Wendyl Nissen is the author of a series of back-to-basics books, a columnist for the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, the Weekend Herald, and a broadcaster on NewstalkZB. She describes her cooking style as ‘basic’, makes a great sourdough loaf and loves baking homemade crumpets. “They always bring my family running.”
We asked her a few more questions . . .
What’s your earliest food memory?
Dad's pancakes with lemon and sugar. He used to make them for us while Mum was getting ready to go out. We'd have them for dinner before the babysitter arrived.
Where do you draw your culinary inspiration?
My nanas. None of them were very creative cooks but they were good at the old-fashioned foods which I have fond memories of. Tea cakes, shepherd's pie and rissoles.
Who is your cooking idol?
Reading Nigel Slater's books taught me how to appreciate real food, rather than fast food and how to cook properly. Jamie Oliver earned my respect when he took on America and the crap they feed their kids. I don't idolise celebrity chefs who yell at people.
How did you start cooking?
I started cooking when I was a kid but my brother was much better at it so I gave up. I really started cooking properly when I met my husband Paul Little, who is a great cook. He taught me that cooking a meal for someone is a wonderful way to show how much you love them instead of being yet another thing a busy, stressed-out Mum has to do in the shortest possible time.
What’s your favourite meal?
Mince on toast as long as you put parsnips in it. And raw oysters.
What’s your biggest kitchen disaster?
There have been so many involving undercooking. I'm a very impatient person. My ex-husband once watched my current husband eat a birthday cake I had hastily made for one of the children's birthdays. "He really must love you," was all he said.
If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Sicily. Fresh, fresh, fresh, lots of fish and I love how you never see a menu. You are told what you should have because it's the freshest thing available today.
What are your kitchen must haves?
Sardines — I eat them on toast with chopped onion and drizzled with lemon juice for lunch a lot. Eggs fresh from my hen house. Parsley and bay leaves in the garden. Tomatoes and lemons to make any meal special. And flour and my sourdough starter, which means a loaf of bread is always in the offing.
Why do you love cooking?
The experiment. Every new dish you cook is like conducting an experiment. Will it work? If not why? I probably should have been a scientist.
Who is your dream dinner guest?
Peter Gordon. I once sat next to him at a lunch and adored the way he licked his fingers with enjoyment and mopped up the juices with his bread. There is nothing nicer than watching someone really enjoy their food and I'd feel very honoured if he licked his fingers after eating something I had cooked.