By day or by night, Shally Tucker’s kitchen was a hive of creativity – and she always ensured her guests would never leave hungry.
For the Mill Hill mother-of-three, a chef who worked with Prue Leith, it was important to have an open house and when people came to visit, they didn’t want to leave. But Shally really didn’t mind, as she loved bringing people together and, very often, they joined in with the cooking.
When Shally – originally from Johannesburg and whose real name was Sharon – died two-and-a-half years ago, her daughter Dani was inspired to collate her mother’s recipes in a cookbook, The Social Kitchen, and raise money for charity in her honour.
“She was the most unbelievable woman; so powerful, so intelligent and so in tune with everything,” explains Dani, 32. “Everyone loved her and being around her. She oozed an aura – no one wanted to leave her and go home. She had a big personality and took the time for everyone.”
One of four siblings, Shally studied catering in South Africa, where she met her future husband, Lawrence. When he won a scholarship to London’s Savoy Hotel, the couple – not yet married – both came over, and Shally worked for Leith as a chef at the Kuwait Investment Office.
After they married, they bought the Bentinck House Hotel in West London, where they took on all the roles needed to look after their guests. One year later, they bought another hotel.
After her children were born – Dani is the eldest, followed by Ryan and Megan – Shally’s health began to decline. She was diagnosed with numerous auto-immune diseases, the most damaging of which were pustular psoriasis, Calciphylaxis and psoriatic arthritis, which caused open skin sores and painful swollen joints.
The book raises money for Dermatrust, a charity that funds research into the conditions and helps develop new treatments.
Despite her health concerns, Shally lived life to the full. By the time she died, aged 53, Dani says Shally had “accomplished so much that some people don’t their entire lives”, adding: “She was so determined and she was a fighter.”
It was almost inevitable that Dani would publish this recipe book. After Shally’s death, Dani – who had not been in her home for two weeks – found her mother’s leather-bound hand-written cookbooks on her kitchen table.
They contained her mother’s favourite recipes, including some dating as far back as Dani’s great-grandmothers on both sides but, to this day, she does not know who put them there.
“I remember going into the dining room; there were all these books and folders and piles of recipes and I have no idea how they got there,” remembers Dani. “She must have just known – and she wanted me to have them. I was blown away and it became apparent that I had to do a book.”
Taking a friend’s advice, Dani contacted Leith, who straight away introduced her to chefs, food photographers and stylists, many of whom jumped at the chance to help her.
A chef was needed to help scale down the recipes ready for use by home cooks – for the Tuckers are used to cooking on a massive scale.
“We make food for 60 to 70 people – we had that many for tea for my brother’s wedding the other week. Most people would get things like that catered, but we just get it done,” Dani laughs. “There was an amazing team of people who worked on the book and it all started from that one phone call with Prue.”
The result is a stunning cookbook with recipes that reflect the family’s South African and Jewish roots, Lithuanian heritage and English upbringing or, as Dani writes, “the eclectic mixture of our home and our food”.
Aside from the recipes – which include traditional ones such as chicken soup and challah, as well as others like spelt salad and nutty parmesan sole –
another personal touch is the ribbon bookmark included in every copy of the book.
“My mum used to sew a lot and do beading and she used to buy lots of ribbons,” Dani explains.
Indeed, Shally had opened her own arts and crafts shop, Outstamping, in Edgware. “People still come up to us and tell us how much they loved that shop and how much our mother inspired them,” says Megan.
The book also contains tales of family life and reveals more about Shally’s remarkable personality, including how she used to muck in as necessary.
One anecdote reveals the time when the family were among 60 guests in an Israeli hotel for a barmitzvah, and the staff were struggling to cope with making lunch for all.
“So what did mom do? She knew exactly how to solve this problem so she went into the kitchen, rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in,” writes Dani.
Another tells of Shally’s 50th birthday at home. “It was meant to be a tea party, but people stayed and stayed. Husbands arrived to collect their wives and joined in. Word got around and other friends arrived so in the end we had about 300 people there. We’d hired a singer to perform for 90 minutes, but he was having such a good time he stayed for eight hours.”
Dani, who now lives in St John’s Wood and studied fashion design, specialising in couture embroidery, has inherited her mother’s creativity and turns her hand to many things. Until recently, she was making cakes and consults for restaurants. She has also recently set up Mews London jewellery company.
Dani is hard-pushed to name her favourite recipes from the book – although she admits that she and her sister would fight over the chocolate mousse – adding: “We always had so many people round that we had four dishes on the go at the same time!”
With an initial run of 2,000, the cookbook has so far raised around £35,000, all of which goes straight to charity.
“I really want to spread my mother’s love for life and if this can just make people smile, then that’s good enough for me,” Dani tells me.
As she adds in her introduction: “Our home was an oasis of light and laughter – a proverbial shelter from the storm. This book is a testament to [my mother], her life’s work and the adoration of her family and friends.”
• The Social Kitchen by Shally Tucker, is available now, priced at £25. Proceeds go to Dermatrust. To buy the book, visit: www.thesocialkitchen.org
Spelt doesn’t take long to cook but if you’re really short of time you can use a pack of ready-cooked spelt. This salad looks very pretty in a glass serving bowl.
1 cucumber – roughly chopped
2 yellow peppers – deseeded and roughly chopped
1 red pepper – deseeded and roughly chopped
¼ ripe pineapple – roughly chopped
1 small red onion – peeled and roughly chopped
salt and black pepper
130ml sunflower oil
40ml Safari brown vinegar (or other brown vinegar)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
½ tsp table salt
Cook the spelt according to the packet
instructions – 250g of raw spelt should make about 500g cooked.
Leave the spelt to cool.
When the spelt has cooled, put it in a bowl with the cucumber, peppers, pineapple and red onion. Make the dressing, then add it to the salad and toss well.
Season with salt and pepper. Serve the salad in a big bowl or on a platter so everyone can help themselves.
Crispy Baked Cod
This is such an easy way of cooking fish. You can get it all ready in advance, then pop it in the oven when you’re nearly ready to eat. No stress.
50g unsalted butter
small bunch of parsley
150g breadcrumbs (made from stale bread)
6 generous pieces of white fish fillet, such as cod or haddock
salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/Fan 180ºC/Gas 6.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, season it with salt and pepper and take the pan off the heat. Finely chop the parsley and mix it with the breadcrumbs in a bowl, then grate in the zest of the lemon. Season well.
Dip each piece of fish in the melted butter, place it in a baking tray, then top it with lemony breadcrumbs.
Finely slice the lemon and place the slices around the pieces of fish.
Drizzle with olive oil and bake the fish for about 15 minutes until golden brown and just cooked.
Megan’s Chocolate Mousse
If you have any Crunchies or other chocolate bars in your cupboard, crumble them on top of the mousse to add extra texture and flavour. Amazing!
2 x 180g slabs of Bourneville chocolate
6 eggs – separated
6 tbsp caster sugar
600ml double cream
Break the chocolate up into pieces and put them in a large heatproof bowl with the butter. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water – making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water – until the chocolate and butter have melted, stirring occasionally. Carefully remove the bowl from the pan.
Using a free-standing mixer or a hand whisk, beat the egg yolks with five tablespoons of the sugar for five minutes until the mixture is creamy and pale. (When the whisk is
removed, itshould leave a trail of batter on the surface.)
Stir the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, making sure everything is well incorporated.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the remaining sugar and continue to whisk until stiff.
In another bowl, whisk the cream until it’s just holding its shape – be careful not to overwhip it at this stage. Carefully fold the chocolate mix into the cream. Then, using a metal spoon, fold in the egg whites a little at a time, being careful not to knock the air out of the mixture. When everything is combined, pour the mixture into a trifle dish and chill it in the fridge for at least five hours or overnight before serving.