Ahead of his appearance at BBC Good Food Show Winter, Chris Bavin chats to Evie Kissack about his new cookbook, how to create healthy meals on a budget, and his favourite festive traditions.

As a food produce expert, 'Eat Well For Less' host, and co-founder of organic wholesale retailer 'The Naked Grocer', Chris Bavin has a wealth of experience in all areas of the culinary world - from importing, wholesaling, retailing, service providing, catering, and more recently, cooking. With a passion for educating the public on how to cut down food waste in the kitchen, save time and create fuss-free healthy meals, Chris is on a mission to improve the UK's eating habits and make people more aware of where their food comes from. 

How are you doing this morning?

Marvellous thank you! And yourself?

I’m good, thank you! You’ll be heading to BBC Good Food Show at the NEC this winter! Are you looking forward to the event? 

Very much so! It’s always great fun – lots of food producers, manufacturers, clever gadgets on sale and things you can’t find anywhere else. Lots of products are launched there, so from that perspective it’s great. It’s always good to see lots of amazing chefs cooking up wonderful recipes. It’s always a lot of fun. 

Are there any chefs in particular that you’re hoping to catch?

Well, Mary Berry obviously! [Laughs] There are some real big names; Tom Kerridge, Michel Roux Jr, Paul Hollywood…there’s some serious superstars in the world of food. But, you also have lots of up-and-coming chefs, there’s a real mixture. From Michelin starred chefs, to healthy eating advocates, to those focusing on certain types of cuisine. So, it’s great! Tommy Banks is there; I’m looking forward to seeing him. I'm also looking forward to catching up with Dan Doherty. I mean, it’s great, there’s lots of amazing, really, really talented chefs. It’ll be great to see them all. 

Exactly! You’ve highlighted what, for me, is so great about the Food Show. It’s all about the variety and the mix of cuisines and talents. Of course, this being the winter show, there will be a celebration of all things festive. Do you have any favourite festive recipes you enjoy cooking at this time of year?

Well, we have definitely moved into winter now. I think there’s some really wonderful, hearty, warm recipes that celebrate the best of the produce at the moment. English top fruit such as English apples, English pears are in full swing now, as well as the winterberries. There’s some really nice earthy, rich, warm, comforting foods that you can create. The veg that’s available now is amazing, new season English potatoes are coming through; they’re a really versatile, amazing product. As well as all the winter cabbage and brassica and cauliflower…I think it’s a time that you’re happy for your plate to change to a warmer and more comforting style, which is great! 

How did you first become a produce expert? Did you always want to work within the culinary world?

No, not really! I sort of – as it happens for a lot of people – I just fell into it. I started off selling flowers; importing flowers from around the world and selling to the wholesalers in the UK. Then I moved into fresh produce, to fruit and veg, and started working with these amazing ingredients; the freshest, the best, and all different types of fruit and veg - I sort of fell in love with it from there. I was bringing home all of these incredible ingredients and cooking things with them – adapting and changing and tweaking and trying new things. My love for food sort of went from there really. 

I also have to say huge congratulations! You’re set to release your first ever cookbook, 'Good Food Sorted', next March. How has it been working on the book? What can readers expect?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and it’s always been a huge dream and ambition of mine to write my own book. It’s really exciting to get the opportunity to do that. What can readers expect? They can expect great flavours - hopefully spending less time and less money achieving it, and I think that’s what’s important. Most people now are time-poor. People are faced with the conundrum of what to cook for dinner – so this is a really easy-to-use cookbook that yields great results. I think, first of all, it was possibly seen as a negative that I wasn’t a chef, and didn’t have formal training, or that I’d never worked in a commercial kitchen. But the more I think about it, the more I think it’s an advantage. If I say something is easy to do, it’s easy to do. [Laughs]

[Laughs] True. 

Whereas, a Michelin star chef will have different levels of expectation and capabilities. I’m just a normal parent that has worked in the food industry all of my life trying to feed my family. Hopefully, I will help those in a similar situation. There are lots of hints and tips, and handy ways to save money, to save time. It’s a really practical cookbook, but you’re not compromising on quality – and it’s easy to achieve. 

You mentioned that many people have budget and time constraints – especially families. As a parent yourself, it’s great that you have created recipes for people in similar situations. The BBC programme, Eat Well For Less, is fantastic in that it seeks to educate the public about their food sources, and how to eat cheaply and healthily. Why do you feel it’s important to teach others about these topics? 

Well, listen, I think our food bill is – in most cases – the second largest outgoing. It is second only to rent or mortgage. We are spending lots and lots of money on food. Some of it ends up in the bin, which is a shame. I think it’s something people are having to deal with on a daily or weekly basis. It is confusing – we are bombarded with lots of mixed messages of what to do, and we don’t set out to get it wrong, but in many cases we are not doing it well. But, we’ve never been taught to do it! We’ve often never been taught about money management and budgeting, cooking healthily… Feeding ourselves well and economically is incredibly important. Food is going to continue to become more expensive. The health of the nation as an average is not great, and is getting worse. The majority of people now in the UK are overweight. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise. Cooking from scratch - good healthy food - is hugely important and will continue to become more important. So I think it’s essential we get the message out there. 

What’s your best piece of advice for those who are in a bit of a rut with their cooking, and find they are bored with repetitive weekly recipes and uninspiring family meals? 

I think that is incredibly common and most people will probably say something similar. The thing to do is to sit down and plan. You’re putting such an extrodinary pressure on yourself by trying to think of things off the top of your head right there and then when shopping, and you’re then limited by what ingredients you have to work with. So, sit down on a Sunday, maybe get a cookbook, and flick through and find things that make you think, ‘oh that would be nice to try,’ or ‘we could cook that’ - you know. The really sensible advice, depending upon where you are with your cooking abilities, is to try and stick with your strengths. If you can cook a Bolognese, try to find a recipe that uses a lot of the same ingredients and same componants but with a slight twist – maybe the addition of a certain ingredient or item. Spice your meals up; change and vary them. Without planning you’re basically setting yourself an incredible challenge, to think on the spot, like in a cooking competition! Why put yourself under that pressure? Whoever is eating the meals, sit down together on a Sunday evening for 15 minutes – it doesn’t need to be laborious, it can be fun. Pick out the meals you want for the rest of the week and write down the ingredients you need for them, cross reference those ingredients against what you already have in your cupboard and fridge, and buy the rest. You’ll know exactly what you’re having after a long day at work, or picking the kids up from school, that you know what you’re cooking and you have everything. It takes all the pressure, stress, worry, away. 

And the mad rush around the supermarket trying to find random ingredients…

Yeah! Planning, planning, planning. That's the key.

That sounds like a fabulous way to get children excited about cooking and to try new things also.

Yeah – get them involved and then there can’t be any disagreements! [Laughs] They can’t turn around and say, ‘Oh I don’t want lasagne’ because you all sat down on Sunday and decided so….eat it. 

[Laughs] What is Christmas like in your household?

I have two young boys, so Christmas is incredibly exciting. It gets magical again. You’re running around here, there and everywhere. It’s lots of fun. I spend a reasonable amount of time in the kitchen – I love cooking and I love spending time with my family so it’s like win-win basically. 


You can catch Chris at the Festive Kitchen all four days of BBC Good Food Show. To grab your ticket now, head to www.goodfoodshow.com

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