Tag Archives: Food

Interview with Alex Hely-Hutchinson of 26 Grains

Alex Hely-HutchinsonI meet Alex Hely-Hutchinson in the Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden where the 25-year-old entrepreneur opened her first 26 Grains café. It is a temporary venue but it’s impossible to imagine a better location for a health food joint, cooking up fresh porridge from a variety of grains, milks and scrumptious toppings: oats with hazelnut butter and almond milk, summer berry smoothie bowl with granola and bee pollen or tomato, coconut, avocado and halloumi brown rice bowl for a savoury tooth. It’s the middle of the afternoon but the café is busy. I notice the customers like taking pictures of their bowls – they are indeed the prettiest bowls of breakfast staple I’ve ever seen in what’s swiftly becoming London’s porridge mecca.


I ask Alex what inspired her to set up 26 Grains. Alex studied Economics at Trinity, Dublin. Students were encouraged to spend a year abroad, and she chose to go to Denmark. Alex fell in love with the Danish lifestyle, food, Copenhagen’s sense of community and the concept of hygge, meaning “cosyness”, “comfort”, “camaraderie”. She experienced it first hand in Danish cafés where friends meet to enjoy steamy bowls of porridge cooked with various grains and always topped with spices, nuts, berries or fruit compote with unapologetic flare. What a contrast with boring “oats, milk and sugar” combination Alex was used to at home!

Back in Britain, Alex spent the summer working with Jenny Dawson and her social enterprise Rubies in the Rubble making chutneys from discarded fruit and vegetables from London’s wholesale markets. After graduation Alex got a job with a health food brand Rude Health helping founders with PR and communications. The experience at food start-ups helped her make up her mind to launch a venture of her own.

“There is a great sense of community among women working in food from entrepreneurs to bloggers to women who simply love food and help spread the word about new projects”, says Alex. She started with pop-ups offering 26 Grains at independent cafés and other venues, catering for events before opening her first own shop in Neal’s Yard in June 2015.

“If there is something I’ve learned in the 11 months prior to opening my own store is that things don’t all happen at once. Everything takes time.”

Her patience paid off: even at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, customers flock to 26 Grains for a bowl of porridge. Alex is already masterminding next steps: improve brand awareness, write and publish a book of 26 Grains recipes, launch a retail product, perhaps. “My priorities right now are quality and consistency”, says Alex, which makes me think I am interviewing a seasoned businesswoman, wise beyond her age.

I ask Alex what she likes best about her business and she tells me about the relationship with customers. “It’s really humbling to see people making time for a freshly made bowl of porridge in the morning. They don’t mind waiting and we like chatting to them.” It’s hygge again, a sense of community Alex is determined to ingrain in London.

I also try to probe into the challenges she has encountered as a budding entrepreneur. “I am inherently bossy by nature so I sometimes find it hard to let go and let my team get on with their jobs. But it’s been a learning experience, I reckon I am a better boss now.” Alex also confessed that she found it hard to be on her own. “Sometimes I think it would be good to have another person who is similarly invested in the business and has the same vision for it. There is so much to do like being the face of the brand, speaking to the builder or a supplier, being an employer and thinking ahead that I wish there was someone I could share all these responsibilities with.” Luckily, Alex knows a lot of people her age who have similarly started their own businesses. “Apart from my family, there is a lot of support through shared experience among my peers.”

We talk about women in business and Alex says that she tends to consider everything twice before making a decision, while a man would just go with a hunch. Sometimes it feels to her as a waste of time; “I wish I just bit the bullet”, but on other occasions it pays to take time and weigh all options. “Ultimately, running your own business is the best school and the most rewarding experience whether you get it the first time or not.”

What is your greatest achievement? Probably seeing a customer coming back – it’s a really special experience to see someone return for another bowl of porridge because they liked it the first time. I also served about 250 bowls of porridge to people who slept rough last November to raise money for Centrepoint [UK’s leading charity for homeless young people].

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Do it the way you want the first time. Stop doubting yourself, stop making lists, just go for it.

What are you good at? I don’t know… I am good at sweeping the floor! Oh and I can guess what a customer will order from how they look.

What is your weakness? I am not so good at pulling the trigger when making decisions.

What would you do, if you knew you would not fail? I’d become a popstar! (Laughing) No, I’d do something to engage children in cooking and appreciating healthy, wholesome food.

To find out more about Alex and 26 Grains, please visit www.26grains.com

Interview with Jane Olphert, founder of Haleo, making the world a healthier place

About a year ago I offered subscribers to www.lifetonic.co.uk to meet me for a coffee and use me as a sounding board for their business ideas. This is how I met Jane Olphert and got to hear her incredible, inspiring story. We have kept in touch since, and finally I get to share Jane’s story with you to celebrate the launch of her website: www.haleo.co.uk!

Please visit Jane’s website and sign up to her newsletter for diet and lifestyle tips, spread the word about the healing properties of vegetable foods and ideas for making the world a healthier place.

Sarah McCready on cooking and challenging herself

Sarah McCreadyThe final of Masterchef was a feast for the eye: the last three produced incredibly sophisticated food, one would expect to be served at a Michelin star restaurant. While the finalists’ plates looked stunning, personally, I craved something else on a Friday night: a bowl of chili with guacamole and homemade nachos another Masterchef contestant had produced on the show earlier. Sarah McCready had been highly praised for her inventive and always delicious creations, before leaving the Masterchef kitchen at semi finals. 24-year-old Sarah was one of 40 contestants on the live show, picked from a total of 4,000 applicants. She made it to the final six. Inspired by her food philosophy and success, I’ve met with her for a chat. Here is Sarah’s story.

Sarah studied History at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford and ‘fell into’ the property development industry after university. After a break-up with her boyfriend, she decided to pick herself up by applying to Masterchef.

“I am competitive, I love cooking and I tend to put myself forward for things before worrying about them later,” says Sarah, laughing.

Unlike other TV contests, Masterchef is all about testing yourself, learning new things and getting better at cooking. Sarah found herself completely consumed by the show, dreaming about food, constantly inventing new recipes and spending hours flicking through cookery books. “For about two months, Masterchef took over my life.”

If you give something a go, you are likely to come away with a valuable experience and learn something about yourself too. Sarah learned that professional kitchens aren’t really built for women: try lifting a heavy pan or grabbing a pot from a top shelf in a hot kitchen during a busy service. While some women love professional kitchens and are happy in their environment, Sarah discovered that she was most comfortable in a different ambience.

“I love party food, street food, comfort food dinners and food with a sense of humour. I like surprising my guests and making eating a fun experience.”

Her creations on Masterchef certainly had that oomph: Polish pirogi, Mexican street food, paella balls and egg raviolo were adventurous, creative and fun.

Meeting Sarah made me realise that for her Masterchef was just another challenge, an experience to test her culinary skills and boost her confidence. She has always been a high achiever: she was the first pupil to get into Oxford from her school. As a graduate, she got a job at Dorchester Living, a property development company, where she helped open a free school for a newly built community. Sarah was recently promoted to look after a new housing association, a huge challenge she is happy to take on.

A young woman who is bold and likes pushing herself makes my heart sing. She also makes me laugh: apparently, Sarah’s mum and nan finally allowed her to cook family Christmas dinner after her culinary skills had been vetted by John and Gregg (last Mastershef series were filmed in autumn). I am convinced that whatever this woman pursues next, she’ll do it well and her passion will shine through. I only hope that Sarah takes on a food-related project next: her own deli perhaps or a new product range? Let’s wish her well!

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Stop being obsessed with things that aren’t important (looks, boys, stuff…).

What are you good at? I’m a good friend, I am good at my job and I know how to push myself. [Sadly, Sarah forgot to mention she was good at cooking so I had to remind her!]

What is your greatest achievement? Getting into Oxford is still pretty high on my list of achievements. I am also proud of setting up a new school in North Oxfordshire. And, of course, I am chuffed to have made the final six on Masterchef!

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? I’d launch my own business: something entrepreneurial and to do with food!

Who inspires you? Thomasina Miers. I still can’t believe that I cooked for her – she was the first winner of Masterchef and I love her food at Wahaca.

What’s your favourite recipe? Recipes are tricky. If a recipe tells you how much chilli or ginger you should be adding to your dish, then you aren’t really developing your own palette. When I write recipes for my blog, I try to avoid giving instructions that are too precise. My favourite ‘posh’ recipe is the desert I cooked on Masterchef: rose petal and cherry pirogi, poppy seed and cherry cake, sour cream and lemon thyme sorbet and milk skin crisps, inspired by my Polish roots. Otherwise, I really like rice. I often cook risotto, egg-fried rice or rice pudding.

Sarah McCready has a food blog where she shares her recipes. You can also follow Sarah on Twitter.

Alla Ouvarova, co-founder of Two Chicks, mother and athlete

I meet Alla Ouvarova for lunch in Soho’s Café Boheme. As you would expect from a healthy diet evangelist, Alla, co-founder of the liquid egg white brand Two Chicks, looks lean and fit. She tells me about her morning run (14 miles) before the conversation turns to business. In the afternoon Alla and her business partner Anna Richey have a board meeting to discuss the launch of a new product, Chirps, egg white crisps. As a seasoned entrepreneur who launched  Two Chicks in 2006, Alla talks new product launch strategy, marketing and PR with such confidence that it would be worth packaging and pitching that to Selfridges as well.

In search of a better life… In 1991, when I was 10, my family moved to London from St. Petersburg in Russia. My father was a former professional player who started teaching tennis in Regent’s Park. He worked every day of the week, never taking time off, to support us and build a better life for us in Britain.

I really liked maths… It is fair to say that Russian, Eastern European and Asian students always choose to study Economics, Business, Engineering, rather than arts. I studied Economics at University College London and thought about a career in banking, when my friend Anna came up with an idea and offered me to start a business together.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel… Anna spent three months in LA and got hooked on egg-white omelettes. Egg white is fat free, cholesterol free, low in carbs and is an excellent source of protein. Many baking treats, such as meringues and macaroons, require separation of egg whites from egg yolks, yet back in 2006 you could not buy a carton of egg whites at a supermarket. Anna’s idea was simple: package free-range egg white into an easy-pour carton and market it to health-conscious consumers and bakers. Two Chicks was born.

Two Chicks

Anna Richey (left) and Alla Ouvarova (right)

On friendship and entrepreneurship… It is absolutely brilliant to work with your best friend! At the outset we recognised that we have different strengths, so we divided work accordingly.  When we started, I was responsible for finance and logistics, and Anna took on sales and marketing. As our business grows, we are both responsible for the overall strategy, so it helps to bounce ideas off each other and discuss matters with a person you trust.

Passion or spotting the gap in the market? The whole premise of Two Chicks was about the gap we have spotted in the market, but both Anna and I have always been interested in health and nutrition, which makes it a natural business area to be working in. I love sport, I play tennis, I run and I love racing. I need to make sure I eat enough protein, so both the liquid egg white I use for protein shakes and the egg white snacks (Chirps) are very much part of my lifestyle.

2014 Natwest everywoman National Awards.      Alla Tough Mudder

On balance and being a mother…  Keeping things in balance is difficult, as I am always running from one thing to another. I try to exercise 4-5 times a week and also find as much time as possible for my son Zac, who is six. Running my own business means I can pick Zac from school myself on occasion, then do some more work when he is asleep. I teach him tennis and golf, we go skiing together – I am lucky that he is passionate about sport as much as I am!

On Ladies Who Impress and role models… I really enjoyed listening to Susan Ma’s story at the November 2014 event. Perhaps it’s because I can relate to her story well, having immigrated to Britain myself and being an entrepreneur. To be honest, all the stories shared on the Ladies Who Impress website are fascinating: what an inspiration to read about women taking on challenges and achieving something great.

Other than that, Margaret Thatcher was a particularly strong role model for me and many other women, who grew up in Russia.

 Favourite quote… “Well behaved women seldom make history.” Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Sarit Packer, restaurateur at Honey & Co.

SaritSarit Packer was born in Israel to British parents. She has been cooking all her life, and it was during her military service in Israel that she decided she wanted to study to become a chef. Sarit studied in London and worked at a number of top-notch restaurants, including Orrery in Marylebone.

“I don’t know if you realise but a junior chef typically works sixteen hours a day and earns very little. I was working at that prestigious restaurant but could barely afford rent and beans on toast.”

Sarit decided to move to Israel, which is where she met her husband Itamar. Together they travelled to London and worked at J Sheekey, the Oxo Tower Restaurant and Ottolenghi. Sarit worked mostly with pastry. At Ottolenghi she developed a range of cakes, bakes and puddings before being offered a role to open Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi’s first ‘proper’ restaurant. It gave her a first-hand experience of what it involved.

Sarit and Itamar were hoping to open their own place, cook food they are passionate about and work for themselves. Of course, it takes more than just an idea to make it happen.

“Nobody knew who we were. We put offers on restaurants, but got rejected.”

It took them two years to find a place. They walked into Fitzrovia and found a big deli with orange walls and a giant display fridge. Aesthetics aside, the deli had an almost functioning kitchen, large front windows, and the Warren Street neighbourhood had a nice feel about it.

London foodies can no doubt help me complete the story. Itamar and Sarit opened Honey & Co, a tiny restaurant serving scrumptious Middle Eastern food and offering a daily selection of irresistible cakes. Their food is adored by both punters and professional critics. Together Sarit and Itamar have written and published a book of Honey & Co recipesHoney & Co

Talking to Sarit, I am beginning to understand the secret of their success.

“Many restaurant kitchens are completely disconnected from the customers. We wanted to reverse that. Itamar often helps with the service, he chats to the customers and we take their feedback on board. We have plenty of regulars who keep coming back and spreading the word about us.”

Opening Honey & Co was a challenge Sarit always wanted. Often employers put their team members into a particular box, be it patisserie or ‘the numbers’ and neglect the fact that their employees are not challenged anymore and aren’t developing other talents they may have. Setting up on their own was a gamble, but it has been an exhilarating adventure and it paid off.

I also asked Sarit what it was like to be working with her husband.

“We have always been working together. As a chef, I would probably be seeing very little of my husband if we weren’t in the kitchen together. We have the same passion about food, our Middle Eastern roots and the community. We travel together, getting inspiration from different food cultures, we come up with new ideas together, and I would not have it any other way.”

If you live in London, you absolutely must pop into Honey & Co. If you mention Ladies Who Impress, they may even cut you a bigger cake slice (I’ve just made it up but do give it a go).

Interview with Kimberley Wilson of Great British Bake Off

I interviewed Kimberley Wilson in April 2014 at the Ladies Who Impress celebration, Confidence. The podcast interview reveals how Kimberley fell in love with baking, what fuels her passion and  the importance of balance. Kimberley talks about her work as a council psychologist and plans for the future.

Finally, Kimberley shares her ideas on how to boost confidence. My favourite quote is towards the end – a brilliant piece of advice on how to keep things in perspective…


The talented Abby Chicken

Long before Abby Chicken attended a talk by Roman Krznaric on How To Find Fulfilling Work, she began to suspect that a ‘high achiever’ career path wasn’t for her. Abby is someone Krznaric would describe as a ‘wide achiever’, because she decided that being good at just one thing isn’t fun enough.

Abby read English at Oxford University, travelled for a year with a camera around her neck and did a couple of internships in film and the charity sector before coming across the Waitrose graduate scheme.

“Fundraising and making conservation films was great, but the Waitrose opportunity was compelling: I love their brand, its ethos and I’ve always been passionate about food.”

Abby has been with Waitrose for 8 years now, managing retail stores. She was singlehandedly responsible for organising picnic hampers for over 1,000 guests at the Buckingham Palace celebration of the 60th anniversary of the coronation in summer 2013.

In parallel, she works as a photographer, shooting at weddings and corporate events.

“I thought about working as a photographer full-time, but I love the variety of my work and the ability to choose projects I take on rather than having to say ‘yes’ to everything.”

Once a week you’ll find Abby at the British Library, mentoring Shannon, an 18-year-old from Enfield, studying for A levels and hoping to get into Reading University. Abby is volunteering for The Access Project, helping state school students improve their grades and get into top universities. “Last week we were reading Carol Ann Duffy’s Medusa and chatting about feminism.”

Back in 2012 Abby organised an LGBT network at John Lewis called Pride in the Partnership or PiPs, as it is affectionately known among its members. The idea is to provide mentoring, support and networking opportunities for John Lewis staff nationwide. PiPs has grown to 400 members today. It is no surprise that Abby was elected as a professional representative member of the Community Advisory Board of Pride in London.

If you love food, literature and photography, thrive in both creative and corporate environments, it is apparently possible to learn how to juggle and, ultimately, have it all.

Food for Thought with Anna Hansen, Simone Cunliffe and Kristie Walker

On 27 February 2013 about 100 women gathered in a warehouse art gallery in Angel to celebrate Ladies Who Impress.

This time we met Anna Hansen, a culinary artist and possibly the most creative chef in London, Simone Cunliffe, a lady who had successfully swapped her career in financial services to start a private catering business and Kristie Walker, a nutritionist and a young mum, running a fitness and lifestyle business together with her husband.

The foodies among us were delighted to get some inspiration from the experts, and there was plenty of Food for Thought to contemplate ways to achieve balanced nutrition and lifestyle.

The evening raised £1,000 (including Simone’s Kitchen Secrets sales) for Huntington’s Disease Association, which is a fantastic achievement.

Photos: Natalie Walter, natalie@exposurelive.co.uk

Here are a few inspirations from the evening…

Anna Hansen talked about her cooking philosophy which combines ingredients of completely different origins and deliberately creates dishes which push the boundaries, surprise, excite and please the palate.

We’ve discovered that tamarillo aka tree tomato is a fruit of South American origin. According to Anna, it tastes best when poached in spiced red wine and served with Greek yogurt and crunchy granola. For this and other sensational treats, book a table at The Modern Pantry.

And don’t forget to check out Anna’s cookbook: her recipes will intrigue, seduce, then delight you. I’d start with cocoa, cardamom and macadamia nut cookies… 

Anna reckons that paella is the ultimate dinner party winner as it’s really scrumptious, its components can be prepared in advance and you can really impress your guests finishing cooking this vibrant dish on the night. Why not cook paella this Easter? That’s what they do in Argentina…

I am fortunate to be able to call Simone Cunliffe my friend, and she is my first and foremost Lady Who Impresses. Simone is talented, kind, generous and super adventurous – all of these qualities are wonderfully reflected in her book Simone’s Kitchen Secrets. Whilst I have not yet cooked through the entire book, my favourite dishes so far are miso braised pork cheeks and grilled chicken with za’atar and sumac. Don’t be put off by Anna’s and Simone’s exotic ingredients – they are easily available from good online grocers.

If you did not get a chance to get a copy of Simone’s Kitchen Secrets on the night or would like to enquire about Simone’s private catering services, please email her directly.

Simone’s ultimate secret is to enjoy an active lifestyle (which may or may not involve kettlebells), to look at the bright side of life and to make the most of it.

Kristie Walker somehow manages to run a business, look after her family and find time to compete. (Guess who took home a gold medal in her category in 2011 World Kettlebell Championship in New York?) Interestingly, by her own admission, once she loosened the grip on herself, she achieved most through balanced lifestyle.

In fact, lifestyle comes pretty key in Kristie’s unorthodox approach to nutrition consulting. Apparently, you may be eating well and exercising plenty but still be overweight just because of various sources of stress in your life.

Kristie advised against toast with margarine or oats for breakfast advocating natural, unprocessed food as the best way to deliver essential combination of nutrients to your body in the morning. Natural yogurt with seeds and berries or eggs, such as Anna Hansen’s sugar-cured prawn omelette, do a much better job of balancing carbs and protein as well as stabilising blood sugar and energy levels. She also advised against anything “low fat” preferring food as nature intended. Once again, it’s all about balance; 80/20 is a good rule to follow when it comes to healthy food and occasional treats.

For information on personal training and nutrition with Kristie, see www.theurbanathlete.co.

P.S. In case you are curious, on the night we were listening to a playlist of songs containing a food item in their titles. My favourite tunes were Tangerine by First Aid Kit, Chocolate by Snow Patrol, Cherry Pie by Katzenjammer and Coffee & Cigarettes by Michelle Featherstone although none of these are recommended as balanced breakfast options!

Emotional relationship with food

Dark chocolate with wasabiI am a foodie. I live to eat. I love food so much I’d spend an hour walking the streets of Lucca in the rain looking for a place that looks just right and offers the best orecchiette al ragu. And food is my ultimate comfort: I’d frequently polish off an entire bag of cashew nuts as I am dealing with a stressful issue at work and then console myself with a chocolate bar on a rainy day. This Valentine’s Day it was a dark chocolate Lindt with wasabi… Yes, well, at least it was pure dark chocolate!

So it’s the emotional relationship with food that I’d like to explore here. And I don’t mean it’s necessarily a bad thing either. Food is something so intimately linked with family traditions that the first emotion that springs to mind is love. My grandmother used to make this sweet salad for me grating carrots very finely by hand, adding mixed nuts, raisins and chopped dried apricots, then letting it all soak up a bit before serving this delicious simple treat I now frequently make myself, grating carrots more coarsely and usually using  a food processor… But this salad will always be associated for me with my grandmother, who was grating carrots for her granddaughter at the age of 80 with all her love and affection. Continue reading