I am a writer, photographer, food/ prop stylist and film maker.
I am currently reading “In Defense Of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” by Michael Pollan – a fascinating and insightful read about how we should “eat food, not too much. Mostly plants.” Its all about how we have become obsessed with “nutritionism” (a term Pollan uses to describe the ideology of the Western diet and how that has harmed its eating habits) and “healthy” “low-fat” fads instead of just buying and simply cooking and eating real (non processed) food. I am gripped as I was with “Cooked” by the same award winning author. I have always believed in cooking and eating real food and un-admire the “healthy” joyless “super-foods” thats meant to be so good for you.
Anyway, I was reluctant to even read The Observer on this relaxed Sunday with an extra hour to hand until I went through the food supplement and saw one of my own recipes in there! Congee (cháo) is a favourite of mine and is one of those recipes that’s quick, easy and IS so healthy to those who are counting their intake and need something warmer than a kale juice in the mornings.
Congee is a rice soup, generally made with left over rice (we always tend to make more rice than we need). It is a simple and really really delicious meal for breakfast (or anytime of the day). You can add anything you want to it. Use water or vegetable, pork, chicken or fish stock. Then adding a little bit of meat or fish (which is generally our left overs as well), chopped into fine little pieces then an array of green leaves and herbs. It is such a fantastic way of using up ingredients in the fridge and not wasting rice or left overs – yet it can be the most tasty thing you get to eat that day.
Congee is a favourite in my Vietnamese cooking classes, people are always so surprised how utterly amazing it tastes and how quick it is to create. Adding ginger gives it the cleansing kick as well as being easy to digest and wets the appetite – making you want it more, thus eating more goodness from the stock and consuming the vegetable intake.
When someone is ill, congee is what you’re given as it is light and full of the good stuff from real ingredients made from scratch. You’d want your body to concentrate on healing and not digesting – so these congees will have less fibrous content and may just be ginger and chicken or pork and a little sprinkling of herbs – even when you’re poorly there is no compromise on flavour. Vietnamese people never ever compromise on flavour!
Here is my recipe of sea bass, kale, ginger and dill in The Observer Food Monthly (with other recipes from my food heroes: Nigel Slater, Angela Hartnett, Tom Kerridge, Ottolenghi…). You can also find some other congee recipes in my book, My Vietnamese Kitchen.
What the heck! I am in an M&S video looking like I belong in a Vermeer painting. They asked me to source 100kg of pinot noir grapes at a time when they had not even budded in the northern hemisphere or they went out of season in the southern. I called everywhere but in the end when I had to say, no can do, I found 100kg of some other wine grapes and we were able to shoot the commercial where I got to crush grapes with my hands and feet.
(photos with me in are by Jenny Brown, otherwise taken by me)
You can see it here, spot me if you can (haha!)
We shot in Limehouse, inside the beautiful decrepit interiors and home of the famous pub called The George Tavern. The Art Director was amazing, she had so many stunning props to create another world in another time. All I did was looking after grapes and my hands in costume. Had such a fun day. It was the first time I had worked with M&S which lead me to Adventures In Food.
I have been so busy all throughout summer, working as a food stylist for film and stills. One of my favourite briefs were from Marks & Spencer (one of a food stylist’s dream client) to work with Hemsley & Hemsley, Eat Like a Girl & Deliciously Ella for their campaign Adventures In Food.
We shoot in three different locations, one being a beautiful modern loft in Clapton, a worn down studio haven that we turned into Mexico in Hackney and a wrecked coast guard shed along The Thames.
Wow, it was a full on big crew like you get in for the movies with full lights, cameras, make up artists, production assistants, directors and us, the food stylists.
I work with my right hand assistant Jenny who is there for every need, thinks streets ahead of everyone else and works so hard with me to get everything perfect for every shot.
It was fun to create some of the recipes and test them out before the shoot too.
But the most fun was being on set with a team who became a little bit like family. We all ate together, joked around and helped each other out whenever we could which was so lovely. I do miss them when we are not shooting.
Food styling for film is a lot different from food styling for photography. In film work, there are different things to consider because its not a still life. For instance, preparing for every need that the recipe requires down to a tiny tee; continuity for retakes; styling actions and doing them over and over until its right or you’ve ran out of ingredients.
I loved working with Hemsley & Hemsley, they were such down to earth hard working but fun and charismatic women who are beautiful! And I am so pleased to be continuing with them on their whirlwind world domination.
Here is the video for Hemsley & Hemsley
Hope you enjoy my video on how to make summer rolls! x
Photography by Jenny Brown
I have been really truly busy this summer. One minute I’m covered, splashed in the face, white, painting the ceiling of my new kitchen; the next I am desperately trying to source 100kg of pinot noir grapes 4 months out of season (for a commercial); I got dressed up as though I was in a Vermeer painting (for a commercial); styling at least 50 dishes in one day for a Christmas ad; holding a yard sale on my street and shifting a piano – “girl-where-you-get-your-strength-from?” said a onlooker… Well I have been wanting to truly pass out these few months on the beach but in the midst of it, while in pre-production, I rode a lovely 4 hour trip to Oxford to Alex James’s farm with Jenny my assistant and best bud Aggie to make the starter for the supper club at The Big Feastival and there, a fluke of luck, I met with Jamie Oliver.
After demo-ing a few summer rolls to the lovely chefs at Jamie’s Fifteen, who then took charge and made 60 rolls for the guests at the Feastival Supper Club – all in aid of The Jamie Oliver Foundation, I was bursting for a drink and dived towards the fridge where Jamie’s back was facing me. I had no idea he was there but he kindly introduced himself, thinking, who is this person raiding my drinks? I had to trigger his memory a little but he remembered filming with me years
I am a lucky girl in all sorts of ways. I’ve been supplied with fresh organic fruit and vegetables from Wholegood throughout the summer and its given me so many opportunities to test out new recipes and play around with the best ingredients around. They have supplied plenty of beautiful ingredients for my supper club and cooking classes as well! The fruit and vegetables from here are gorgeous and the flavours are explosive. Carrots taste like carrots, you get the drift!
Wholegood are an organic fruit and vegetable wholesaler delivering to some of the UK’s finest retailers and caterers – but they also supply via Ocado and you can order a seasonal veggie box to your doorstep and let your creative senses lead the way.
I will be writing recipes for their boxes very soon too.