'I am so glad that I am not trying to grow up now'
He's smoking hot, a dab hand in the kitchen and on a mission to bring back carbs. Isaac Carew, the model-turned-TV chef could be the perfect man, says Hannah Betts
Such is the appeal of chef-turned-model-turned-chef-again Isaac Carew that during our interview in a café in Stoke Newington, a young woman asks if she can join our table, and sits unashamedly gazing at him. Carew, who evidently gets this sort of thing a lot, fails to notice.
One witnesses this sort of reaction around beautiful people a lot - mere mortals stammering, reddening and generally reduced to slapstick. Carew, like George Clooney, has the kind of face around which you find yourself thinking: 'Actually, the world's pretty great' - better looking in real life than in his campaigns for Hermès and Moschino.
The on-paper stuff - six-foot-two, green eyes, requisite six-pack - is augmented by still more attractive qualities such as thoughtfulness and impeccable manners.
But that's not all. For, as his new Channel 4 cookery series Tried And Tasted: The Ultimate Shopping List will demonstrate, Carew is a trained chef, schooled in Gordon Ramsay's Michelin-starred establishments, whose YouTube videos have become food porn's latest fetish.
Not only would he make the most scorching of hot dates, he'd cook you the best of breakfasts the morning after. He is, as one fan describes him, 'basically the ideal man' - something with which his 74,000 Instagram followers agree, greedy as they are for his take on planets, food and fashion.
Newly single after a break-up with singer Dua Lipa - not a subject he'll discuss - is he conscious of the hot chef thing being a female fantasy? "I'm not going to lie; of course you work it," he smirks, sipping his mint tea, "but I also cook for my male friends. It just so happens that with girls it's an extra icing on the cake." As for his date-night special, he likes to mix things up. "I make a lot of pasta, but it depends what mood I'm in, what ingredients I've got in the fridge, the season. My last meal on earth would be Caribbean food: jerk chicken, Guinness punch, rice and peas - so comforting." Spoken like a true Londoner.
Before the age of 11, Carew, now 31, lived in Tottenham and from then on in Hackney. "I'm a Hackney boy because that's where I kind of 'found' myself. My friends are from Hackney, my mum's still there."
Both of his parents worked hard, his mother in mental health, his father (and godfather) as chefs. He started paid work at 11, doing the Cinderella tasks in his father's kitchen. "I just loved food. Creating something and seeing someone else appreciate it is amazing. And, if I'm honest, I wasn't very good at school [the former White Hart Lane comp]. I had dyslexia, which meant having a reading age of four at 11. Cooking was the one thing I could really focus on."
After two years at catering college, his colleagues in the Kentish Town pub where he was working sent his CV to the Gordon Ramsay Group. That transported him to the Connaught, and later to Cielo in Miami with his mentor, Angela Hartnett. "The first couple of weeks were just mind-blowing. But at the same time, I cried. I could barely walk. After two weeks I honestly thought I was going to quit just because of the tiredness. And then I had a day off and I was like: 'What the hell am I thinking? I can do this'."
The famously foul-mouthed Ramsay called him a 'lanky b******', and he boasts the obligatory war wounds - kitchen scars from pans, not his boss. "The make-up artist for this article was saying, 'You've got lovely soft hands', and I was like: 'I want to start scrubbing them on sandpaper because when I was a professional chef I could pick up pans, touch meat fresh from an oven. And now I get manicures because of my 10 years' modelling. I want my chef hands back'."
He was scouted aged 22 outside Selfridges, taking up the opportunity because he was between jobs. "The first few months were awful. It's basically like going to six interviews a day. I didn't see the point. And then I got a Topman campaign, a hair campaign and some really big jobs like Hermès."
He worked with photographers Rankin and Nick Knight, shooting around the globe. "I've got to travel the world, see the Great Wall of China, Singapore, Australia, and get paid at the same time. I'm very appreciative of the industry and I've had fun doing it."
Modelling is probably the one (legal) business in which women get paid more than men. "It's definitely a woman's industry," he confirms. "Still, men do have an easy ride. A female model will be up at 6am because she has to be in hair and make-up for three hours, where most men might take half an hour. Still, sometimes I've been on a job where the female model's getting £120,000 and I'm getting £25,000. That's a big difference.
"At the same time, I can make more in a month than I did in a year being a chef. When I started I was getting paid £1.57 an hour, if you broke my salary down. I've always been someone who's grafted. I worked in the greengrocers, the butchers. So I appreciate the money I've got, unlike some models who start when they're 16, have no idea what someone gets paid weekly and just kind of fritter it away on T-shirts for £300. You can get a T-shirt for a tenner."
A Labour voter, he's saved up and is looking to buy a place in Brixton due mainly to its flourishing food scene.
Carew's move back to food was instigated by friends pleading with him to share recipes. He started Instagramming, then came Dirty Dishes, his blog, website and a YouTube channel, but he's ambivalent about the medium that gave him his second big break.
"I have a lot of love for social media because I wouldn't be where I am today without it, but I also find it quite strange. I'd say it is the younger generation that's social-media obsessed. I'm in limbo, half-and-half. I hate selfies." (However, on spring's first hot day he did produce a torso-baring pic.) He finds the propositions "weird - sometimes funny, sometimes horrible".
Contrary to what these types might hope, Dirty Dishes got its name innocently. "One, if you cook, you're always going to end up with them. Two, it was the backlash against everything nowadays being about clean eating. I'm like: 'What happened to food that tastes good and has love in it?'
"'Carb' is almost a dirty word. Your body needs carbs. I'm a bit over clean eating. It's not healthy. People are taking the idea to an extreme.
"I wanted to get away from that persona of models who only eat salads, because we don't. We eat bloody everything. The only difference is that models work out more. I do boxing, yoga, swimming, a 5k (run) now and again. I'm skinny: 75 kilos. I struggle to put on weight."
The Ultimate Shopping List, in which our hero appears as Michel Roux Jr's cheeky chappie sidekick, should counter the stereotype of tissue-munching models. It will also bring him still more girl and gay fans.
Given that he harbours a Tinder phobia, acolytes are advised to hit emerging food areas such as Queen's Park, or stalwarts such as the Berners Tavern, both established Carew haunts. Just try not to look like what Sex and the City termed a 'modeliser' (someone looking for trophy arm candy). Our boy is far too genuine to be fooled by that routine.
Tried and Tasted: The Ultimate Shopping List is coming soon to Channel 4