LAST WEEK I MET: HEMSLEY + HEMSLEY
Rising from private chefs and contributors for Vogue to best-selling authors, the Hemsley sisters just launched their first cookbook in Germany. I shared a pot of ginger tea with the darling duo at The Store Kitchen in Soho House Berlin to unveil their recipe for success.
FIRST THINGS FIRST …HOW GOOD IS THE FOOD HERE?
MELISSA: Yes! That’s why we wanted to do it with Tommy Tannock and Johnnie Collins. You know, they’re English and their food is incredible, they’ve been really supportive and making lots of our recipes!
JASMINE: It’s so nice to eat our food cooked by someone else …and with an even better presentation usually (laughs)
M: In London there’s not anywhere you can go and have our food. Lots of healthy cafes and even unhealthy cafes have adopted our recipes, but not officially…
J: I remember eating my banana flax bread the other day, I knew it straight away …unfortunately a lot of the healthy food treats around now are very high in dates, agave or maple syrup — way too sweet for my liking.
People expect us to love all kinds of raw restaurants and juice bars. But actually it’s more the nose-to-tail eating — the places who have gone really old-school and serve cuts of meat you don’t see anymore.
And they’ve always got some kind of super seasonal but ugly vegetable (laughs) that you never find in the supermarket…
WHAT’S AN UGLY VEGETABLE?
M: (Throws in) Celeriac is pretty ugly!
J: Before our workshop [at The Store Kitchen], I picked up a really weird looking cucumber and thought, how the hell am I going to spiralize this? But you know, the cucumber will grow, it will hit another cucumber, the source of light will change and then it might look a little wonky — it’s not in this programmed environment where everything is designed to look pretty!
I don’t think the consumers knew what modernization was and I don’t think they said: Listen, I want the veg that I’ve been eating for a million years to look a little bit more sophisticated now!
In the nineties, we had this thick idea of perfection. Supermarkets bought the better-looking veg, realized it sold and decided to make it even fancier — but I think this is going to change!
IF YOU HAD TO PICK A FAVORITE INGREDIENT…
M: I couldn’t pick only one but I love ginger. I have it in smoothies, we have gingerbread baking, tea — one of my favorites is called pep up tea which is really good especially if you want to cut down on caffeine ‘cause it’s very invigorating and rejuvenating. And obviously, ginger in food…
J: My favorite ingredient would be bone broth because since we discovered really not just the taste benefits and the fact that it’s frugal but also the actual health benefits — it just ticks all the boxes.
WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO AVOID IN YOUR DIETS?
J: We eat grain-free, gluten-free and refined sugar-free. For us, it’s about focussing on what food can give you — easy digestion, being delicious, it leaves you nicely satisfied and not overly full…
M: …in your mouth, in your body and in your mind!
NO NEED FOR SACRIFICES?
J: Not at all. Look, on the front of our book we have pancakes, brownies, curries, salads with dairy in it…
We’ve got all these re-worked classics because food is a very emotional thing and people are attached to memories of food. They would reminisce about how they used to eat a certain dish with their mums back home, you know?
Do we need to eat pizza? No! But it has become part of our culture and cuisine …we made sure that our reworks are extremely tasty but also working for your body.
HOW DID THE ART OF EATING WELL COME TOGETHER?
M: People are surprised that we wrote it all ourselves. You work with a publisher to actually make the physical book but the way it looks, the photos, the writing…
J: The font, the styling…
M: The name, all the content …is us!
The recipes came a lot from what we taught our clients and what we spoke about in one-on-one conversations — one of the reasons we wanted to do a book was because there was no other opportunity to say it all in one place.
Our mum and our best friends wanted us to do a book, our clients wanted to buy it for their families and their loved ones — and that’s why I think it has done pretty well. It’s not the sort of cookbook you keep to yourself!
Suddenly you have young people, old people, the mums and dads wanting to learn more — not how to be a really good chef, not how to count calories and be a skinny person but how to just enjoy their food again!
J: We thought our book would very slow-burn because we had such a small following — and suddenly everyone’s grabbing it! The college of naturopathic medicine in the UK is using it as their textbook and we were shortlisted for the National Book Awards…
M: People who love food love our book. People who are looking for a healthy way to live love it. People who can’t cook love it because it’s so easy to use. People love the whole premise of family-style cooking and old people love it because it uses all the things they used to love.
WHAT’S IT LIKE RUNNING A BUSINESS WITH YOUR SISTER?
M: I’ve always worked in small companies and it’s the same sort of thing where everyone has to get involved and so they become like family. At the same time, it makes sense to work with your real family because you can…
J: …trust them!
M: You work together very closely, whereas in a company with more structure everyone just kind of does their own thing. I guess, at Hemsley + Hemsley it’s a more unified front — Jasmine’s boyfriend takes the photos, our mum and our best friends work for the company too…
It’s amazing that we get to tell our story. We receive a lot of compliments and people keep telling us, we make cooking look really fun — but the bottom line is that the recipes speak for themselves!
When we started working as private chefs, we worked with quite high profile people in their homes. It was very special for them to have someone they could really trust and obviously a small family business is the nicest way to work!
ARE YOU ALSO WORKING ON YOUR OWN?
M: Yes, because there’s so much to do! It’s one thing being a cook and it’s another thing running a business. You can only be in one place at a time — we’re in Germany now, we were in Amsterdam before and then we’re going back to London to write our second book…
HOW DO YOU KEEP UP YOUR HEALTHY LIFESTYLE WHILE TRAVELING?
J: With a little of prep …you can research where your hotel is, what they have for breakfast, what their ethos is.
Travel with a whole lemon …squeezed into water it will hydrate you quickly, it’s a big boost of vitamins and — rather than lemon juice — it will not be taken off of you as you go through security!
M: If you’re traveling for like a week and you have a suitcase, take a little blender …it sounds crazy but people will pack a hair dryer, wouldn’t they?
J: Carry a tin of sardines, bring a bar of dark chocolate or pack an avocado!
People are so unused to the idea of real food as a fast snack. For them, it has to come out of packets or you have to be sitting down with a full table, knife and fork.
M: Back in the fifties, wives would be making food for their husbands to take to work. Our mum would pack us some fruit, nuts and seeds and call it brain food …it’s just about changing your mind set a little bit!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE RECIPE IN THE BOOK?
M: Black bean brownies!!!
J: Kimchi — because you make it once, it lasts forever and it makes everything taste delicious!
I love wowing people with dishes like our chicken curry with cauliflower rice — because you’re getting vegetable in you rather than refined grains and instead of sticking to the idea that curry is unhealthy, you’re eating this lovely, tasty, satisfying food…
Our food is supposed to be sustainable, everyday cooking — anyone can make it …you could be the messiest, most unskilled person but our beetroot, goats cheese and garlic herb terrine always comes out pretty!