Mob Meets... Poppy O'Toole

Want to know more about Poppy O'Toole? We sat down with the internet's favourite chef to talk about Young Masterchef, professional kitchens, and potatoes.
Poppy O Toole Jessica Raphael
Poppy O'Toole is already a star. Photography: Jessica Raphael.

You know who Poppy O’Toole is. As a Michelin-trained chef and TikTok star, Poppy – who goes by Poppy Cooks online – has amassed a massive following on social media, where she shares her love for cooking and entertaining (and potatoes) with her fans. Where did Poppy O’Toole work? The high-pressure crucible of a professional kitchen. Where does she work now? On your phone and on your telly. Not only has she got over 3.5 million followers on TIkTok but she’s written a cookbook, Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need, and is currently one of the judges on television’s Young Masterchef (available to watch on iPlayer). To top that all off, she’s also an absolute gem of a human being.

We got the potato queen herself into the Mob studio the other week and she made us a gorgeous dish of 15-Hour Potato which was demolished in about thirty seconds flat. It’s a simple dish that brings the best of the humble spud. I was lucky enough to have a chance to sit down and chat with Poppy about her career so far and find out what it’s like to be – in her words, mind – ”Gregg Wallace in a wig”. Here’s what happened when Mob met Poppy O’Toole.

How Did You Get Your Start In Food Media?

So, I started off in 2020. I’d been a chef for 10 years previously and I lost my job as a result of Covid like a lot of people did and I just started making recipes online. I felt like I needed to carry on doing something. Because otherwise I was just gonna sit there and not do anything. I wanted to do something helpful and TikTok was getting big at the time. My little brother and sister were watching it nonstop so we just started making recipe videos together. I liked how it was actually helping people and, even though it's just food, it's teaching people really good ways to cook, y’know?

I just carried on from there and then the potatoes thing… happened. I made this recipe for crispy cubes with Parmesan and parsley – completely off the cuff, I was having it for dinner so I thought I might as well record it – and it was the first video I had that got a million views. After that, I realised that people love a potato. The week after that, I did another potato recipe and, again, it got almost a million views. When we into a lockdown in November 2020, I figured everyone's gonna be indoors and looking at their phone, so why not do a month of potato recipes? And that’s what I did. I did a compilation video where I put all the potato recipes that I've done so far and I just spoke over it and said, ‘hello and welcome to potato TikTok!’ and that got millions of views. That video was massive and overnight I got a million followers. Then I was dubbed the ‘potato queen’ and I've just rolled with that ever since.

Do You Think You'll Ever Return To Working In The Kitchen?

I don't know. I do get the urge to be back in the kitchen whenever I get to do it because it's so much fun. I do really enjoy it. There's still that chef in me. As much as I do all the social media stuff, I still love being in a kitchen. Being a chef, you always dream of having your own place. I don't know when that would be. And I don't know when I'm gonna get time to do it, but somewhere down the line it would be amazing to have my own place. Even if it's a pop-up or something small.

How Have You Found Being A Judge On Young MasterChef? And How Did That Opportunity Come About?

Funnily enough, one of the producers at Shine TV – the company that produces MasterChef – reached out because their daughter was watching one of my Instagram Lives. They said they loved the potato content and asked if I would ever be interested in doing TV and, of course, I said yes.

I’m so grateful that it happened because it’s an amazing show and the contestants are great. It’s also great working with Kerth as well because we get to be John and Gregg. I like to describe myself as Gregg Wallace in a wig. I think I'm a little bit more of like the good cop in the scenario. The thing is, the kids are all very good – so it's difficult to give feedback. It would be easier if some of the, just completely failed, but they were all so good and so talented that you really have to find the slightest fault to criticise. It was heartbreaking saying goodbye to people, too. I cried a lot on set because I just felt so guilty. It's such a great door opener, though, for getting into the food industry.

How Did You Find The Process Of Writing A Cookbook? Was It Easy? Was It Hard?

It was a dream come true and genuinely one of the most exciting things to happen to me in my life. But it was also such a weird process once it's done you like: ‘okay, what do I do now?’. I don't want to sound big-headed but I found writing the recipes quite easy, to be honest, because it's all the stuff that I love eating and cooking and always have done. The aim of the book was to teach people how to level up their cooking – it’s just about getting better, and more delicious, food into their lives.

Are You Nervous About The Second Cookbook? They Say The Follow-up Album Is Always The Most Difficult…

I am a bit nervous but I’m just rolling with the times. I still find the fact that my cookbook can be on a shelf with some of my food idols to be a bit mad.

Who Are Your Idols?

Well, there's no way you can love food and not love Nigella. She’s the best. And I love all of the chefs all of the British chefs, you know. Jamie and Gordon are up there for me but my favourite chef from the past was Keith Floyd. I loved him. He was so funny. I just love that. He drank wine and insulted people but he was gonna entertainment. He was just really good at cooking delicious food. The fact that I can have a book on a shelf alongside those faces is just unbelievable and amazing and the most strangely fantastic thing.

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