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Caroline Irby

An interview with Thomasina Miers

27 May 2017 Will Rathbone

Thomasina Miers has had a life-long relationship with food. She spent the first part of her career in various jobs – from journalism to digital consultancy – before an epiphany, a trip to Mexico and a Masterchef victory led to her opening Wahaca in 2007. Now a columnist for The Guardian, with six books under her belt, she is preparing for the launch of the seventh – Home Cook – by leading a cooking demonstration at Balham Literary Festival. We spoke to her about her new book, how to re-connect with food and her commitment to sustainability.

London Calling: Please may you start by telling us a little bit about your new book?
 
Thomasina Miers: My friends call my food ‘soul food’ because it makes you feel good both physically and mentally - it nourishes you. My approach to food is that you embrace all of it; you don’t say no to anything.
 
I’m trying to get people back in the kitchen, so there’s lots of really easy stuff for midweek suppers. For example, say you invest in a loaf of sourdough – that can be a complete meal. Just take some braised chard – or purple-sprouting broccoli, or summer veg that ‘s thrown in the oven – and have it on toast with a fried egg. It’s simple stuff but used in really exciting ways. If the food’s so complicated you can’t cook it you’ve kind of failed.
 
There are hints and tips on how you can speed up cooking; how you can get store-cupboard ingredients to help you out; how you can use your freezer more. Every single recipe in the book has a tip on how to use the leftovers, or an ingredient you’ve already used, so you’re not buying masses of stuff.


Image Credit: Caroline Irby
 
LC: What advice would you give to people who have busy jobs but want to cook more and eat healthily? Sometimes cooking can seem like something that people just don’t have time for.
 
TM: I think it’s really interesting that people are so obsessed with healthy food at the moment – almost to the point of neuroses. “You shouldn’t eat this; you shouldn’t eat that; cut out this; cut out that” - all these rules! If you just cook a bit more, with raw ingredients, your food is so much healthier.
 
It’s about re-connecting with food, and re-connecting with your friends. Just by cooking you’re feeding your soul because you’re taking a step out of your everyday rush. Get into the kitchen, relax, turn on the radio and let yourself step out of your day by spending a bit of time preparing your food. Not too much time! Cook more, yes, but don’t spend hours in the kitchen – especially midweek. At the weekend you can enjoy yourself more.
 
The best times in life are spent around a kitchen table with the people you love. When I get together with my mates I take short cuts all the time - I might make quince jam when it’s in season, and then I’ll just put some on the table with a few cheeses for pudding. Or I might buy some vanilla ice cream, but drizzle over homemade chocolate sauce – then everyone feels special; everyone feels looked after.


Image courtesy of Caroline Irby
 
LC: You’ve made a big commitment to sustainability – is this something you’ve always felt strongly about?
 
TM: Yes – always; always; always. Even growing up, when I was five or six, it felt really important! I got upset by species dying out; global warming; rainforests being cut down - rainfall is completely governed by rainforests, so the more we cut down the more drought and flooding we’re going to have.
 
When we started Wahaca it was really important for us that we thought about these things and weaved them into our business model. We recycled our food waste from the word go – we were one of the first restaurants in London to do that – and we only ever work with sustainable seafood. It’s even in the design and build of every restaurant. We no longer have water boilers in some of our new sites because the hot air from the fridges and freezers is channelled out to then heat up the water in our taps. We’re zero-landfill, and we’re offsetting our carbon emissions – we’re carbon neutral now – by supporting projects in Mexico.
 
I think all that stuff is important even though you’re a growing company. Looking back at what we’ve accomplished over the last 10 years is really exciting. People talk about us being a chain but we’re still an independent business - we’re just a bit larger than the one independent shop on the high street. We’re exactly the same people – the same board, the same shareholders – as when we started. We’re in it for the long term and we’re not profit-driven. Obviously you want to make money so you can pay your people fairly, but essentially we do a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t be able to do if we were owned by venture capitalists. We’re not like that – we’re still independent and we care passionately about our food.


Image courtesy of Caroline Irby
 
LC: Can you recommend us some of your favourite London restaurants?
 
TM: Yeah! I love Hoppers, in Soho, which is Sri Lankan food. Palatino – Italian food – is delicious and has just opened in Clerkenwell. I’m going to eat at Six Portland Road next week, which apparently is delicious. I love Pidgin in Hackney. There’s so much great food out there! Lyle’s is incredible; I love the guys behind The Clove Club. There are lots of little neighbourhood places that I love as well. We’re in Queen’s Park, so we’ve got the The Dock Kitchen right by us and Hereford Road is yummy – that’s a proper neighbourhood place. East London is full of them, and there’s loads popping up all over South London as well.
 
LC: What are your other cultural highlights at the moment?
 
TM: I thought Hockney at Tate Britain was incredible, and Hedda Gabler at The National was brilliant. I went and saw Moonlight – it’s the first film I’ve seen at the movies for about a year – and I thought it was breathtaking, exactly the kind of film to see on the big screen. The cinematography was incredible – and the soundtrack! It was epic. I listen to Cerys Matthews on 6Music – she’s got great taste. The Good Life Experience festival, which she curates, is also amazing. I’m doing a Campfire Cooking Session there.
 
Thomasina Miers is talking and cooking at The Ballroom, Bedford, as part of Balham Literary Festival on June 8 at 7pm. Tickets are £10, or £25 with a copy of Home Cook.
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