Justine Drake is ‘Just Cooking’

After two long runs on BBC Lifestyle – which ranked second in popularity only to Rick Stein – Justine Drake’s fabulously down-to-earth and user-friendly cooking show Just Cooking has moved to SABC3 (Tuesdays, 8.30pm).

The new season, presented in association with Fresh Living magazine, of which Drake is the editor, has a slightly different format but retains all the wonderful recipes for which we have come to know and love her.

It’s not only the food that gives Just Cooking its appeal, but Drake’s on-screen personality and the ease with which she prepares her dishes, all the while conveying that you too can achieve this at home.

While television viewers and food lovers – as well as readers of Drake’s books – cannot help but be engaged by her, I have been fortunate to know her personally for many years and can tell you that what you see on your small screen is exactly what she is like in real life – with the emphasis on real.

Like us, Drake has a family and a demanding job, so when it comes to getting in the kitchen or around the braai, whether it’s to make a healthy and tasty meal for your children, or to wow your dinner guests, she’s got your back. “The show works because there are so many women out there in the same position as me. We all face the same daily challenges as working moms. We give the best of ourselves at work and we all want to do the best we can for our families,” says Drake. “Like most working moms, I don’t have hours to shop and prepare the evening meal, nor do I have a limitless budget, so modern, fresh food that’s simple and quick to whip up is the order of the day.”

On the move to SABC3, Drake says: “Pick n Pay, being the sponsor of the show, wanted to get the maximum amount of people, mostly because Fresh Living goes to 500 000 Smart Shoppers every month, which essentially gives us 1.5 million readers. BBC, or DStv, can’t hope to mirror that number – not to say that I’m going to on SABC3, but you have more of a chance of getting out there.

“The next reason is, because it’s quite instructional and quite sort of ‘real food for real people-ish’, I personally am keen on educating people in their homes how to cook an affordable meal. And it’s not that everybody who watches BBC doesn’t need to cook an affordable meal or can’t cook. There’s just a far greater viewership that needs a little bit more solution, a little bit more help and a little bit more empowerment around the odd vegetable or the odd piece of meat, so that ticks my heart box and makes me happy. It’s talking to more people and getting more traction.”

Regarding the choice of recipes for this season, Drake says she has tried for a balance. “There are some more expensive shows, like steak – mostly because they are linked either to Pick n Pay’s specials calendar, or due to the season. For example, in summer you tend to entertain a little bit more and perhaps be little more frivolous. “To even out things, it’s up to you if you make the chicken from episode one with frozen pieces from a 2kg bag, with free-range pieces, or with standard pieces. Ninety percent of the episodes are ingredient-based from things as ordinary as cabbage.”

The format of the new season still sees Drake cooking in her kitchen, but she will be inviting more guests to join her, as well as travelling to their homes around the country. “This is to get a more national demographic – Joburg, Durban, up the West Coast. At no point do I want this to become a travel show, because it isn’t,” she says.

Drake will be joined by foodies, well-known chefs and friends, including Franck Dangeroux from Food Barn, king of the coals Jan Braai (ahead of Heritage Day) and award-winning food editor and author, Dora Sitole, among others. “It’s also nice to see other people’s homes. They’re sometimes, but not always, beautiful Clifton or Constantia homes. They’re real. I’ve cooked in somebody’s lounge because the kitchen was too small. “There you are, coping with what you’ve got. Which is pretty much how we do it in life.”

Produced by Homebrew Films, Just Cooking, in association with Fresh Living, is on SABC3 on Tuesdays at 8.30pm (repeats on Saturdays at noon). Five of the 13 episodes have aired so far and a further 13 will be aired in the first half of next year.

For recipes (which are loaded every week after the show airs), go to www.picknpay.co.za/just-cooking-recipes

– Bianca Coleman, Top of the Times, 15 September 2017