My Signature Dish – Poppy O’Toole

Following a childhood of cooking with her mum and gran, Tik Tok superstar Poppy O’Toole (@poppycooks) begged her way into the kitchen of the local pub as a teenager before starting her real culinary education at Purnell’s Michelin Star Restaurant in Birmingham.

“As I child, I really couldn’t stop eating so baking or cooking with my gran was always a good ploy to get to eat. It was at Purnells where I really learnt my craft. Molecular gastronomy, making gels for the first time, using liquid nitrogen – it was an eye-opening experience,” explains Poppy

Moving to London in 2017, Poppy continued her food journey, at JP Morgan followed by the all-female members’ club AllBright in 2019. The start of the pandemic heralded a significant change.

“When the first lockdown hit, like many in hospitality, I didn’t really know what to do or what the future held. I rushed back to my parents’ house and after seeing my younger brother and sister on Tik Tok, I thought it would be a good way to keep busy so set up a page. The reaction was crazy and it has just grown from there really.”

With a no-nonsense, happy approach to cooking and a focus on the Michelin technical skills she learnt in fine dining establishments, Poppy is now one of Tik Tok’s most popular foodie influencers with just over 1.6 million followers. 

“Most people will know I am incredibly passionate about the humble potato so hopefully this Bacon-y Garlic-y Potato-y recipe showcases my appreciation. It’s just yum” says Poppy.

Bacon-y Garlic-y Potato-y

Serves 4

The core

500ml/2 cups whole milk

50g/2oz butter

70g/2½oz plain flour

½ tsp salt

½ tsp ground nutmeg

200g/7oz your choice of cheese, grated

1. Warm the milk over a medium heat for 7 minutes.

2. In a separate pan add the butter and allow it to melt. Then, using a wooden spoon, gradually beat in the flour, until you have a thick paste.

3. Once all the flour is in, cook, stirring until you have a dough-like consistency and the paste is coming away from the sides of the pan.

4. Gradually add the warmed milk, making sure you allow the first addition to fully incorporate into the paste before adding more. Keep mixing to avoid lumps.

5. Once all the milk is in and you have a smooth, thick sauce, season with the salt and nutmeg.

6. Add your cheese and stir to melt in. 

For the gratin

4 large potatoes, peeled and sliced into 5mm-thick (¼ inch) rounds

1 tsp salt, plus extra to season

200g/7oz smoked bacon lardons

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked and roughly chopped

100g/3½oz cheddar, grated

black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6.

2. Tip the spuds into a large saucepan and cover with water. Add the salt and place over a high heat. Bring to the boil, then cook for about 7 minutes, until tender.

4. While the spuds are boiling, add the lardons to a cold frying pan and place over a medium heat. Fry for about 6 minutes, until cooked through and golden. Remove from the pan and set aside on a plate lined with kitchen paper.

3. Drain the potatoes, then suspend the colander in the potato pan and cover with a clean tea towel for about 5 minutes, until the potatoes have steamed off and dried out a bit.

5. Tip one third of the spuds into a medium ovenproof dish, spreading them out in an even layer. Season and sprinkle over one third each of the garlic, rosemary, lardons and cheese. Top with a good ladleful of cheese and repeat twice more, until the dish is full and finish with a final sprinkling of cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden and a bit crispy on top. Dig in!

Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need is out on 16 September 2021 (Bloomsbury, £16.99)

Photography © Louise Hagger