Happy meals from Melissa Hemsley
IN THE CULINARY world, Melissa Hemsley is one half of the Hemsleys, the sisters whose food business, Hemsley and Hemsley, has pioneered modern, healthy, home cooking on TV, in books and in their eponymous Selfridges Caf in their native London. This year, Melissa comes to the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature with her first solo book, Eat Happy – aiming to further spread her carefree fun food message.
How does it feel to come to this year’s LitFest and to Dubai?
I’m so thrilled to come to Dubai and share my feel good food with you all. Writing books is my second favourite thing (to cooking and eating food), so I get pretty excited about getting to chat to wonderful authors and meeting readers and book lovers. You have amazing food here!
What first sparked your interest in healthy eating and what made you take it to the next level and go into the F&B and food media business?
My Filipino mum has played a huge part in my love for food. She has always taught me to respect food and not to waste it and how to magic up an entire meal out of what seems like almost nothing! I cook food that makes me happy and feel comforted and that’s why I think I love it so much and how it organically turned into my job that makes sharing it with the world so much easier.
What difficulties did you have to overcome in bringing out your first book, establishing your caf and breaking into TV? It’s a dream trajectory for many aspiring to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?
Believe in yourself and your message. It would be so hard to sell books if you didn’t truly believe in everything you were doing, so the fact that I’ve always been so passionate about creating food that people feel comforted and happy both when cooking and eating has made it so much easier.I’d also say to be kind to yourself. It’s really important when following your dreams and building a business to take time for yourself. To rest, to reflect so you can move on with a more focused mind and stronger body. I’m big on self care. Eating well is part of self care but so is rest, sunshine and exercise.
What aspect of your media endeavours do you enjoy the most? What does it mean to have books out there on the shelves with your name on the spine?
As soon as I see people cooking from my book, that’s when excitement and pride hits home! Nothing beats that feeling. I knew that I wanted to make good food accessible to everyone so as soon as people feedback and love my recipes, that’s when it means the most.I love trips like this. I get to travel the world for work. I’m very lucky. I like to see my cookbooks on people’s kitchen shelves and open on their worktops, marked up with Post IT notes, stained with turmeric – well used and well loved.
What is unique about your latest book, Eat Happy, and why do you think people should take a look at it over the other books on offer?
Eat Happy is absolutely a celebration of feel-good food and food that makes me happy! Eating well is for everyone and should be enjoyed by everyone, so all of the recipes are fast and (as Brits would say) ‘fuss-free’ and so easy to make with inexpensive ingredients that are always in your cupboards. Every recipe can also be doubled and frozen so that good-food is always accessible when you’re in a hurry and time can be spent enjoying the food rather than cooking it. I’m not precious with my recipes; if you don’t have all of the ingredients, play around and use what you’ve got! It’s a cookbook to take home and feel inspired by what you’ve already got and to make the recipes your own like no other cookbook.
What will it offer a Middle Eastern audience?
There are so many wonderful flavours in Eat Happy that will please absolutely everyone, with ingredients you can get all over the world. It’s a book for all! I have recipes from all over the world, favourite takeaways, comfort food, flavour comes first alongside nourishment and the feel good factor.
Do you think the public and governments around the world take healthy eating seriously enough? What would you like to see change?
There is definitely a switch happening and people are becoming more mindful of what they’re eating and how their food is sourced. Food is a celebration of life and I want to keep spreading the message of how easy cooking can be when you have no time or few ingredients. Food waste and using up leftovers is a massive thing for me, so if we can start changing how people use food and think about food, then that’s amazing and couldn’t come sooner. For people that are looking to make healthier swaps with their foods, we’ve got to get practical; people like me who write cookbooks, need to make them as simple as possible – that’s why my recipes are maximum 30 minutes and as much as possible use one pan and are aimed at first time cooks as well as food lovers.
There’s lots of advice out there to never work with family. How do you make it work and do you think working with your sister has helped you achieve everything you have done?
Absolutely! We have supported each other throughout the whole journey and wouldn’t be where we are today without that! It’s great to have someone you can bounce ideas off and we balance each other out really well.
You’ve got 30 minutes or so to make a quick lunch, what’s your go-to fast and tasty recipe?
Oh, well, seeing as though all of my recipes are under 30 minutes, I’m spoilt for choice! But I love throwing together my delicious ‘Chinese fried quinoa with spicy garlic sesame oil’ which makes use of leftover quinoa as well as ‘spiced lamb and pistachios on aubergine boats’. I’m looking forward to making my 5 ingredient ‘little chocolate pots’ for my friends and they all love my banoffee pie and my Thai and Malaysian curries.