On the front cover of Nadia Sawalha and Kaye Adams’ new cookbook, Disaster Chef, the Loose Women presenters are mid food fight.
“That was a bad idea,” says Adams, 55, shaking her head (“That was so fun!” Sawalha, 53, shouts over her). “I really cannot recommend cold noodles in your cleavage.”
But Sawalha stands by it. “In the world of Instagram, when so much of cookery is about, ‘This is what I am and you’re not; I bet you wish you were me; I’m so wonderful I could eat myself’, if that doesn’t say who we are, what does?” she asks with a cackle.
This is the duo in a nutshell. Best friends for more than two decades, they chat haphazardly over one another, sniping, laughing, buoying one another up and bickering.
“She drives me up the f****** wall,” says Sawalha fondly.
“She’s so condescending, patronising, interfering, domineering – ugh, she’s very – eering,” responds Adams affectionately.
They’ve taken the worlds of YouTube and food by storm
Their lack of artifice, whether on telly or on their YouTube channel, is crucial, and without the latter, there’d be no cookbook. The pair are bona fide “middle-aged social-media sensations” – despite their kids’ initial protestations (they have two daughters apiece). “My eldest daughter can’t stay far enough away from it, she’s wholly embarrassed and wishes I would crawl under a stone,” says Adams.
18,000 subscribers are tough to ignore though. They test products – and recently got a million hits for a video in which they tried cosmetic tape for holding your neck and face up. “It’s basically medical grade Sellotape,” says Adams with a grin – chat about everything from hair loss to alcohol addiction, and on Thursday nights, stream live from Sawalha’s kitchen.
“We usually just go, ‘Oh, let’s film something’. We open the fridge, have a look and just get going, we don’t have any plan,” says London-born Sawalha.
“We’re quite juvenile. We’re reclaiming our immaturity,” adds Adams.
They started cooking together because “Kaye really was, there’s no doubt about it, disaster chef”, explains Sawalha, who won Celebrity MasterChef in 2007 and has a slew of her own cookbooks already. Adams pulls her phone out and scrolls to a picture of a brown flip-flop-shaped mess that is apparently ‘pitta con funghi’ (“We should definitely film people’s reactions to it,” says Sawalha, with another cackle).
They started posting Adams’ not-so appetising dishes on Facebook and realised a lot of people could relate – cooking together on camera became a no-brainer, and the book brings everything together.
Disaster Chef is about the ‘building blocks’ of cooking
“I’m not cheffy at all, I’m only a home cook. I’ve never done caramel baskets or anything, but Kay made me realise that not everyone knows what it means when you say, ‘Fry the onions until they’re transparent’,” says ex-EastEnders actress, Sawalha.
Disaster Chef is full of “real food, to get you through life”, says Glasgow-based Adams, and is peppered with basic tips and tricks from Sawalha – from getting your steak out of the fridge half an hour before cooking it so it won’t be tough, to tipping your drained potatoes back into the hot pan to dry out before mashing them. Stuff she’d assumed people knew, before Stirlingshire-born Adams pointed out that we don’t all have the “building blocks to jump in there”.
“I’ve managed to successfully make it through life ‘til this point, I just missed out on the cooking thing,” says Adams. “I don’t have the cheffy language, I don’t have the references. It was never something I felt a great connection with. My mum wasn’t particularly into it; you go to university, you’re eating crap, it just passed me by.” She even remembers at school making a pineapple-the-right-way-up cake by accident (“I did get top marks in the theory though”).
But Adams is learning. “She made this,” says Sawalha, pointing at the book’s berry pavlova recipe. “We didn’t have any home ecs, or stylists. We cooked the food in the house and my husband took the photos. She did the whole thing – I was really, really drunk there, you can see how pissed I was in the pictures (it was an accident, I hadn’t eaten!).
“I’m well proud of her – but anyone can make that. If you do every single one of these things, you will create that; simple as that,” she says, stabbing the instructions on the page for emphasis.
“Without those specific instructions,” says Adams, “I’d think, ‘Well this is a disaster, I can’t make a pavlova, I’m a rubbish cook’, and walk to Waitrose, whereas it’s a lovely moment when you follow something and it works. You think, ‘Wow’.”
Feeding your family can still be a hassle – whether you love cooking or not
For Adams, despite her improvements, cooking will always be something of a chore. “Even if I get better at it, it’s not going to be the thing that makes me relax and calm down,” she says. “At the end of the day, the kids need to be fed, it’s another thing that ‘needs to be done’.”
But for Sawalha, the kitchen is her happy place. “My husband will be like, ‘You’ve had a really hard day, don’t be silly, we’ll get a takeaway’. No! I’ve had a really stressful day, so I want to cook!” she says. “But just because I can cook doesn’t mean I want to be using 20 different ingredients and spending two hours in the kitchen every night – I don’t, I want to bang it on the table and I want everyone to shut up and eat it.”
While their YouTube channel has been a terrific success, and Disaster Chef has done wonders for Adams’ culinary powers, the whole thing has induced a sad state of affairs for their relationship.
“I don’t think we’ve been for a meal or had a glass of bloody prosecco at the end of a show,” says Sawalha, comically outraged at their lives being forever captured onscreen.
“When we’ve got the camera on, it’s all very fizzy and organic,” Adams deadpans. “When it’s off, we sit slumped, slack-jawed in the back of the car, staring at each other.”
Nadia And Kaye Disaster Chef by Nadia Sawalha and Kaye Adams, photography by Mark Adderley, is published by DK, priced £20. Available now.