IT might not feel like it, but MasterChef veteran John Torode has been putting amateur cooks, and some famous faces, through their paces for 13 years on the popular BBC show. And while you might know him best for his TV partnership with co-host Gregg Wallace, he's also just published his 11th cookbook.

The chef, 52, hails from Melbourne, Australia, but has been living in the UK for 27 years. His first culinary love, however, comes from much further afield - the street food of the Far East, which, Torode says, "the world is slowly falling in love with".

His new book, Sydney To Seoul, is a culmination of a lifetime of travels around the east of the continent, his Australian heritage, and stories and conversations with street sellers and local chefs who've shared or influenced the recipes he's featured.

Torode's exploration into Asian cooking begun back in the Nineties - "I discovered a world that is fresh and delicious" - and that discovery has influenced his work ever since, from his restaurant menus to the dishes he and his actress partner, Lisa Faulkner, rustle up at home.

The focus is really on food that grew out of necessity, which ordinary people knock up at home every day in Thailand, or grab from street food stalls in Seoul. "I wanted people to understand it's not about big things, it's about lots of little things," he says. "I find big plates of food scary now."

From simple Thai classics like fish cakes and som tam (green papaya salad), to karipap pusing (curry puffs) from Malaysia, pajeon (seafood and spring onion pancakes) from South Korea and duck noodle soup from China, the book is a journey of cheap street eats, vibrant curries and fragrant broths. Like his accent though, Torode's latest book still has an unmistakable Aussie twang - an entire barbecue chapter and brunches that would be perfectly at home in cafes along Sydney Harbour.

This Australian-Asian mix might seem surprising, but, says Torode: "Australia, and its cuisine was brought about by immigration, with Greeks and Italians arriving in the Fifties, Vietnamese in the Eighties. There's huge Portuguese influence in Asia; and limes aren't from South America, they're from Iran. We talk about fusion of different cultures, but it's a world of people moving about and talking bits and pieces with them."

The book also taps into just how much home-cooking has changed in recent years.

"Now, we're seeing a world where you can get the ingredients," says Torode. "If I'd put Thai fish cakes in a recipe book 10 years ago, people wouldn't necessarily cook it - but now it seems everyone has a bottle of chilli sauce in their cupboard, and coriander is in everybody's fridge, instead of just parsley. Sainsbury's stock gochujang, fish sauce is on every shelf.

"When I first arrived in the UK, nobody ate squid, nobody ate pork belly. I remember putting it on the menu at Smiths [his first restaurant] in 2000, and someone said, 'No one will eat pork belly'," he adds. (And indeed, there's a recipe for bossam, a Chinese glazed pork belly and sticky sauce dish in the book.)

Other dishes might be more surprising, even now. The Korean army stew, a strange-sounding combination of American hot dogs, spam and processed cheese, with instant noodles, kimchi and gochujang, Torode calls "bonkers" but "fantastic". It's fusion at its most fascinating - but again born out of necessity.

"In the war, when there was nothing left in Korea, they used to buy food from the American camps - they had hot dogs and and bologna. But kimchi is eaten with every single meal [in Korea], and there's noodles because that's their carbohydrate," Torode explains. The result was a big pot of hearty stew to feed the family.

These stories are woven into the fabric of the book, and form the backbone to Torode's dishes. "For me, all the stories are really important, they make me remember the recipe," he says.

One thing Wallace might not be too impressed by though, is that there are no desserts in sight. "There's no reason for them," says Torode, spoken like a true savoury man. "The fact is, the way a lot of food is eaten is that the flavours are sweet and savoury anyway."

You may have seen the TV duo chiding budding professional chefs for spiceless curries or overcooked fish on MasterChef, but when it comes to home cooks, Torode wants us to worry less about perfection and just experiment more.

"We put enormous amounts of pressure on ourselves, thinking everything we make has to be perfect. There are variables - the coriander is going to taste different depending on where it's come from, the amount of juice that comes out of a lime... Just in enjoy it. If it doesn't work the first time, your friends don't mind, [they] love you - that's why they bring the white wine and have a nice time."

This rich vegetarian curry packs loads of flavour.

A good vegetarian curry is a staple in many countries, and John Torode's butternut squash red curry hails from his many trips to Thailand.

"The red curry, in my opinion, is the richest and most satisfying to make of all the curries," he says. "It is the flavour of Thailand in one addictive sauce. The process of cooking out the paste, then adding the palm sugar and cooking again until the paste becomes a baked terracotta-red, rich, fragrant and the consistency of jam, is paramount for a really red curry."



(serves 4-6)

For the paste: (makes enough for 3-4 curries)

50g medium dried red chillies

1tsp white peppercorns

1/2tsp coriander seeds

1/2tsp cumin seeds

2 whole cloves

1/2tsp mace blade (a spice available from Amazon)

1 thumb-sized piece of fresh galangal, roughly chopped

1 lemongrass stalk, outer leaves removed and inner leaves roughly chopped

3 fresh red chillies, de-seeded and roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled

3 small Thai shallots, chopped

A handful of fresh coriander root, soaked and washed

finely grated zest of 1 lime

1tsp salt

25g shrimp paste, toasted

6 lime leaves

2tbsp vegetable oil

For the curry:

1 medium butternut squash

300g firm tofu

Vegetable oil, for frying

150g red curry paste

125g creamed coconut

2 x 400ml tins coconut milk

40g palm sugar

4 lemongrass stalks, bruised

12 lime leaves, torn

4 thumb-sized pieces of galangal, roughly chopped

1tbsp fish sauce (or add a vegetarian fish sauce substitute or 1tsp salt)

To garnish:

Fried chillies, shallots and garlic

1 fresh red chilli, sliced (optional)


1. To make the paste, snap the stalk end from the dried red chillies and shake out the seeds. Put the dried chillies into a bowl and cover with hot water. Leave for about 20 minutes until they have plumped up, then drain but keep them wet.

2. Heat a small dry frying pan over a medium heat until hot, then add the peppercorns, both lots of seeds, the cloves and mace blade and dry-fry, stirring regularly, until nicely toasted, about two minutes.

3. Tip the toasted spices into a mortar and pestle or food processor and pound or blend to a fine powder. Add the galangal and lemongrass and pound or blend to a paste. Add all the remaining ingredients, including the soaked chillies, and pound or blend to a paste.

4. Peel and de-seed the butternut squash, then cut into large hunks the size of golf balls. Cut the tofu into similar-sized pieces. Set both to one side.

5. Heat a little vegetable oil in a medium saucepan, then add the curry paste and cook for a minute or so. Add the creamed coconut and the creamy layer from the top of the tins of coconut milk and cook over a medium heat for five to six minutes - it will start to colour and smell of roasted coconut, but watch that it doesn't burn.

6. Now add the palm sugar, reduce the heat and cook gently for about five to 10 minutes, stirring until it is rich red in colour and no longer smells raw. The oil will separate from the mixture and then gradually start to come back together as the mixture thickens and darkens. Be careful not to let it burn.

7. Add the squash pieces and stir well so that the paste coats them all, cook for a couple of minutes, then pour in the coconut milk and 200ml water and bring to the boil. Drop in the lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal, add half the fish sauce, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for 10-12 minutes. Stir in the tofu and simmer gently for a further 10 minutes.

8. To finish, season with extra palm sugar if it's too spicy, or the remaining fish sauce if it's a little bland. The sauce should taste sweet, hot and just slightly salty. Dress with some fried garnish and the sliced chilli and serve immediately.


This easy spicy salad is perfect for summer.

John Torode was inspired by his travels in Thailand for this salad recipe. The MasterChef presenter suggests using lamb fillets if you can find them, because they’re lean and cook quickly.

“The secret is to toss the salad while the lamb is warm, so everything wilts and blends and becomes one,” he writes in his new book, John Torode’s Sydney To Seoul.

(Serves 6)

200g trimmed lamb fillets or a 200g loin of lamb

50ml vegetable oil

10 lime leaves, cut into julienne

3 long fresh red chillies, cut into julienne

A good handful of fresh coriander leaves

A good handful of fresh Thai basil leaves

100g beansprouts

For the dressing:

50ml fresh lime juice

50ml vegetable oil

2tbsp fish sauce

1 small fresh red chilli, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1. Heat a heavy-based pan over a high heat. Rub the lamb all over with the vegetable oil and then sear it quickly on both sides - the fillets take just a few minutes; the loin will take a good eight to 10 minutes.

2. Remove the lamb to a plate and leave to rest for five minutes.

3. Meanwhile, combine all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, mixing together well.

4. Slice the lamb thinly, then put into a bowl with the cooking juices, the lime leaves, chillies and herbs and toss through. Add the beansprouts and a tablespoon of the dressing and toss to mix.

5. Serve on individual plates or in a big bowl and dribble the remaining dressing over.

* John Torode's Sydney To Seoul: Recipes From My Travels In Australia And The Far East by John Torode is published by Headline, priced £27. Available now.