Blog Tour | A Recipe For Disaster – Stephen Phelps

Recipe For Disaster Full Banner

A Recipe for Disaster is a cookbook, a travelogue and the companion to Cookucina, a six-part TV series available on Amazon Video, iTunes and Google Play – see .

It’s also the entertaining journey of an Englishman struggling with the ups and downs of living in rural Italy. After giving up a successful career in television, Stephen found himself dragged back into a world he had happily given up when his neighbour, Lia, persuaded him to listen to her Big Idea – making a TV cookery series. But Lia speaks no English.

And Stephen’s partner, Tam, can’t cook. So, much against Stephen’s better judgement, the three of them embarked on a six-part series set among the rolling hills of the little-known, but spectacularly beautiful, Italian region of Le Marche. In the Cookucina TV series Lia teaches Tam to cook alla Marchigiana, while Tam translates. A Recipe for Disaster follows their many encounters with the real Italy – a world away from the picture-book ideal of summer holidays in Tuscany.

As the team try to construct a professional series with no funding they come to rely on the generosity of the Marchigiana people, while attempting to overcome the constant difficulties thrown up by those whose stubborn adherence to their age-old way of life is rooted in their beloved fields and woods. A Recipe for Disaster is a goldmine of simple yet delicious recipes, while peeling back the veneer of television professionalism and opening the door to a world of Italian surprise and delight.

A Recipe for Disaster comes with unique access to Cookucina, the final six-part TV series, so you can see for yourself how the team cracked their problems and (just about) held it all together in a blistering heatwave. Experience this contradictory world of vendettas and kind hearts through the laughter and frustrations of Stephen and the team, as you follow A Recipe for Disaster slowly coming to its surprising fruition.

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Recipe for Disaster Cover

Extract From A Recipe For Disaster

Shooting the Titles

A Title Sequence for a show like this goes according to a fairly standard recipe. Take lots of pretty shots, plenty of sunshine, a bit of food prep, sprinkle with some glorious shots of the finished dishes, add the smiling faces of your two presenters and mix with some bright, quintessentially Italian music. Then hand it all over to a graphic designer – along with a very large cheque. If you’ve taken the trouble to look at the Title Sequence of Cookucina you’ll know what I mean. It’s the first few shots, with Lia and Tam hitching a ride on the back of an Ape (one of those mini pick-up trucks), which drives away from camera to reveal the old town against the sun-drenched backdrop of the Sibillini mountains.

All pretty straightforward you might think. But you would be wrong. Apes are notoriously tricky to drive, unless, as we know, you are either fourteen or very old. So one of the home team would have to drive the thing. Sergio. Peter and I were busy shooting and directing, and Tam and Lia were being the stars. Sergio, though, is not old. Like all Italian youths he drove an Ape when he was fourteen, but that was a long time ago, and driving an Ape is emphatically NOT like riding a bike, as we were about to discover. From the moment he came lurching down the road towards our camera position it was clear that Sergio would need to learn this skill all over again. And he had about ten minutes to do it in. At least that’s what he told us to begin with.

“Give me ten minutes,” he said, “and it will all come back to me.”

Unfortunately, it turned out he needed the better part of half an hour before he had the thing even vaguely under control.

It is in the nature of schedules that they have to be re-written every now and again. I think that by the time we had finished shooting Cookucina we were on Version 11. That’s part of the fun of the thing, although it never seems quite like that at the time. Re-writing the schedule is a sure sign that things are not going to plan, and maybe the end product is better on those productions that are able to stick rigidly to Plan A. But I somehow doubt it. Chucking the whole thing up in the air and re-arranging it brings a sort of energy to a shoot that you can’t get any other way, and I think you feel it in the final programs. A living work of art, rather than painting by numbers. Our schedule for the day was falling apart by the minute.

We should have been finished with these shots an hour ago and off to lunch. But we had to hang on to get the job done because the sunlight bathing the town would disappear after lunch and our lovely backdrop of the steep walls of the centro storico would be in shadow. So all we could do was wait. Until Sergio had tamed the Ape. Which wasn’t happening quickly. Every few minutes or so he would come kangarooing down the road gesticulating that he was almost there. Or possibly blaming everything on the Ape, it was never quite clear. So we waited. In the open. In temperatures that were still climbing towards the heat of the day. There was no shelter as far as the eye could see, and Sergio kept weaving past us making signs to suggest he would be ready next time round. The talent was slowly coming to the boil, in more ways that one. It was difficult enough for Peter and I to maintain our good humor, but Tam and Lia had to somehow try to look morning-fresh once we finally got to shoot.

Suddenly, just as Sergio came back into view, something else appeared right behind him – a police car. On a “professional” shoot this morning’s exercise would have been planned and organised weeks in advance. Not over a glass of wine the previous evening, which was when Sergio had arranged the loan of the Ape. Those weeks would have been spent hiring the vehicle from a company specializing in film transport, arranging for it to be shipped from Rome, or wherever the right vehicle could be found, and, crucially, arranging insurance. All of this went through my head as the police car pulled up right behind Sergio, whose jerky braking did nothing to indicate he was fully in charge of his vehicle. Not only did we not have proper insurance for the shoot, we didn’t have a permit to film on roads that, though quiet, were definitely public. Perhaps the whole thing was about to go down the gurgler before we’d really got going.

But this is Italy. And small-town Italy at that. And these were the Vigili Urbani, the local police. If you’re keen on becoming a policeman, Italy is the place for you. They have more kinds of police here than you can shake a stick at. And they all have great uniforms, of course. And nice cars too. We were pleased to see that these guys were the Vigili Urbani, the local police. We know them well. One of them actually went to school with Sergio. So instead of carting us off to chokey, they just apologised that they weren’t able to stay and watch. Presumably they had a coffee to go to.

Once Sergio had brought the Ape to a (reasonably smooth) stop, Tam refused to sit on the tailgate. The fruit and veg she was carrying, coming as it did straight from the land, brought a lot of the land with it. And Tam was wearing a white skirt. Which needed to stay white. Ten more minutes went by while Sergio lurched off in search of a rug they could sit on. I say lurched because he seemed to be getting worse again, not better. Then when I called “Action” for the first take, Sergio let out the clutch a bit sharply and both women fell off the back as the Ape took off down the road. Actually that makes it sound a lot worse than it was. In fact the back of the Ape is so small and low down that it was more like them standing up as the Ape drove away from underneath them.

We got the shot in the end though, as you will see from the opening of the show. The girls are smiling, the basket is overflowing with lovely fresh fruit and vegetables and the town behind them is bathed in sunshine. But one thing you will certainly not be able to see is the way those smiles disappeared as soon as it was over, Tam and Lia striding off towards town vowing never to do anything like that ever again. “Neither will I!”, I shouted after them, my voice disappearing on the afternoon breeze.

Fancy Cooking? Let’s try the Baked Trout with Vegetables recipe!

Roxy Starr - Baked Trout With Vegetables

You will need

  • Two trout of approx. 800g each
  • 3 medium-sized potatoes
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 4 courgettes
  • Rosemary
  • Garlic


Sprinkle the opened trout with salt, pepper, rosemary, crushed garlic.  Place the trout on a layer of sliced potatoes in a pan on greaseproof paper. Halve the tomatoes, cut courgettes into sticks.

Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 180 degrees for 40 minutes.

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Love Roxy xx


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