Jean-Christophe Novelli: 'So many chefs use excessive fat to enhance flavours. I use herbs and spices'

'So many chefs use excessive fat to enhance flavours. I use herbs and spices'

Novelli began his career at a bakery in Arras at the age of 14. He went on to work as private chef to Elie de Rothschild at just 19. From there he came to the UK, becoming head chef at Keith Floyd's Maltsters and opening on his own in 1996 with £500 in the bank. Since then he has opened restaurants in London, France and South Africa, and the Novelli Academy near Luton. He will be at Taste of Christmas with Electrolux at the ExCel Centre in London from 7 to 9 December.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

My non-stick sauté pans and my knives are the most used items in my kitchen. I am a big advocate of healthy cooking and I try to show you that by having a good-quality non-stick pan you can help to reduce the amount of fat you need to cook with. It's amazing how many chefs use excessive fats to enhance flavours – I try to use herbs and spices. I also use my Ziganof knives a lot. I designed them. Sixty seven layers of Japanese Damascus steel make up the blade, so they are always sharp. Things that are not used in my kitchen simply aren't there any more. I tend to literally throw them out.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I would probably try and shop at a fresh market. Probably in my home town in Arras. Then I'd give everything to my mother, who could probably feed the entire family for a couple of weeks with what I'd bought.

What do you eat for comfort?

I love a good curry. It is the combination of spices, herbs and chillies that I adore. I try and incorporate them into my everyday style of cooking and, believe it or not, a good curry can be made with very little saturated fat. Also ice cream – I like to eat it late at night after a day at the academy. I find it cleans my palate. I also tend to aim for the freezer when my young baby son Jacques wakes up at night.

What's your desert island recipe?

I think it would have to be chicken. It's such a versatile bird. There are just so many ways to use it and do so with very little waste. Once you've cooked it and removed the meat, you can use what's leftover in soups, or for sauces. The feathers would come in handy for pillows, too.

What's your favourite restaurant?

Having a young family, we don't get a chance to go out very much. But when my daughter Christina has time to look after the boys, we try and visit Humphrey at Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire where my friend Chris Wheeler is head chef. We tend to use the gym and pool there, too.

What's your favourite cookbook?

I tend to look at older cook books. Like Keith Floyd's, for instance. But I try and create healthier versions of what I find within. I even do it with my own, older recipes.

Who taught you to cook?

My mother taught me how to cook – and she gave me a passion for food. As a kid I used to watch my her creating fabulously tasty food with very little money. She always managed to feed our big family. I suppose that is why I want to pass on those ideas to other people at my academy.

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