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'I loved working in restaurants... but never again'

On the release of his new diabetes cookbook, chef and TV host Phil Vickery talks to Ella Walker about lockdown, cooking for one - and chilli Doritos

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Phil Vickery

Phil Vickery

PA

Turkey pho

Turkey pho

PA

Tortilla muffins

Tortilla muffins

PA

Silky chocolate mousse

Silky chocolate mousse

PA

Phil Vickery

Phil Vickery is rather enjoying the pause lockdown has inadvertently offered us. "It's like an enforced holiday," says the chef and telly presenter, noting how, alongside the stresses, traumas and sadness, it's also meant we've been able to hear the birds sing. "You know that frenetic pace of life? Everything seems to have calmed down."

Throughout, he's presented his cookery segments for ITV's This Morning from his back garden in Buckinghamshire.

Meanwhile, he's found himself intrigued by people's changing shopping habits ("Tinned artichokes were sold out. Things like refried beans were all gone") and been surprised by what he's developed a taste for himself ("Petit pois in a tin").

Now 59, Vickery has also been "eating healthier than I ever have in my life". "I have the time now," he explains. "All my kids have grown up and gone, I'm a single man now, so it's a lot easier I think."

Vickery and Fern Britton, his wife of 20 years, split in January. They share their daughter Winnie, who lives in Cornwall with Britton, and Britton's grown-up children from her first marriage to TV executive, Clive Jones. "It's been an adjustment," says Vickery on this newfound world of cooking for one, "but I rather like it."

"I do eat some obscure things sometimes," he admits jovially.

"I tell you what I bought the other day," he breaks off enthusiastically, "some swordfish! It was delicious."

Vickery is celebrating the release of his latest cookbook, Diabetes Meal Planner (left), written with food scientist Bea Harling BSc. Every recipe is checked rigorously by Diabetes UK, too.

"They are very, very sharp people and quite particular," says Vickery of his collaborators, describing how scrupulous and complex the recipe-writing process was - so much so, he says with a laugh, the team had no qualms about knocking recipes back to him, until they were exactly right.

And while his younger self might have jostled against such restriction, for Vickery now, after years of experience writing gluten-free and diabetes recipes, it instead provides a framework in which to be imaginative.

He may write scientifically robust, healthy cookery books, but that doesn't mean he's averse to the odd bag of crisps. "What I adore is chilli flavoured Doritos," he says rapturously, adding: "My weakness at the moment is clotted cream, Rodda's," as well as "a bit of Bombay mix with my glass of wine."

For many, Vickery is as beloved for This Morning as he is for starring in the original incarnation of Ready, Steady, Cook. "It was fun, I think cooking has become very serious on television (since), but good old Rylan, love him," he says of the 2020 reboot. "I haven't seen it, and I think there's a gap there (for it) certainly."

He was also a restaurant chef for two decades, until 1999, earning a Michelin star at The Castle Hotel, Taunton. Does he miss the clatter and heat of cooking in restaurants? "Absolutely not," he says, relief in his voice. "(Working) every Christmas Day, every New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, every birthday, every holiday... and my hand was slightly forced at the time when I came out of it, but looking back, it was fabulous. But there's absolutely no way I would do it again."

With two 20-year careers, a slew of cookbooks and good health under his belt, what comes next, he's not entirely sure. He's "more relaxed" these days, and not fazed by the idea of entering his seventh decade (in fact, he's rather excited about the free bus pass).

"It's time now..." he muses. "Next chapter."

Diabetes Meal Planner by Phil Vickery with Bea Harling BSc, photography by Kate Whitaker, is published by Kyle Books and supported by Diabetes UK, priced £22

Turkey pho

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

1/2 x 10g reduced-salt chicken stock cube

10 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal

1 small fresh red chilli, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1tsp fish sauce

2 small skinless turkey breast slices (approx. 250g), fat trimmed

200g cooked rice vermicelli

200g beansprouts

6tbsp roughly chopped fresh coriander

4tbsp roughly chopped Thai or any fresh basil

10 fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

Juice of 2 large limes

Freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

1. Place one litre of water and the stock cube into a large saucepan and heat until just simmering.

2. Next add the onions, chilli, garlic, fish sauce and some pepper. Simmer for three minutes.

3. Cut the turkey into very thin slices and then add to the stock: it will cook almost straight away. Stir well.

4. Add the vermicelli noodles and beansprouts and bring back to a simmer, then turn off the heat.

5. Add the herbs to the turkey pho along with the juice from the lime and serve straight away.

SERVES 4

Nutrition tip: A leaner meat than chicken, turkey is a good source of B vitamins, selenium, zinc and phosphorus.

Tortilla muffins

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

4 sprays 1-calorie sunflower oil cooking spray

1 banana shallot, finely chopped

30g chopped pepper

4 eggs

1tbsp 0%-fat unsweetened Greek-style yogurt (see tip)

A few basil leaves, chopped, or a pinch of dried herbs

Freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:

30g reduced-fat Cheddar, grated

3 cherry tomatoes, halved

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6 and line a muffin tin with six cases. The cooked egg mixture tends to stick to the cases, so ideally use a non-stick silicone mould tray, so the contents pop out easily and no oil is needed.

2. Heat the cooking spray in a small pan and fry the shallot and pepper for about five to eight minutes. At this point, you could include any little extra bits like sauteed mushrooms or a handful of chopped spinach leaves, to wilt at the end.

3. Beat the eggs with the yogurt, herbs and seasoning in a small jug, add the cooked vegetables and mix all together. Pour the egg mixture into the six cups, half-filling each one. Sprinkle with cheese, press half a cherry tomato on top and bake for about 15-20 minutes until set.

MAKES 6

Nutrition tip: Though these recipes use low-fat dairy, try using other unsweetened alternatives such as small amounts of full-fat dairy, which contains some beneficial fats, live yogurt or even cottage cheese.

Silky chocolate mousse

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

150g silken tofu, drained

2tsp vanilla extract

1tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

5g dark chocolate

METHOD

1. Pat dry the tofu and then puree in a food-processor or blender for a few seconds until smooth. Add the vanilla, sift in the cocoa (to avoid lumps) and blend briefly.

2. Melt the chocolate on low power in a microwave until runny. (If the chocolate cools too fast, the texture might become grainy instead of mixing in smoothly.) Add to the tofu mixture in the food-processor. Pulse until smooth.

3. Divide the mixture between two little serving dishes, such as ramekins, and pop in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.

SERVES 2

Nutrition tips: Serving with a few cherries or raspberries on the side will add some useful fibre. Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70% or more) is a good source of iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

Belfast Telegraph