Sanjeev Bhaskar on weird beards and backpacks
The celebrity chefs on writing romantic notes, their blended family and why being cooked for by friends fills them with joy
John: Partly cowardice and partly I believe in romance and the written word. We still leave notes for each other now. My father once told me whenever he was going on his travels my mother would slip a note in his bag. Finding it was one of his greatest joys. I still have an old note Lisa wrote for me that I keep in my washbag.
Lisa: Just a simple ‘Have a great day!’ note left by a teacup is a lovely, romantic thing to do and John is definitely a romantic.
J: No, I think I was probably ‘metrosexual’ long before the term was invented. I left Australia because I didn’t drink beer, I wasn’t good at rugby and there were certain words and name-calling that resulted because of those things. Fortunately, I’m totally comfortable with that side of myself.
I think it’s important to talk about feelings and to hug your children and have them hug you. I still hug my father and vice versa. I can’t imagine not doing so.
L: When the kids were little the movie seemed to be all about us. Now they’re grown up you’re more likely to catch us laughing at the game Cards Against Humanity.
There’s a lot of joy when we all get together and we do that as much as possible. Although they’re all good cooks themselves, on those occasions, they are perfectly happy for John and me to do it!
J: They have the odd falling out, but that’s siblings and family life. Mostly, though, they really like each other and rub along pretty well. As they get older, the more ‘blending’ takes place because they turn up with their partners.
I become my grandparents, who I used to laugh at – I’m the one saying, ‘Take this home with you, dear!’ while forcing leftover cheese or dessert on them.
L: Certainly, right now it is, because people are struggling and we’re conscious of that. This series we hope to show how to eat well for less – pork chops are cheaper than lamb, chicken wings are inexpensive and delicious.
J: And if you make risotto today, you can have arancini tomorrow. We try to inspire people in the kitchen, no matter what their budget.
J: Recently, our producers said how difficult it would be to manufacture an on-screen relationship like ours. Fortunately, it comes oven-ready because we’re already a couple.
We’re completely at ease with one another and, like a dance partnership, we know each other’s moves – in fact, I think we only bumped into each other once in the new series! We also happen to like each other quite a lot and, hopefully, that also shows.
‘A relationship is like a house: you can’t let it fall into disrepair’
L: They both matter a lot in any relationship, at any stage of life. Like any good recipe, you need a little bit of salt, a little bit of spice, and a little bit of sugar.
I’m lucky to have a husband who’s also my best friend, someone I can chit-chat to endlessly, someone who really cares for me and who I care for equally. I’m also lucky that I think he’s pretty sexy.
L: It might be if we were doing it every day…
J: But, aside from Weekend Kitchen, we both have our own careers apart. Lisa could be acting [she’s recently filmed a new role in the BBC One drama Waterloo Road] and I’m about to start filming the next series of MasterChef. In terms of time together, that will be it for quite a while.
J: We try to make sure we’re OK with both. For me, a relationship is like a house: you can’t let it fall into disrepair. So even when we’re both working really hard, I’ll be like, ‘John, go and do something nice, mate. Go and buy some flowers or take Lisa to the pictures.’ I like to remind her I’m there for her.
J: Yes, and change is what keeps this job so exciting. I remember cooking with coriander on This Morning in 1997 and Richard and Judy saying to me, ‘Where do you get this stuff?!’ Now it’s a supermarket staple.
In this series we’ll talk about, say, kimchi and gochujang – ingredients viewers might never have heard of. But, at one time, chorizo was the same.
‘No matter how you become a parent you never own a child. You have to work at that relationship’
J: I’m perpetually jealous of people in their youth! But getting older has opened my eyes to the world. I love going for a walk, appreciating nature, watching a sunset – the things I didn’t have the headspace for as a young bloke because there was too much going on. My head is clearer now. Plus, I’ve found someone pretty amazing to grow old with.
L: For me it’s all about relaxing into the good things of getting older. We live in a world where everything’s channelled for young people and it can make you feel invisible. But it’s on us to say, ‘I’m not invisible’. I’ve got the time and the wisdom to really appreciate being alive and I happen to be living my best life.
J: I’ll steal a line from a professor’s speech at my son’s graduation. His advice was, ‘Never waste precious time procrastinating. Just make a decision and if it’s wrong that’s OK because you can always change it.’ I’ve found that to be totally true in my own life.
L: I learned a lot through my experience of three unsuccessful IVF attempts and then adopting Billie. I learned that no matter how you become a parent you never own a child. You have to work at that relationship.
You can’t just say, ‘Well, I’m the parent and you’re the child so do what I say.’ You have to earn it. Having Billie opened my eyes to the special love that exists between parents and children and that feels like such a gift. I still get doe-eyed over every baby and yet the personal longing has gone. Maybe it’s hitting 50, being menopausal and knowing it’s no longer possible. More likely it’s having a life that feels so magical as it is now.
J: So many things. My children, especially. This morning, one of them called me ‘a cow’ and that tickled me. Laughter makes the world go round and it’s usually better than anger or outrage.
We recently got served soggy wedges instead of roast potatoes at a restaurant. We could have got shirty, but the spuds were so wrong and so bad it just gave us the giggles.
L: How about a fully paid, three- day weekend for the over-50s?
J: Make that four.
L: We’re lucky our friends are all amazing cooks. A group of nine of us hang out and eat at each other’s houses. We all bring a plate and it’s always delicious.
If anyone were daunted, I’d say: ‘You’ve no idea how excited we are somebody’s cooking for us!’ It’s such a generous thing to do, like giving a part of yourself. We’d never judge what’s on the plate.
J: Well, working with a pretty girl, for starters, and hearing people say how much they love the show. Then, there are the moments when a crew member lets out an involuntary grunt of pleasure at something we’ve cooked. That really makes my day.
John and Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen returns to ITV and ITVx on April 8 at 11:35am.
This article first appeared in the May 2023 issue of Saga Magazine. Like what you’ve read? Subscribe to Saga Magazine for just £5 today.
Written by Daphne Lockyer
Julia Llewellyn Smith