From locked kitchen discos to a family cookbook, the musical duo talks to Lauren Taylor about cooking for a clan of seven.
Think of Sophie Ellis-Bextor and you’re probably starting to hum the early 2000s hit Murder On The Dancefloor, or remember the pure joy she brought during lockdown with her ‘kitchen discos’ in live on Instagram – performing tunes in sequined outfits in her family playroom, often stepping on toys, kids and wires.
But you may not know that his talents also extend to cooking.
In fact, when she first met husband Richard Jones (bassist of pop group The Feeling), a mutual love for cooking was one of the things they bonded over.
“We really courted each other with food,” says Ellis-Bextor — his ability to cook a good piece of meat even convinced Jones of the pescatarian wagon early in 2002 (“I kindly persuaded him to start eating meat… “).
“She cooked me duck!” Jones interlude.
“Because he was already eating fish, I thought maybe we could get to the surface of the water,” laughs the 43-year-old singer.
For their first Valentine’s Day together, Jones prepared a lobster casserole. “We like to cook for each other, but if that happens, [Sophie] doesn’t like me touching what she cooks,” says Jones.
“No, it’s boring,” Ellis-Bextor quips.
“Kind of like we were DJing together and she was doing a mix and I was reaching out and tweaking it a bit — she’s like, stop it,” Jones continues.
Still, being a good cook isn’t all that different from being a good musician, Jones insists. “Putting various elements, like drums, bass, percussion and vocals when you build a song, a meal is pretty much the same kind of thing, you build around the lower palate and the bass notes at the high-end, where the voices are in the spices, acids, vinegars and lemon juice.”
“Are you saying my voice is like vinegar?” Ellis Jones, laughs.
“Like a fine wine,” Jones reasons with a smile.
Of course, the music is still playing in their kitchen. But it’s definitely not theirs: “It would be like having a mirror in front of you while you cook,” says Ellis-Bextor. But their first cookbook – Love. Food. Family. – comes with playlists they love to cook on.
They married in Italy in 2005 and became parents soon after. Now they have five – Sonny, 18, Kit, 13, Ray, 10, Jessie, six and Mickey, three – so there are plenty of mouths to feed.
“As everything evolved and we had more and more children, [cooking] has somehow become a part of our family, like how can we feed this huge family every day? says Jones, adding that they “both find cooking relaxing and therapeutic.”
Large, generous and easy-to-prepare family feasts are the common thread of the cookbook.
“I think the more mouths you feed, the less you can handle a cafe — I don’t cook different things for different people,” says Ellis-Bextor. “We have a vegetarian, so we always have to make that adjustment. Other than that, we have to do something that we think as many people as possible will eat.”
They’ve also had their share of picky eaters. “For us, a successful meal is when most people eat most foods. It’s quite unusual to have something that everyone eats. Kids can like something one week and the next decide it’s not their thing anymore.
“You really have to let a lot of your shoulders roll, but when I’m cooking for the kids, if they don’t like what I’ve made, I take it like a little dagger to my heart,” she adds. with a laugh. “Richard is much better at saying, ‘Tell me why you didn’t like it’ and ‘What if I did it like this?
“We’re just trying to get them to understand that it doesn’t always have to be in their top five meals ever. Sometimes it’s going to be, ‘This did the job and it was delicious’.”
The cookbook is a true reflection of how the family eats at home (think easy sausage platter, chicken stir-fry, spag bowl). Some recipes are inherited from family members (Nanny Claire’s Yorkshire pudding and Grandma Janet’s chicken spatchcock), and many are inspired by family vacations abroad (pistachio baklava with honey and syrup orange, or borscht).
Jones calls traveling with five children “a logistical nightmare” and the vacation was not without its little disasters. “On our last trip, we realized upon landing that we had left not one, but two whole kids’ wardrobes at the airport,” Ellis-Bextor recalls.
“You have to learn to relax when the family grows,” she adds. “You have to let go of being through everything, because it’s not really physically possible. My motto is ‘something will happen’ – so as long as the headline of everything happy and healthy is there, it does not matter .”
It’s the same in the kitchen, especially when five kids get involved. The musician mum thinks a passion for cooking can be instilled from an early age – “if you cook in front of them and take care of the food and show them you get them interested in the alchemy of making things.
“If there’s a little spark of passion there, just lean on it. Even my three-year-old son, I can’t start doing anything without him saying, ‘I’m going to help’ On Saturdays I make pancakes, and obviously he’s not going to be super helpful but I give him his own little mixing bowl, his own flour, his own egg to crack, and [let him] have a little fun.”
Their cookbook has a section dedicated to dishes kids love (and might even cook themselves) – the ultimate fish finger sandwich and “you should be in bed” tomato toast. Homemade pizza nights are also a staple of their household. “Rather than making them, it’s so easy to just roll out the dough and get them involved, choosing their toppings,” says Jones.
Children also make their own Japanese-inspired maki. “Our makis look really weird and weird, but the kids have a lot of fun rolling it and it tastes just the same,” Jones adds. “Anything like that, where they can get a bowl out and play, it becomes like playtime.”
And the mess? It’s inevitable, he says. “Sushi rice everywhere!”
To like. Food. Family: Recipes From The Kitchen Disco by Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Richard Jones is published by Hamlyn, priced at £20. Food photography by Issy Croker.