Five professional cooks discuss how having kids changed their lives, in the kitchen and at home

Margot Henderson

Margot, 52, co-owns Rochelle Canteen and catering company Arnold & Henderson in Shoreditch, east London. She and husband Fergus Henderson have three children together: Hector, 22, Owen, 21 and Francis, 17

Id known Fergus for five months when we got married and three months later Hector was conceived. We were having a great time together cooking at the French House and I continued working hard, but that got increasingly exhausting. My legs were giving out at the stove and I wanted to be in bed at midnight rather than cleaning down a kitchen. I remember crying a lot.

None of my kids were born exactly; they were all caesareans. I was hopeless at the birth part. Yet the breastfeeding was wonderful and I fed all my bubs for a year. But very soon after each arrived, if the staff was short at the restaurant, Id be in the kitchen with a kid strapped onto me, and it went from there. Its hard to keep your career going in a kitchen when youre having babies, if you believe that to be a good cook you should be cooking all the time. The other chefs had to understand that part of their job was having nippers around their feet. I think they brought life and joy to the kitchen. There were sharp knives around and everything else but I didnt really mind. I thought, If they burn themselves, they burn themselves. Theyll cry but theyll learn.

When Fergus went off to set up St John, he was doing doubles as head chef and then after work hed go have a few drinks and whenever we didnt have a babysitter I was stuck at home with the babes. I smashed a lot of clocks, throwing them at Fergus when he got home. Id make, for instance, roast pumpkin, sausage and brown rice for me and the kids, and then get them up to bath and bed, and if Fergus was home in the evening Id have another meal with him. Maybe his lovely roast chicken and boiled parsley sauce. When I started Rochelle Canteen [with Melanie Arnold], it wasnt open in the evenings, which made things easier, although there was a lot of rushing across town to school and back at 2.30pm. We ran the business in a flexible way and our children were never a problem there. But there were two screaming children in the Canteen yesterday and I said, Thats enough! You have to pick them up and the mum said, We cant do that at the moment and the dad said, Its not their pick up time at the moment. Unbelievable.

Im trying to think what the best thing about being a mother is. Not all the washing after getting back from work, thats for sure. I suppose the glorious thing is that you feed these little things who become your new bunch of buddies and you love hanging out with them. Well, sometimes you bloody dont, obviously, but theres an unconditional love which is amazing.

All the kids have said, If everything goes wrong in my chosen career, I can still be a chef, Mum. But I never want them to be chefs because its the wrong hours and wrong schedule. Daytime is for living and the nighttime should be for putting your feet up or going out to lovely restaurants and having other people cook for you. JH

Margots ginger crunch

When I was two, my mother turned into a health nut. All white flour and sugar went out the door and was replaced by brown flour, molasses, carob, cider vinegar and honey. My sister Nicky and I craved sugar and would knock on the doors of our neighbours hoping their Tupperware containers were full of baking. I think my cooking started through desperation really: I needed sweet things.

So as soon as Mum left me, at the tender age of 10, babysitting for a few hours, I reached for Edmonds Cookery Book every house in New Zealand has one and searched for something that we had the ingredients for. We had them all, though once I started to make the biscuits they then asked for cream, butter and sugar. Not understanding this key baking process, I took the cream off the tops of our bottles of milk. Sadly, when Mum returned there was a sloppy, messy mixture coming to meet us out of the oven.

I then learnt to make them and they became one of my top biscuits. A great treat at the end of dinner with your coffee.

This recipe is based on one from the Edmonds Cookery Book; I just add a little more ginger.

Makes about 24
butter 125g
sugar 110g
plain flour 225g
baking powder 1 tsp
ground ginger 2 tsp

For the icing
butter 100g
icing sugar 125g
golden syrup 4 tbsp
ground ginger 3 tsp

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Grease a 20cm x 30cm sponge roll tin.

In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add the dry ingredients and blend until a fine crumb. Pour into the tray and press down evenly. Bake for 20 minutes, until light brown.

Meanwhile, make the icing by melting all the ingredients together over a medium heat, bring up to a simmer.

When the base comes out of the oven pour the icing over. Leave for a moment and then slice into fingers while still warm.

Keep in an airtight container.

Olia Hercules

Olia, 32, grew up in Ukraine and Cyprus before working as a chef de partie at Ottolenghi. She is the author of Mamushka, and the forthcoming Kaukasis the Cookbook: the Culinary Journey Through Georgia, Azerbaijan & Beyond. She has a son, Sasha, four

Olia and Sasha at their home in London. Photograph: Alex Lake for the Observer

Before I got pregnant Id been working long hours in restaurants such as Ottolenghi. Id felt rather down during that period, but getting pregnant, I dont know if it was hormonal or mental, I really needed it. After the initial three months of tiredness, I felt really energetic while pregnant. It gave me a personal drive which Id lacked before. In fact, it has really changed my life. I often say that if it wasnt for Sasha and he was a surprise I wouldnt have achieved what Ive achieved since.

I was cooking on Sundays in a pub kitchen in Bethnal Green until three weeks before giving birth. It was a pretty tight space so I had to get savvy about navigating my belly around. On weekdays I was working as a food team intern at Sainsburys Magazine, testing recipes. I felt I could endure anything after so many hard nights, barely seeing the sun, coming into work in winter at 6.30am, being in a kitchen basement and getting out at 1am. After that, giving birth was easy.

Six months after having Sasha, I started to do catering and recipe development work. Then, when he was one, I got a full-time job at the company Recipe Kit. It helped that I had a really good childminder who knew my situation. But then Recipe Kit shut down, the unrest was under way back in Ukraine and I was here, pretty much unemployed and splitting up from Sashas dad. It was the most horrendous time.

I started a project in my kitchen: recording and cooking and feeding to Sasha the dishes of my mother and grandmothers. One night I found myself having to write a proposal for Mamushka by morning, so I put Sasha to bed and spent seven hours listing 100 recipe titles and composing the intro prose and 12 full recipes. In two months, I went from being completely in the shit to having a book deal.

I thrive on pressure and since having a child, if theres lots of things to do I just get on with them. My bread and butter is food styling and when Im cooking on the job its quite handy because I can bring food home. Meanwhile, Im doing events and planning my third book. I still cook in restaurants but only for a week each month, doing take-overs. When it gets really busy, my mother comes over from Ukraine and helps, because its impossible doing 18-hour shifts.

Sasha chops vegetables, makes sauces and tastes throughout our cooking together. Hes crazy about making pancakes and chocolate pizza topping, and he recently started washing up dishes, unprompted and with gusto. I detest baking, but he bakes with my mother when she visits. Sasha also cooks when he sees his dad, who is Thai-Laos, and I imagine picks lots of herbs for him hes started making borscht with the addition of ginger and chilli. After a 10-year wait, Ive just got a council allotment, up at Alexandra Palace, and Sasha wants to grow his own broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries.

The only way I could see myself having a restaurant is if we lived above it. I know many restaurants that make sure theres a 50-50 split of men and women working there. And theres a great deal of women who want to get into the business and have the balls to do the hours, but they need an arrangement where they can come to work at 9.30am and go at 3pm to pick up their children. But I think you can run a business and be kind and decent. If I ever have a restaurant, I will be very accommodating to mothers. JH

Olias chicken and swede in garlic butter

I always think of Blackadder when I think of swedes and turnips. Giggles aside, they are some of the most unsung, beautiful root vegetables. Theyre also cheap and shouldnt only serve as filler. Try giving them another life; make them the star. The chicken recipe is based on the first dish my mum has ever taught me how to cook the Georgian poussin tabaka. I was 14 and I burned the hell out of it. Ive got a little better since then.

Youll need to spatchcock a chicken by cutting alongside its backbone, then flatten with the palm of your hand quite fiercely the flatter the chicken, the more contact it will have with the pan. If there are four of you, use the whole bird; if its only two, like me and Sasha, cut alongside the breast bone and use only half. You can freeze the other half.

Serves 2
vegetable oil 2 tbsp
organic chicken
swede or turnip , sliced into wedges
butter 80g, softened
garlic 5 large cloves, peeled and finely grated or crushed
lemon grated zest of
flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Pour the oil into a medium baking tray and pop it in the oven to heat up really well.

When the oil is really hot, add the chicken bone-side down and pop it into the oven for 5-10 minutes along with the root veg. You want the bones to start colouring, releasing their flavours all over the roasting tin, ready to be picked up by the butter when you add it later to create an intense chicken and butter sauce.

When the chicken looks properly brown on the cut side, season the skin and flip the chicken over and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the skin starts to turn golden brown. Dont forget to give the vegetables a turn, too.

While this is happening, mash the butter with the garlic, lemon zest and a generous pinch of sea salt. When the chicken is nice and brown all over, lower the oven heat to 160C/gas mark 3. Dot the butter all around the roasting tray and cover everything with some baking parchment or foil, followed by another tray. Then put something heavy (like a heavy casserole dish) over the chicken and put it back in the oven. It is (literally) a bit of a balancing act, and you need to have the rack at the very bottom of the oven. If you cannot be bothered with any of this, just cover with foil and roast for 30 minutes uncovering for the last 5 minutes. You wont get as many chicken juices mixing into the sauce, but thats OK, especially if you are knackered after a long day.

After 25 minutes, take the weight off the chicken and pull at its leg. If it is giving and pull-able and there is no blood, it is ready. You can flip it over and give it another 5 minutes on high heat to crisp up the skin, or maybe you cant be bothered. Serve it with a lovely bitter leaf and orange salad and some crusty bread or simple boiled rice. If you have tired soft herbs in the fridge, chop them up finely and add to the sauce this is so good for dipping situations.

Hlne Darroze

The 50-year-old chef de cuisine of three eponymous restaurants in Paris, at the Connaught in London and in Moscow has two adopted daughters: Charlotte, aged nine, and Quiterie, seven

Charlotte, Hlne and Quiterie at the Connaught. Photograph: Alex Lake for the Observer

I always knew I wanted to have children, and to adopt children as well. When I was a teenager I asked my mum why she hadnt adopted children. She said she was worried she wouldnt love the child as much as she loved me and my brother. I wanted to have biological ones as well, but it didnt happen because I didnt find the man for that. But even with biological children, I wanted to adopt. I dont know why.

I was 40 when I had Charlotte, the first one, and I couldnt have done it before then. At that age, I could delegate a little more: I was ready to delegate. Your late-20s and 30s are very important for a chef. This is the time that you have the techniques and you can express yourself. You are mature enough to know which kind of food you want to cook.

This makes it very difficult for many women. I have had a lot of very talented women in my kitchen. A lot. Sometimes, I imagine this one could be the next great chef. But all of them, they stopped because they wanted to be a wife and a mum. And the fact is you want to be a mum at the age when you have to give the best of yourself as a chef so its difficult to manage.

I had only my restaurant in Paris when Charlotte arrived. Then, just a few months later, the Connaught came to me and said: We want you as a chef. I was just back from Vietnam with Charlotte, so I said: No, its not for me. But, as soon as I said it, I regretted it. I thought, Oh my God, you are making a big mistake. So I rested over Christmas and decided to take over the Connaught. Then, soon after, I launched everything to have a second baby.

It sounds a little complicated, but for me its very simple: thats our life. I try to do my planning three months in advance, though it does change a lot and often. The two main restaurants are in London and in Paris, so thats where I share the time. Until May 2015, we lived in London, but now, for the moment, we are based in Paris, that is where Charlotte and Quiterie go to school. But that could change. If you asked my girls where do they prefer to live, theyd say: We dont mind. We love the two cities. They can speak the two languages and when they play together they play in English, even when we are in Paris.

Every morning, I wake up with them to have breakfast and to get them dressed. After that the nanny takes them to school and, Im really honest with you, I go back to bed for an hour! Because usually Im never in bed before midnight or 1am. When Im in bed at midnight its a good day. When Im in Paris, I always try to come home when they get back from school, so between 5.30pm and 7pm. Of course, sometimes it is difficult to leave the house in the evening, but they know during the week I have to concentrate on work. And, touch wood, for the moment, I have two beautiful children who are so balanced and so happy.

My girls will always be the priority for me. The weekends are for them and so are the holidays. When I have to work on Saturday night, they come with me. I have an office just in front of the pass in the kitchen and they are spoiled by my team. They can eat whatever they want; homemade pizza is their favourite.

Some guests, when they come into the kitchen to see me, are a little bit surprised to see Charlotte and Quiterie. But for me, it is very normal. My family owned a restaurant in south-west France, and I always say that I was born in a kitchen. Born in a pan. The other day, the little one said to me that she wanted to be a chef. But do you know why? It was because she wanted to be on Top Chef, a TV show that Im a judge on in France. I said to her: Im not sure thats a good reason to do that But of course if thats the career they choose, Ill support them on that. TL

Hlnes Connaught crumble

The girls, particularly Quiterie the little one, love to cook crumble because last year I did a pastry masterclass with her class at school. I put a lot of fruits (fresh and dried), and toppings like chocolate pearls and crystallised violets on a table. Then they designed their own, choosing the garnish they wanted. The crumble is easy to prepare and to spread, which is also why the children like it.

For the filling, you will need a total of 1.2kg fruit. You can use the ones suggested below, or your favourite.

Serves 8
For the crumble
butter 80g
plain flour 80g
ground almonds 80g
caster sugar 80g
fine salt 1 pinch

For the filling (1.2kg in total)
pineapple 1, peeled and cut into slices
strawberries 200g, washed, dried, hulled and halved
apples 2, peeled, cored and cubed
banana 2, peeled and sliced
nectarines 2, washed, dried, stoned and each cut into 8 pieces
extras such as cereals dipped in dark chocolate, crystalised violet flowers, roasted hazelnuts, roasted almonds, pistachio nuts, dried cranberries, to taste

Place the butter, flour, ground almonds, sugar and salt in a bowl, then work the mixture with the tips of your fingers to make the crumble texture. Leave this mixture to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Let everyone choose 150g fruit that they would like to use, and place in 8 individual ovenproof dishes or ramekins. Now choose some other ingredients from the list of nuts and extras to go with the fruit and sprinkle them on top of the fruit in the dish. Cover the fruit and extra filling with the crumble mix. Alternatively, you can make one large crumble.

Place the crumble in the oven and cook for roughly 20-30 minutes or till nicely browned. Serve warm with vanilla custard or ice cream.

Romy Gill

Romy, 44, lives in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, where shes chef-owner of Romys Kitchen. Last year, she was awarded an MBE. She has two daughters, Neev, 11, and Reet, 13

Reet, Romy and Neev at home in Thornbury. Photograph: Alex Lake for the Observer

On our first date, my husband Gundeep took me to an Indian restaurant where the food was terrible. Right there and then I warned him, Im going to open my own place one day. We married and he made chips the computer ones while I worked in accountancy. After our first daughter Reet was born, I didnt return to accounts payable and it was the best thing that ever happened. I got seriously into cooking, baking and making savoury things, while Reet lay on her pink play mat.

When our second daughter Neev was seven or eight months old, I admitted to Gundeep that Id been looking around for a property in Thornbury to convert to a restaurant. A lot of people thought I was mad to open Romys Kitchen here, rather than in Bristol, but I wanted to be within running distance of the children and home.

The first year was exhausting. Every day, Tuesday to Saturday, Id be at the restaurant from 9am until 1am or 2am, then wake up at 6am to make packed lunches, iron clothes and prepare for the kids getting up. I still do that. Most afternoons at the restaurant Ill make something for their evening meal, maybe a fish pie or spaghetti bolognese, and pop home with it around 4.30pm.

On Saturday night, once every four or six weeks, I have what amounts to my social life. My friends come to eat at the restaurant and after service I let my hair down and have a glass of wine. Then Sunday is my day off I sometimes dont get up until 7.30am or even 8am.

There are many times when I think, My marriage is falling down the drain. The venison curry special is wonderful but I never see my family. Gundeep will make it right because hes a very positive person, whereas I can be hot-headed.

As a woman, I dont think I could have succeeded with Romys Kitchen back in India. There, reality cooking shows seem recently to have made the situation worse theyve given women the impression its very glamorous and easy, when its not possible to run a restaurant without skill, capital, the support and understanding of family and the ability to carry on when feeling totally knackered.

What sometimes upsets me is that our daughters are very close to Gundeep now hes both their dad and mum most of the time. Thats a good thing, because Indian dads dont usually want to look after their kids, but I do get jealous. They ask, Dad, can I go on a sleepover? rather than Mummy, can I go on a sleepover? As a woman, as a mother, I find that quite hard. Gundeep knows all the kids friends birthdays, while I havent got a clue.

Recently, Reet said, I want to be a Victorias Secret model. I said, OK, but you love your food and you love junk food and sweets you wouldnt be allowed all that. Five minutes later she came back and said, I dont want to be a Victorias Secret model. Once she turns 14 shell help at the restaurant at weekends to make some money, because her demands for make-up and iPhones have grown, and Ive told her, Youve got to earn. By working here, shell be able to see more of her mum, so well both be winners. JH

Romys masaledaar gosht

Sitting on the veranda chatting with Mum and putting the world to rights: memories are to cherish and I still chat with Mum and talk about how I used to find any excuse to run away from the kitchen and only came in from playing cricket or badminton when the food was ready.

Mum used to make this mutton recipe every month and I now make it for my family; the girls help me make it. Its something anyone can cook, and a treasure to pass down from household to household.

Mutton is tough, it requires slow cooking on a low heat to make the meat tender and juicy. Marinating helps to bring out the flavour, and browning helps seal in the juices.

Serves 5-6
mutton 1kg (leg), diced
malt vinegar 3 tbsp
sunflower oil 6 tbsp
ginger 2 tbsp, grated
garlic 2 tbsp, grated
shallots 8-10 medium, finely chopped
tomatoes 5 medium, diced
tomato puree 1 tbsp
green chillies 4, finely chopped
red chilli powder 1 tbsp
turmeric powder 1 tbsp
garam masala 3 tbsp
desiccated coconut 50g
coconut milk 100ml
hot water 600ml
salt to taste
fresh coriander for garnish

Marinate the diced mutton in the malt vinegar and set aside.

In a deep pan, heat 5 tablespoons of the oil on high heat for a minute, add the ginger and garlic and cook until light brown. Then add the shallots, cooking on medium heat for 8-10 minutes until dark brown. Keep stirring and be careful not to catch the bottom. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and green chillies, mix well, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the red chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala, desiccated coconut and salt and cook for a further 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil on high heat, then add the marinated diced mutton and cook until browned. Add the mutton to the above paste.

Add the coconut milk and water. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and cook on low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally. Sometimes it might take a bit longer, depending on the cut of the meat.

Garnish with coriander and serve with paratha and pickles.

Shuko Oda

The 35-year-old head chef and co-founder of Koya Bar in Soho, London has a daughter Kotoko, who is 16 months old

Shuko and Kotoko at their home in London. Photograph: Alex Lake for the Observer

Becoming a mother, strangely, really made me want to work again. I think its either one way or the other; I grew up in a household where my mother stayed at home. I thought I might enjoy that, but actually I just realised I really, really love my job.

I stopped working two weeks before my due date. I enjoyed working when I was pregnant: Im so used to being on my feet and working physically, if I hadnt done it I would have gone crazy. My tummy got quite big, so it was a bit tight in our small kitchen. Id forget it was there sometimes and think, I can go through that gap, and Id get stuck.

I thought Id take four or five months off, but I ended up taking seven, because its such a precious time and I wanted to breastfeed Kotoko until then. During my leave I went out a lot with the baby. As a chef youre always working when everyone else is going out, so it was an excellent time to catch up with people. Id go for lunch to Rochelle Canteen and Im good friends with Florence Knight she has a three-month-old baby and a one-a-half-year-old so I met up with her a few times. Its nice to chat about cooking and babies.

I was excited and nervous when I came back to work, but it all came back straightaway. I was tired, but being active helps. If I had a desk job I think Id be asleep, but talking to people and taking orders keeps you going. Sometimes Ill be in the back to do some office work and I find myself getting pretty tired. But now Im not breastfeeding and back to full caffeine, that helps.

Were open for breakfast, so I used to start at 7.30am, but because I want to spend the time with my daughter I take her to the childminder. I get to Koya Bar at around 9am, and finish before the evening crowd arrives. Of course, I happen to be the boss, so its easier for me, but I dont see why anyone else cant request something like this to their head chef. For example, we have a prep shift in our rota where one person starts in the morning and finishes by 5pm. Something like that could exist in every kitchen. Having a team is all about the balance of these things.

We plan to open up another restaurant this year, so it will be really busy again and Ill have to ask my husband, Nick, to commit more to our child. But he should be OK with that. My father is the typical Japanese salaryman: I dont think he ever changed my nappy, whereas Nick, who is English, was doing that from day one.

Im definitely happier since I had Kotoko. Whatever has happened during the day, when I go and pick her up and shes really happy to see me, it blows everything away. And now I have someone who depends on me: I want to make sure I do a good job and I create delicious food and be successful at what I do. Its important for me to be happy and proud of what I do, and for her to see that. TL

Shukos sea bream zuke-don with soy pickled yolk

My family moved around quite a bit throughout my childhood, which meant Japanese food wasnt always as accessible as we wouldve liked. However, LA was great in this respect, we always had excellent fish delivered to our door by a Japanese fishmonger man in a van, who visited all the local families every week and my mother would regularly get fresh tuna and bream from him.

This is a recipe Ive adapted that reminds me of those days in LA but with a bit of my own taste added. You can get all the Japanese ingredients in grocery stores, such as the Japan Centre or Japanese Kitchen, or

Serves 4
soy sauce 100ml
egg yolks 4 good healthy golden ones
mirin 1 tbsp
cooking sake tbsp
shaved bonito 2g
Japanese rice 300g (at the restaurant we use Minori)
sea bream 4 fillets, boned and skin removed
nori, spring onion, shiso, sesame to garnish

For the soy yolk, pour 2cm of soy sauce into a container big enough for the 4 yolks. Carefully place the yolks in the puddle of soy sauce. Leave to pickle for at least 1 hour and up to 48 hours. The longer you pickle, the more solid the yolk will be, so a quick pickle will give you a runny yolk, a long pickle will give you a candy-like texture

For the zuke brine, heat the remaining soy sauce, mirin and sake in a saucepan. When it is just about to boil, add the shaved bonito flakes, lower the heat to minimum and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Take off the heat and let it sit for 1-2 hours, then sieve this through a colander.

For the Japanese rice, cook it according to the instructions on the packet or follow these tips, using the ratio of 1:1 for rice and water.

First, wash the rice in a bowl. The initial wash should be in plenty of water. Quickly stir right from the bottom of the bowl, then throw away the water.

Then, stir the rice in more water approximately 20 times in the same direction. It is important to be quick, then squeeze, but dont crush, the rice. Drain. Repeat this 3 times and drain the water completely.

In a saucepan, soak the rice in an equal volume of water for 45 minutes.

Give the rice a little pat so its flat in the water, put a lid on, and place on full heat. When it starts boiling and the lid starts to move, turn down the heat to minimum and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes. Keep the lid on at all times.

With the lid still on, turn off the heat and let it rest/steam for another 10-15 minutes. There should never be excess water at the end.

Take off the lid and give the rice a couple of stirs with a wet wooden spatula – if you damp the spatula, the rice wont stick as much to it and its easier to wash later!

For the sea bream, slice each fillet with a sharp knife against the grain of the fish, in approximately 5mm thick slices.

Place all the bream slices flat on a wide plate, pour over the zuke brine and marinate for 4-5 minutes.

Prepare a garnish of your liking, such as hand-torn nori, in a serving bowl, put a portion of rice, a tablespoon of the zuke brine dribbled on top, then nori and thinly sliced shiso. Place the bream individually next to each other and once again pour over a tablespoon of zuke brine,

Carefully take out a yolk and place it in the middle, sprinkle spring onion and sesame to finish.

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