Chelsea Winter! Force of nature, success story, brand. But can she, you know, cook? Food writer Delaney Mes does her best to persevere with the recipes and the puns in the new cookbook Scrumptious.
It’s been four years since Chelsea Winter tearily made her way into New Zealand cooking show history when she was crowned the winner of the late, lamentable Masterchef New Zealand. She’d narrowly taken out Waiheke mum-of-one Ana Schwarz; poor Ana, who missed her daughter’s birthday, only to then go on and lose. There was a recipe swapping controversy – Chelsea and another contestant had swapped ingredients in a mystery challenge earlier in the series, and although they were reprimanded, Winter survived the debacle. The white-blonde, smiling, self-described “quirky foodie, honest Kiwi cook” has been incredibly successful in the time since her win, having hit a sweet spot in New Zealand’s desire to be hand-held through a recipe – just look at the insane success of My Food Bag.
In Scrumptious, her fourth bestseller cookbook, she thanks Masterchef judge Ray McVinnie as her friend and mentor, something that obviously began on set. She’s given Scrumptious the nickname Scrumpy and her fans love it. I hate it – it’s a terrible word – but I got past the title, and persevered. I persevered as far as the first page, where there’s a photo of Winter and her husband and her dog, hugging in a family photo. I considered pouring myself a gin. It was 10am.
This is simple food with a twist. It’s essentially the Edmonds cookbook with a face and modern food styling: a well-placed linen napkin, a kid holding a cupcake, beautiful ceramics. There’s no food restrictions, no fads, just food that people at home can cook. Chicken meatballs are up first. We get through a lot of chicken: baked, sweet and sour, baked again, encased in an empanada, and then chicken, cranberry and camembert pizza. The inclusion of this horror story from cafes of the late 1990s is unforgivable but I persevered once more.
A couple of the recipes use a ballsy amount of sugar for this day and age of demonising sugar, and it feels a little heavy on meat. But this is how New Zealand cooks and this is the basis of Scrumpy’s appeal. With simple styling and an enviable plate collection, Chelsea Winter is feeding her people. There’s even a recipe for poached eggs. Who the fuck doesn’t know how to poach eggs? There’s a recipe for fried wraps: take six supermarket wraps and, you know, fry them.
I persevered. I persevered past her recipe for a giant sausage roll and then I got to Chelly Con Carne. Chelly is one of her many nicknames, she tells us. It’s a recipe for spicy mince and actually it looks pretty good. The similarly puntastic Spaghetti Chel-fredo contains a whopping cup of cream, cup of parmesan, and cup and a quarter of another grated cheese. Voilà! One very creamy, very cheesey pasta coming right up.
Her legion of fans have lapped it up. Her Facebook community, with a whopping 320,000 followers, constantly photograph meals they’ve made from her recipes, and they relish the personal replies. Like a younger, blonder version of Annabel Langbein, Chelsea Winter makes food that is slightly aspirational but completely accessible. She has the knack of enabling her fans to feel a level of success and achievement with every dish they try.
Is it for me? A slightly cynical writer who loves cooking and who cringes at warping your name into a pun for a recipe title? Absolutely not. Perseverance only gets you so far. Is it for the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who benefit from her personal take on simple recipes, and remind them they can cook? Absolutely.
Scrumptious (Penguin RandomHouse, $50) by Chelsea Winter.