Gizzi Erskine perches on the bar stool of a basement cocktail bar in London’s Soho, checks her makeup in a mirror, pats her Audrey Hepburn-style hairdo, adjusts her vintage frock and takes a swig of Champagne.
The former punk model and professional body piercer is striking: She’s 5 feet 10 inches (178 centimeters) tall and combines a sweet face and a friendly manner with the earthiness of a rock chick and a huge tattoo that covers her entire back.
Erskine, 30, is a television presenter, known for shows such as “Cook Yourself Thin.” She was also a judge on “Iron Chef U.K.” and published “Gizzi’s Kitchen Magic,” (Virgin Books, 20 pounds) where she tempers her flamboyance with lessons in culinary basics such as making sauces.
“I got scouted to model one summer when I was around 15,” she said. “I spent the summer going from being really quite small to growing into a woman. I was a really ugly kid so it was quite a bizarre situation to be asked to model. I was really heavily into punk at the time. I had the sides of my head shaved, I had bleached hair, kind of like that classic Westwood-esque model that was really big at the time.”
Outside the studio, she was interested in music and food and also undertook three years of training in body piercing at Cold Steel, in Camden, the edgy north London area whose most famous denizen is the singer Amy Winehouse.
“I was getting piercings myself,” Erskine said. “Part of the job. I’d have been a bit rubbish if I hadn’t.” She only has a single piercing left and wouldn’t say where it was.
She’s close to her family, frequently mentioning her mother. When her grandmother died, she left some money to Erskine, who decided to pursue her passion for food, enrolling in Leiths School of Food and Wine. The yearlong diploma course costs 17,080 pounds ($25,000), according to the school’s website, which prominently mentions Erskine as a star pupil.
She graduated with honors and won a six-month placement on the “BBC Good Food Magazine,” which marked the start of her career as a writer and broadcaster. She has since worked for Marie Claire, Elle USA, Arena, FHM and other magazines.
Where does she see herself in relation to other women food broadcasters in the U.K., such as the TV chefs Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson? Or Sophie Dahl, the former model whose “The Delicious Miss Dahl” has been described as lightweight?
“The person I feel I have an affinity with is someone like Delia, because I’m really into the technical side of cooking,” she said, sitting in Bob Bob Ricard as the next cork popped. “My thing is about holding hands in the kitchen and showing you how you can do things from scratch. I bet I could ask you to whip up an amazing stir-fry or a really funky dinner, but if I asked you to make a white sauce, you might go blank.
“And taking Nigella, I absolutely hero-worship her, but I’m as far removed from being a domestic goddess as is humanly possible. I’m a complete disaster zone everywhere else in my house. Because I’m classically trained as well, I think both of those cooks are home cooks, whereas I do actually have a chef-ing background, and I can actually cook properly.” That must help.
The Sun agrees. The newspaper described her as a “dishy Delia” and said, “If British chef Gizzi Erskine were a food, she’d be a hot, flavorsome curry. Because, as she says, she’s ‘naughty, spicy and a little bit saucy too.’”
She has just completed the second series of “Cook Yourself Thin,” in which Erskine has lost her three co-presenters and goes solo, helping women to lose weight. The Tiger Aspect Productions show is broadcast on Channel 4.
What does she thinks she brings to the table?
“A lot of chefs show up in their mumsy way,” she said. “I’m a girl who’s into music, I’m into fashion, I’m into all those things that a lot of young women are into, so therefore I have a look and it makes me just a little bit more interesting. Young people may be able to look at me and get me a bit more.”
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)