19 January 2024

Knife Skills for Beginners - the new crime novel from food writer Orlando Murrin

Knife Skills for Beginners - the new crime novel from food writer Orlando Murrin

As you all know, we love a good book here at Steenbergs, so we were delighted to see that acclaimed food writer Orlando Murrin had branched out into crime writing with a new novel Knife Skills for Beginners out on the 1st February. We caught up with him to discuss plot, tonka beans and the best way to make hollandaise sauce...

Tell me a bit about Knife Skills For Beginners.

It’s a ‘cosy crime’ story set in a posh but shabby-round-the-edges cookery school in London’s Belgravia. Hapless chef Paul Delamare is called in to teach a course at short notice and rapidly finds himself up to the neck in secrets and intrigue. 

On the first night something terrible happens – a grisly crime. The police insist that everyone stays put while it’s investigated, and the school’s somewhat strange proprietor – anything rather than offer refunds – insists the course continue. Paul uses his lessons in pastry, bread and sauce making as ‘covert operations’, watching the students to find out whodunit… meanwhile failing to notice he’s being set up to take the rap.

Having thoroughly enjoyed your cookbooks and recipe columns our appetites are whetted for your latest adventure into crime writing. What inspired you to turn to fiction?

My grandfather was a detective with the Met and went on to become a crack MI5 interrogator, so as kids we were regaled with stories of murder and mayhem. (He never spoke about his espionage career because he was bound by honour, as well as the Official Secrets Act.)

I love whodunits and psychological suspense and always dreamed of having a go myself – but my food career was all-consuming. At one point I was simultaneously editing BBC Good Food, producing a daily recipe for the Express newspaper and writing a cookbook a year. You need headspace to write a novel.

A couple of years ago it occurred to me that I could combine the two… As well as a smorgasbord of clues and red herrings, and innumerable cooking tips and serving suggestions, the book contains six ‘killer’ recipes, which combine to form a genuinely delicious dinner party menu.

Are any of the characters in your new book based on real life? Or couldn’t you possibly say!

Ha! One of my characters is a truly terrifying magazine editor called Dena. She is a tribute to – rather than a portrait of – the journalist Dena Vane, whom I worked for at Living magazine in the 1990s and died a couple of years ago. I sought the permission of Dena’s daughter to use her name, and she’s coming to the launch party.  

Similarly, another character is based on Robert Carrier. If anyone remembers this handsome chef-restaurateur who brought glamour and gallons of double cream to our TV screens in the 1970s and 80s, look out for him…

Tonka beans feature as one of the ingredients in the book. What is it you like so much about tonka beans?

For a few years I had a restaurant in SW France and tonka crème brûlée was one of my signature dishes. The beans have a strong, haunting flavour which (to me) sings of vanilla, almond, coconut and pear drops.

A little goes a long way, grated in bakes or desserts. Think of it as the sweet equivalent of truffle oil – only to my mind, far subtler.

Your protagonist Paul teaches his students how to make the perfect hollandaise. What are your top tips for the perfect sauce?

I’ll be honest – every time I make hollandaise I try a different method. I’m currently experimenting with cooking it gently in the sous-vide then liquidising it. Sauce made this way is so stable you can freeze it and reheat in the microwave. (Yes, really.) 

Otherwise my favourite way is to heat the bowl of a liquidiser with boiling water, then drain it. Add the egg yolks and whizz, then pour in very hot butter through the hole in the top gradually, so it emulsifies and thickens. 

It’s almost impossible to make hollandaise in small quantities, so don’t trying halving a recipe, as you normally might. Start with a minimum of three or four egg yolks, to 175g or 200g butter. 

What are your future plans? More fiction, recipes or a bit of both?

Knife Skills For Beginners is set in a tiny patch of Belgravia; the cookery school is a ten minute stroll from the hero’s house. Stand by for the sequel, in which our hero Paul goes way, way out of his comfort zone.

Meanwhile, my Two’s Company and Two’s Company Simple cookbooks are selling well – inspiration for two-person households - and you can find me every month in Waitrose Weekend newspaper – either instore or online.


Knife Skills for Beginners published by Bantam Books 1st February £14.99

We're very fortunate to be able to feature several of Orlando's recipes on our website so do take a look. We'll also have an exclusive recipe from Knives for Beginners to share with you later this week - here's the picture to whet your appetites...

For more information on the book please visit Orlando's website and if you would like to purchase then please follow one of these links: