Such is the draw of social media, you see someone or hear something you like and invariably head to Instagram to find out more.
The Great Cookbook Challenge with Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 was compelling viewing. Initially my interest was piqued by the knowledge that Andy Clarke, a regular contributor to BBQ magazine, was one of the programme’s producers. But I was held in thrall by the cooking and personality of The Skint Roofer – AKA Ian Bursnall from Leicester, and, yes, a roofer by trade.
Straight on to his @theskintroofercooks Insta handle and in his biography the words ‘love to BBQ’ complete with meat emoji. We need to talk Ian.
With no disrespect to the other great finalists, I was cheering for The Skint Roofer to triumph. I could see his book on the shelves, no doubt including some great BBQ recipes, with his theme of simple, affordable, accessible, hearty food – cooking on a budget.
Stilton spuds – roast potatoes topped with crumbled Stilton – were served on the show in homage to his wife Donna’s love of them and cooked in an ageing pan of his mother’s dating back nearly 30 years.
“I’ll do them on the BBQ for you.” And, hey presto, here they are. The judges in the final commented on the strength of his garlic bread. “That’s why it’s called the vampire slayer!”
Ian has been blown away with the response to his run to the final. Being a man of Leicestershire, Stilton was not slow in sending him a load of cheese and he also received a MEATER from the Leicester-based temperature probe company.
Down-to-earth is an overdone phrase, but Ian is just that, shy and modest, but effortlessly trading banter with his ‘geezer brother’ Jamie Oliver, turning up in T-shirt and jeans and cooking up a builder’s breakfast, pigs in blankets with bubble and squeak and onion gravy, while his toast was labelled ‘genius’ by Jamie. “But Jamie burnt my toast!” Charred Ian, not burnt.
“Jamie is such a top bloke and even nicer off camera. He really looked after us all, conscious that it was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience. He is so relatable. You want to go down the pub with Jamie for a drink and game of darts. But he did burn my toast.” Let it go, Ian, let it go.
“When I complained about the toast, he did rename me The Fussy Roofer!”
Jamie was equally enamoured by Ian. “He’s got a real passion. It is all going on in there. Can he get it out there and on to the page?” said Jamie on the show.
The premise of the programme was aspiring cookbook writers chasing a book deal at Penguin Random House and mentoring from Jamie, who has sold more cookbooks than any other British author.
It was Ian’s Instagram feed that first attracted the attention of Channel 4, urging him to enter. He had just lost a close friend through Covid and was feeling low, but sent in a video convinced it was “rubbish”, only to win a place on the show, progressing all the way to the final three.
“I have been a passionate cook from the age of 16 and I love to barbecue over the coals on my Weber Kettle. I barbecue at least three times a week.”
He likes to keep his outdoor cooking simple too, but the results are sensational, as he makes little twists and adjustments, always experimenting. He’d like to add to the equipment beneath his Leicester gazebo; perhaps a Kamado Joe, or maybe a Traeger.
“I do a lot of smoked chicken but would like to do bigger cooks with a pork shoulder, or a brisket.” His daughter, Olivia, and son, Toby, compete for the tongs these days, with the BBQ clearly a family affair.
Ian loves to whip up his own sauces and glazes – simplicity, but not averse to pimping when nobody is looking and a great fan of charred vegetables to accompany the meat.
For Ian a cookbook should be just a guide, not a complicated instruction manual. “A cookbook should be able to point beginners in the right direction, but don’t be afraid to use your imagination and make a dish your own.”
Ian, indoors or outdoors, is a master of looking in the cupboard or the fridge and working his budget alchemy. “Especially with money so tight for so many people, it is important to show how food can go a long way.”
Ian is keen to explain The Skint Roofer moniker. Now 45, he started as a roofer aged 16, but back problems, including multiple operations, have meant turning down the big jobs and taking a financial hit from the lost work.
“I do find cooking really positive for my mental health, especially on the barbecue. It is my escape, my chilling out time, when I’m not thinking about anything else.”
He loves to cook for family and friends, getting a buzz from their appreciation of his food. Another feature of his TV appearances were his delightful sketches and drawings. “I’ve since dug out some old note pads with illustrations. It’s something I’ve always done when I’ve had a recipe idea.”
Ian had to go. “I’ve got to prep the chicken for dinner. I’m thinking garlic, basil, butter and chives.”
I’m sure there were spuds too and Leicestershire potato farmers really should be pinging him messages on Insta.
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