In the Australian jungle James Haskell was hungry and, at times, ‘hangry’. Hardly surprising; an 18 stone, 6ft 4in rugby international is not meant to survive on a diet of rice and beans, supplemented by the odd extremity of an Antipodean animal.
One of the sport’s great characters, Haskell won 77 caps in the back-row for England and played club rugby for Wasps and Northampton, as well as in France, Japan and New Zealand.
He likes to eat a lot, but eat well and, post-rugby, Haskell is carving out a career in the commercial world of health and fitness.
However, all that nutrition was put on hold when, last year, he stepped into the jungle for ITV’s hit reality show I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!
Haskell normally consumes around 4000 calories a day, so if there was a scrap of meat off a wallaby’s toe going spare in the camp he would gnaw on it.
He is a great lover of a barbecue with his live fire skills developing fast. “In the jungle I dreamt about getting home and firing up the BBQ with some mouth-watering cook ups. We talked about it a lot.”
With his wife, Chloe Madeley, usually doing the cooking at home, Haskell decided it was time to pull his culinary weight and a passion was born.
(A digression, but I was once a guest on the Richard & Judy (Haskell’s in-laws) chat show, talking about living and eating abroad and, while describing the essence of live fire cooking in the remotest of Spanish villages, I ended up with a sliver of smoked chorizo stuck in my teeth on live television.)
“I found barbecuing using Traeger very simple and it turned me from an average cook to a good one overnight,” says Haskell.
“I love the process of preparing the food, trying recipes and watching awesome results.”
Haskell relishes the challenge of getting the balance right cooking over coals, or using his Traeger grill. “I get a real buzz from the different flavours and textures you can create. My favourite BBQ food is buffalo chicken wings.”
Haskell uses the Traeger Timberline 850 for slow cooking; the Thuros T1 for cooking over charcoal and the Traeger Ranger for travel.
Haskell says there has been a big rise in the popularity of outdoor cooking and entertaining in the UK, fuelled by social media and “the ease of sharing ideas and recipes”.
“When it comes to barbecue cooking at home, Chloe and I don’t fight for the tongs. She’s happy to let me do it and we’re planning to create an outdoor cooking and decking area.”
Haskell accepts there will always be arguments and conflicting opinions around meat – be it consumption, production and provenance, or its effect on climate change – and that education is key.
“Most importantly, meat needs to be responsibly sourced, organic and ideally British.”
Haskell’s Health & Fitness business includes a Cooking for Fitness book.
The easy stereotype is that big rugby types gorge on industrial quantities of meat – carnivores with not a V sign to be seen.
“A lot of my recipes are vegan and vegetarian friendly. Balance is key and the meat I cook I serve with vegetables and all locally sourced.”
A formidably fit and committed sportsman, Haskell now has a wide range of interests to keep him busy since hanging up his rugby boots last year.
As well as books, blogs and videos on health, fitness and nutrition, he has his own clothing range and likes to DJ in his limited spare time. On top of all that he is training for his first professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight.
The bushfires that ravaged Australia meant that in the celebrity jungle no live fires were allowed and on Australia Day Haskell took part in a music event at the Omeara in London Bridge to raise funds for Red Cross Australia.
Haskell has a huge and healthy appetite for life as well as food and if you watched I’m a Celebrity... you’ll know that if you are ever a guest at a Haskell barbecue and he asks what you’d like to eat and drink – just be decisive.
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