What Greater Way to Show Love?
If there is a greater way to show your love and admiration for others than through the careful preparation of food then please show me how! The reverence my parents have always placed on meal times and the food we eat remains the greatest influence in my life. A plate of food is not just something to eat, it’s togetherness, belonging, sharing and ‘health and wellbeing’ in all its many forms and interpretations. However, looking back, the reason for my obsession with food has wider, more far reaching tentacles…
Vikings don’t eat greens
I grew up in an extended family home where there had always been a huge vegetable garden with chickens laying fresh eggs every day that, almost entirely, sustained us through the abundant months.
A Danish grandmother next door with wonderful skills in the kitchen – a deep love of beef dripping and goose fat on toast sprinkled with lots of salt, potatoes in any form, excellent slow cooked meat and ‘sauce’, (very thick highly flavoured gravies), lots of pickled herrings and rye bread, stewed fruit and a hilarious lack of vegetation. Inge, my remarkably healthy and long lived grandmother, was famous for not liking ‘green things’. A real Viking diet one might conclude.
My grandfather was the first person I ever saw blistering the skin of a red pepper and steaming off the skin in a plastic bag for alternative rye smørrebrød, (Danish open sandwiches), long before Delia got on to the trick. I assume he learnt it from my grandmother, but she never let on.
A Mancunian grandmother on my father’s side catered for a second generation vegetarian family and six children – an incredible cook who was hugely inventive with vegetables, pulses and nuts; making weekly trips to the original Infinity Foods in Brighton to buy bucket loads of nuts, seeds, pulses, grains and (my dad’s favourite) cashew butter that she needed to feed her brood.
They were pioneers of a way of shopping and eating that was not in any way mainstream in those days, and that we are only just finding our way back to now. Her date and walnut cake is still the stuff of legends. Thank you Granny.
In my immediate family home, my mother never bought food, she bought ingredients. And, with no sweet tooth to speak of (unlike my own) there were a few occasions in my teenage years that I cursed my mother as, unlike the cupboards of many of my friends when I was growing up, you couldn’t find a welcome biscuit or snack anywhere! If you wanted a biscuit you first had to locate the ingredients, then find a recipe and then make one. This was not an instant gratification kitchen. There was no snacking – my grandparents never ‘snacked’ and my parents to this day only eat at mealtimes. It’s a habit that’s ingrained and many now say this ‘mini fasting’ is the correct way to maintain a healthy digestive system and sensible weight.
Personally I have to admit to a fondness for the occasional snack. My sweet tooth, inherited from my father, is ever present and I do indulge in the odd treat. When I can those treats are homemade and I do keep an eye on the types of sugar, fats and complex carbs I am eating so I’m not completely going against everything my mother taught me!
Culinary culture shock
Apart from my family, there were other significant influences in my life that have shaped my world of food. We lived in downtown Toronto between 1984 and 1987 – a huge culture shock from my isolated rural life of dogs, horses and chickens in West Sussex. A multicultural and gastronomic melting pot that opened up a world of Jewish chollah and matzo, South Indian dosa, Sunday brunch with pancakes and maple syrup (still my favourite sweetener – its savoury sweetness so earthy and versatile – but maybe that’s for another time). And, going out for ice cream. Going OUT for ice cream! The idea of eating out alone was shocking to me let alone the idea that you might go on somewhere else for ICE CREAM afterwards…
Most interesting however was the Italian community, the amazing Italian friends we made and the huge influence that had on my mother’s cooking and on the kind of ingredients that we were exposed to. The delis we shopped at were like nothing we had ever seen in the UK – the olive oil, enormous ripe tomatoes, pots of basil and handmade pasta were a revelation.
When we returned from Toronto my always enterprising mother set herself up as a market garden offering organic fruit and vegetables to local shops and restaurants. This was fairly successful for a while but this was the 1980’s and we were in the grip of the cut price supermarket takeover and no one wanted to pay the real price for organic ingredients. My mother was (once again) ahead of her time…
Flat whites and sourdough
A year in Sydney and Melbourne over the millennium working in various coffee shops, cafes and restaurants gave me a huge wake up call. At that time we had never heard of sourdough or the flat white, but back then it was already ubiquitous there. I saw their food culture and I seriously wanted a piece of it. I had no idea how to get it however, and, despite some forays into little catering businesses run on the side of my day job, it took me another ten years to be brave enough to make a serious leap to the food industry.
Shopping like my mother
Of course now I shop in exactly the same way my mother still does; for ingredients rather than prepared things, whole foods; grains, raw whole nuts and seeds, etc. in as natural and un-fussed with form, in season where ever possible and local, British if I can too.
Meat and fish are things that I love, but I find that I am eating a far more vegetarian and vegetable based protein diet than not, saving really good quality and carefully sourced meat and fish for special occasions – and when I just feel like it.
This has come about for several reasons; wanting to support rare breeds and better animal welfare, protecting the environment, wanting to cook the things that I have grown in my own little London garden, and, also because cooking vegetables is in many ways more challenging. It encourages a greater degree of creativity to conjure really interesting, satisfying foods that are solely vegetable based. It’s taught me a lot and I really love looking at a vegetable or a leaf or even and herb and thinking about all the wonderful things that can be done to it before it ends up being supper.
North London institution
When I met Ian James and Nick Selby, founders of Melrose and Morgan, in 2010, I knew I had found my new place in the world. Pioneering supporters of British producers and artisans they brought the Borough Market shopping experience under one roof, seven days a week – at that time a fairly unique proposition. Their Primrose Hill deli table groaned with homemade British ‘traiteur’ style food, an open kitchen allowed you to chat with and watch the chefs at work, shelves were artfully stacked with unusual British produce, under the watchful eye of managers Andrew Davies and Josh Talmud, and legendary barista Roee, (Josh and Roee with matching wild curly hair), banged out exceptional flat whites in the tiny space left for coffee in the shop window.
I of course wanted to work in their kitchen, but Nick and Ian persuaded me to take on a role helping them run the business (too much chopping carrots and onions!) encompassing everything from kitchen management, recipe testing, product development and menu planning to events, marketing and writing. It was when we started putting together some ‘Grocer’s Guides’ to essential kitchen ingredients that the idea for a book – Good Food For Your Table – was born. Pregnant with my first son when we secured our publishing deal I knew that I was looking very shortly at bringing two new entities into the world!
Baby number four
After my second son (third ‘baby’ after first son and GFFYT) was born I decided I wanted to take everything I’d learnt; from my family, my travels, Melrose and Morgan, writing our book together, and find a way to pass that passion and joy for cooking and eating on to others – and of course the next generation of my own family.
On request from a good friend in 2017 I started running private tailor-made cooking lessons. It soon became very obvious that the concept of ‘cooking without a recipe’, something I had always effortlessly done and was what made cooking so hugely enjoyable for me, was the thing that pricked people’s ears more than anything else.
Over the following year I analysed my cooking process, breaking it down into manageable, bite sized parts, working out how to make this approach accessible to all and exciting to teach. At the same my private lessons happily snowballed and so in 2018 I launched Cook Folk, offering tailor-made lessons in people’s homes and now workshops in my own kitchen, all geared towards helping people to discover their own inner cook and feel the freedom and confidence to start to create delicious things using their intuition rather than just relying on recipes.
Teaching others how to enjoy cooking and exploring food in this new way is without doubt the expression of my greatest passion, I love to see the joy and happiness it brings to others. Experiencing the trials and tribulations of becoming a mum and watching my own children’s food journeys I realise now was the final inspiration and incentive, adding an extra layer to Cook Folk’s reason for being. ‘Baby’ number four, as I like to call it.
Get in touch
hello @ cookfolk.com
Get in touch
hello @ cookfolk.com