After learning her trade at a Michelin starred restaurant in Birmingham, Poppy O’Toole headed to the big bright lights of London. Unfortunately, as the pandemic hit, she was let go and headed back home to decide what to do next. With her younger siblings fascinated with Tik Tok and Poppy at a loose end, she decided to give it a go. Fast forward four years and Poppy Cooks is now one of Tik Tok’s most popular food channels with over 4 million followers, she is the judge of Young MasterChef and her latest book, The Actually Delicious Air Fryer Cookbook is published this month.

When did you decide or know you were going to be a chef?

For as long as I can remember, my passion has always been food, simply because I have always loved eating, but I remember exactly when the idea of being a chef started to form. I was 14 and let’s just say I was terrible at school. The only lesson I looked forward to was home economics. I remember realising that for the first time, I was actually better than everyone else in the class. I always thought I was a bit thick at school but once I was in a kitchen my brain clicked, I picked things up easily and everything made sense.

What do you love most about your job?

Developing recipes and I think I always have. Every chef starts with an idea and then develops it – that’s always been very exciting for me. In the fine dining restaurants where I worked it was often about making it as intricate, complicated and amazing as possible. For my Poppy Cooks Tik Tok channel in some ways it is the opposite. In a professional kitchen, I always started by actually drawing a picture of the dish and then working out what each element can be and fill in the gaps as I went forward and tested it. For Tik Tok, I try to focus on everyday, quintessential much-loved dishes and see how I can give them a twist or ramp up the flavour.

Tell us about the new book and are Air Fryers something professional kitchens should utilise more?

Air Fryers are an incredible piece of equipment for so many reasons, but the book isn’t about gimmicky recipes that can be done in an Air Fryer. As the titles alludes to – I guarantee they are all actually delicious and the air fryer is definitely a piece of kit that is going to be here for a very long time. They’re convenient, energy efficient, quick and easy, simple and mess-free – they’re honestly so good. In the past, kitchens without a lot of space or resources would often use microwaves or deep fat fryers but the final result and convenience of an air fryer is so much better.

How has being a judge on Young MasterChef been?

I have loved it. It was quite intimidating at first learning all of the TV technicalities but I’m still in touch with a lot of the former contestants from my first series. Filming starts again in August and I’m really looking forward to it. I feel I know what I am doing now. The contestants are not specifically looking for a career in food but are studying things like accountancy, engineering and law but that’s fine – it’s great to see the passion for food in the next generation, whether it’s professional or home cooks.

What do you miss most about the professional restaurant kitchen?

My boyfriend still says, “You used to work 70 hours a week and you still miss it?”. It’s the pressure, the thrill and the adrenaline. That moment when everyone knows their job, and everything is seamless and effortless. That is a great feeling – the teamwork. Even compared to the TV, nothing competes with the energy and buzz of a professional kitchen.

What is your favourite meal of the day and why?

Lunch. I adore to feast on picky bits and sandwiches. Pickles, cheeses, great bread, lovely sandwiches with whatever is in the fridge.

Do you have a favourite cuisine?

It changes but I’m obsessed with Korean flavours and ingredients at the moment. I went for a Korean BBQ and it blew my mind. I haven’t had an opportunity to have loads, but I want more of the Tteokbokki – the rice cakes.

What are your three kitchen secrets to beat waste?

Ferment and pickle.

Vegetable peel and cuttings for stock.

Everyone always makes too much pasta and throws it away – a few fresh ingredients and a dressing and you have an amazing pasta salad.

If you have small amounts of sauces left at the bottom of jars or bottles – add in mayonnaise, shake and mix well, and you will ensure zero waste and make some surprisingly incredible bespoke condiments.

What is your favourite ingredient in late summer?

It’s great when the first pumpkins and squashes arrive. Roasted squash with chorizo, kale, a touch of tomato paste and rigatoni pasta – it’s simple and delicious.

Who are you most proud to have cooked for?

Michel Roux Jr was a great honour. We actually competed in a potato off. He made this amazing smoked salmon dauphinoise potato delight, which was unreal, and I thought I had no chance, but my potato doughnut dish actually won. People love a spudnut.

What are your future goals?

I don’t set goals. There is a little bit of me that thinks I want a restaurant someday, but I realise how much hard work it is and how stressful it can be. I really enjoy the Young MasterChef and I love teaching people, so the goal is just to pass on all I learn in my lifetime to help other people love food and enjoy life through cooking.

Can you share a recipe from the new book that is great for late summer/early Autumn?

A spring roll makes sense in the air fryer because you’ll achieve that perfect crisp that is so satisfying. Try shredding any veg you have in the fridge to mix it up, or even add a bit of shredded chicken or beef.