Nicky (time to brag!) sealed the deal. We go way back to the 1990s when she was a book publicist and I was in charge of FEMINA magazine’s books’ page. But I had no idea she was not only a talented foodie.
Then, towards the end of last year I was standing in the lift lobby outside NB Publishers on the 12th floor of the Media24 building (where I worked as deputy editor on a weekly magazine), and I noticed a huge poster for a gorgeous cookbook. For Friends & Family. By Nicky Stubbs. I was astonished. I then realised she was NB Publishers’ sales and marketing manager and a few days later we met up in the canteen to chat about old times – and her new baby.
As it turns out, her life has always been steeped in food. As she says in the introduction to the cookbook: “The community of cooking and food has always been central to who I am.” Growing up in a home in Johannesburg, Nicky says “the kitchen and dining room, simple family meals and elaborate celebrations and anniversaries revolved around cooking, eating, feeding, sharing”.
And so, inevitably, she fell in love with food – and feeding people. It’s this unpretentious homeliness, this sense of sharing and generosity, that is at the heart of the collection of recipes in her cookbook.
She is, in fact, the best kind of Domestic Goddess. There are no airs and graces: She is warm, friendly, down-to-earth, practical and highly efficient.
We sat down to a cup of piping hot tea early one weekday morning in her Rondebosch kitchen – she’d just baked a batch of Lemon Squares and Meringues for a work function – and I asked her some questions about For Family & Friends (which you can WIN, if you scroll down to the bottom of the post).
Have you always wanted to write a cookbook? In the introduction you say it’s a ‘love song’ to the family and friends who have fed you and taught you how to cook: I set out to compile it as a gift for my friends and my family, but the gift has come back to me a thousandfold. It’s put me in touch with people, and it’s achieved what I set out to do – which is to provide people with recipes that are easy to make so that they enjoy cooking good food for their families.
So it’s an everyday cookbook? Very much so. A few years ago when all my friends were getting married, I would make little hand-written recipe books for them. I gleaned the recipes from my cooking days in Johannesburg and in France, and my family’s recipes, which have been handed down to me by my mother and father, and my grandmothers.
I wanted to produce a cookbook that would add value to people’s lives. A go-to cookbook.
Tell me more . . . I matriculated in 1986 from St Andrew’s Girls’ School in Johannesburg and then went to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg – and hated it! So I fled back to Johannesburg and started studying through UNISA. I had to earn a living so in 1987 I did a Cordon Bleu cooking course and starting cooking. I have only done two things in my life: cook or work in the book industry. In 1991 I went to London and I worked in restaurants and the catering industry. That when I met Matthew Fort (the legendary British food writer and critic). I also ran a chalet in Chanterelle in the French Alps.
What did you do when you returned to South Africa? I ran the DRUM archives for Jim Bailey, actually! It was fascinating but intense. After a year I left as I wanted to get into publishing. I was appointed food editor of Food & Home magazine and then went into book publishing, becoming a publicist at Penguin in Johannesburg. After eight years, my husband, Johan, got a job at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art and we moved to Cape Town.
When my dad died I needed some head space, so I left Penguin to open my cooking school, Apron. I taught domestic workers to cook. I speak fluent Xhosa and it was aimed at giving them skills and confidence. It was the happiest time. Then I got a job at Jonathan Ball Publishers and three years later moved to NB Publishers.
Cooking has always been in my life. It’s much more than a hobby … and has proved to be very lucrative.
How did you select the recipes in For Friends & Family? There were obvious family ones which simply had to be included but the key thing in choosing them was they had to be easy to make and involve no faffing. The idea was to make people’s lives easier. But all the recipes can be jazzed up to look much smarter. The main thing is the recipes had to work. They were all tested several times. They simply could not flop! They also had to be affordable.
What is the most ambitious recipe? The Crème Brûlée. I tested it eight times! It’s my own recipe, inspired by other recipes.
Do you cook supper night after night after night?! Yes, I do! We eat three meals as a family every day. Proper food! My children, Tom (12) and Sophia (13) both help with the cooking, although I think Tom is more interested in cooking than Sophia. They appreciate a decent, nourishing meal and would also choose a home-cooked meal above takeaways any day.
Do you plan your weekly menus? Yes. For example, we’ll have the following, and these are all from the cookbook: Roast Chicken & Vegetables; Bolognaise-style Mince with spaghetti; Hamburgers & Chips; Macaroni Cheese; and Tuna Fish Cakes. We eat soup for lunch on a Saturday. I try to limit pasta as much as possible. We eat fruit in season for supper – last night I cut up some fresh, sweet oranges for dessert. It was just perfect.
I have a simple, wholesome approach to good food.
Who are your food mentors other than your family? In South Africa it has got to be Ina Paarman. I still love her cookbook Cook With Ina Paarman. It’s just the best . I also love Elizabeth David, Tessa Kiros and Yotam Ottolenghi. One of my favourite cookbooks is What to Cook and How to Cook It by Jane Hornby. There are such beautiful cookbooks out there. I love reading cookbooks at the end of the day – just to calm down.
For your last supper, which recipes would you make from your book? Definitely the Slow-roasted Chicken with Lemon as a main course. It so incredibly simple but delicious. I would serve it with my Green Salad & Dressing followed by the Pears in Red Wine. I would not have a starter.
Are you planning a sequel to For Friends & Family? Yes. I have started compiling recipes for a companion volume which my sister, Philippa Hetherington, has suggested we call High Days & Holidays. The recipes will be more sophisticated.
To WIN one of three copies of For Family & Friends (Human & Rousseau, an imprint of NB Publishers), simply send me a message with your contact details and like my Facebook page Sharon & Co. The competition is open until the end of September. Enter now!