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Desert Island Dishes: 11 life lessons from culinary castaways

Chefs have been elevated to global rock star philosopher status via their puff pastries and celeriac salads – we all have our favourites. Here are just some of the life lessons our culinary castaways have taught us…

Yotam Ottolenghi

Home is where the heart is. After leaving their native Tuscany, Yotam’s grandparents built a little Italy in a suburb of Tel Aviv. "They managed to create a little haven... Even the doorknobs were imported from Italy. It was down to the tinniest [of] detail.” He recalls his grandmother sipping espresso and making gnocchi, fondly remembering the “evocative smells” that were a part of his childhood.

Listen to Yotam Ottolenghi’s Desert Island Discs.

Yotam Ottolenghi: ‘My grandparents created a little Italy in Tel Aviv’

Yotam Ottolenghi on the culinary influences in his childhood.

Delia Smith

It’s what’s on the inside that counts. In her 1982 appearance, Delia let listeners in on a trade secret: “Obviously, if you had to show say three dozen mince pies then you wouldn’t have to put mincemeat in them [laughs]. What you would do is you’d put wet kitchen paper inside… I can remember having great fun when one of the cameramen came up and pinched a few mince pies and I heard him scream from behind a screen.”

Listen to Delia Smith's Desert Island Discs.

Jamie Oliver

Keep it simple. Speaking to Sue Lawley in 2001, Jamie enthused about the joys of making things look easy: "A lot of people... think I slap things together. Methodically, if you actually look at the stages of how I do it – say like just ripping up mozzarella – It's much nicer to rip it than to cut it. I think it actually tastes better... Maybe more surface area to put some dressing over. It just looks more sumptuous."

Listen to Jamie Oliver's Desert Island Discs.

Nigella Lawson

Be adventurous. “I like feeding people. I like giving pleasure, I like taking pleasure… If people don’t take pleasure in food, if they don’t allow themselves to eat, I kind of feel they’re not really allowing themselves to live”, said Nigella in 2003. And how did she feel about her programmes being referred to as ‘gastro porn’? "Well, I think that food is sexy."

Listen to Nigella Lawson's Desert Island Discs.

Nigel Slater

Food = love. Talking about the death of his mother in 2005, Nigel remembered how his father would leave a marshmallow by his bed every night: “A marshmallow is the closest thing to a kiss.”

Listen to Nigel Slater's Desert Island Discs.

Mary Berry

Don’t eat alone. “When we all sit round a table with full tummies children start telling you a bit about their life”, said Mary Berry in 2012. You should try and do it whenever you can, “even if it’s only once a week”.

Listen to Mary Berry's Desert Island Discs.

René Redzepi

Dream big. In 2014 multi-award-winning Danish chef Rene Redzepi said that the idea of luxury is changing – “anyone rich enough can get caviar” – but not everyone knows when the perfect mushroom is in season. “When you see the world as one big larder then you can really start dreaming.”

Listen to René Redzepi's Desert Island Discs.

Rene Redzepi: Vegetables can be ‘the lead guitarist of a dish’

Chef Rene Redzepi on inspiration… and vegetables.

Nadiya Hussain

Spoil your loved ones. In August, 2016, Nadiya told Kirsty Young that she used to bake for her husband every day. “When he walks through the door and smells cake. That smile on his face…”

Listen to Nadiya Hussain's Desert Island Discs.

Nadiya Hussain: ‘To me it was like sorcery’

Nadiya Hussain, Bake Off winner, on discovering the magic of baking.

Keith Floyd

Never give up. In 1991, after Sue Lawley listed his previously unsuccessful ventures, “its failed cub reporter, failed captain in the army, failed restaurateur, failed wine merchant, failed antiques dealer. It’s a wonder you’ve ever gone on”, Keith Floyd replied, “But, that’s the whole point of everything isn’t it? I mean it’s to keep on keeping on.”

Listen to Keith Floyd's Desert Island Discs.

Clarissa Dickson Wright

Treat yourself. Speaking in 2000, Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright revealed she had a pathological hatred for carrots. "I would rather eat a cream cake than take Prozac.”

Listen to Clarissa Dickson Wright's Desert Island Discs.

Paul Hollywood

You are what you eat. We’ll leave the last word to Paul Hollywood, speaking in 2015. “A low carb diet? That’s the work of the devil.”

Listen to Paul Hollywood's Desert Island Discs.