Meredith is the food and flavour loving founder of Food At Heart. She set up Food At Heart for people like her who like experimenting with recipes and enjoy great food, but also want to pursue a more conscious way of eating and living. Through Food At Heart and the events she runs, Meredith’s aim is to share the joy and nourishment she has gained from many years of creating and eating good food – and good chocolate.
Carrie: Welcome Meredith! When did you realize food and cooking was your passion?
I’ve always loved cooking. Some of my earliest memories are of baking with my mum and, if I was extra lucky, getting to lick the bowl (that’s not always possible when you’re one of five children). While I was at University I worked part time in a bakery and used to bake a lot at home. The fact that I had quite a few cookery books in my one suitcase when I moved from Australia to the United Kingdom was probably an indication of how important it was to me.
For most of my career, food was my side passion. My previous work covers everything from the music industry to e-commerce. I spent a lot of my spare time going to cookery courses and food events – and cooking in my kitchen at home, of course. I had many business ideas over the years, from making muffins to opening a cafe, plus a half-hearted attempt at a local restaurant blog; I knew that I would eventually end up working in and with food.
Carrie: How did Food at Heart start?
Food At Heart was born out of my desire to do something a little different in food that brought together my love of cooking with a more conscious, slower way of living. The business has evolved a lot since I started a couple of years’ ago – but my belief that cooking and eating well are an important part of happiness and wellbeing have always been central to what I’m doing.
One of the big factors that finally gave me the kick to start my own business was being hit by some digestive issues about 3 years ago. At the worst point I could eat only very plain food and I lost a lot of my joy of eating. I felt pretty hard done by as I’ve always eaten well, cooking from scratch and lots of vegetables. But actually it was a small blessing in disguise. It made me realise that I needed to slow down and make some changes, including a more regular mindfulness practice. It also helped me look at food and tasting in a whole new way: it was crystal clear that I needed to pursue my love of food.
The road hasn’t been a straight one by any means and I travelled a few different routes while setting up Food At Heart. However I knew things felt right when I started running my own workshops. Rather than being straightforward cooking classes, my sessions are more reflective, involving focussed tasting, exploring interesting flavour combinations and creating (and inventing) interesting dishes. And we always eat something that we’ve made in silence for a few minutes. I’m really fascinated by how paying a bit more attention when we eat makes food so much more delicious. Not surprisingly, my most popular session is my chocolate workshop, but as that’s one of my favourite ingredients to taste and cook with, I’m very happy with this.
Carrie: Where/how do you get ideas for your recipes and courses?
I like to create dishes with lots of colour and flavours, particularly spices. Most of my recipes are based on foods I love to eat. I do have lots of cookery books, but I read them more than I cook from them. My recipes mostly come from my own head and playing around with ingredients in the kitchen. I like looking at what I already have and thinking about what I can make. The seasons help guide me: what’s in season often gives me ideas of what to make and I like to think of more unusual ways to add flavours. I also get inspired by travelling to new places and trying new flavours.
My courses are very similar, in that I try and match them to the season. For example, during the winter months, I’ll incorporate soup and hot chocolate, but once things get warmer, salad pops up a lot more. I really like seeing what other interesting workshops people are running, not just food-related ones, and I love going to other people’s classes to get fresh ideas.
Carrie: Can you describe the process you have for creating new recipes?
I try to alternate between sweet and savoury, but I normally start with a pretty clear idea of a main ingredient that I want to focus on. It reflects the time of the year and what’s in season. For example, one of my latest recipes is for a ‘forced rhubarb’ crumble. As we’re in the middle of a chilly winter, I wanted to created something soothing and crumble is one of my favourite desserts – and rhubarb crumble in particular. Forced rhubarb only has a relatively short season so I wanted to make the most of it.
I then think about how I can layer up flavours, like using two types of ginger in my crumble. The next step is to include a little hint of something that’s just a bit unusual, like black pepper with rhubarb. As I spend a lot of time playing with flavours in my classes and at home I have a pretty good sense of what works together, but it’s always fun to keep experimenting and seeing how far you can stretch things. I also make sure I include a mixture of textures and colours in the finished dish. I like to consider all the senses when it comes to tasting.
My recipes always include some additional flavour options or swaps so that readers can then invent their own versions.
Carrie: What strategies do you use to help yourself when you feel “stuck?”
One of the best things I can do when I’m stuck is to cook. I really notice if I’ve had a week with a lot of laptop time; I’m normally itching to get back into the kitchen. This is when working with chocolate is really valuable. When you’re making chocolate you have to be really focussed. If you take your eye off things you can easily lose a batch.
The other thing I do to unstick myself is go out for a walk. I’m not always good at remembering how restorative a walk is. I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful town with lots of woods and muddy fields. It’s easy to get fresh air and a fresh perspective when I have this on my doorstep.
Reading some excellent fiction also helps. I don’t always have time to read as much as I’d like (outside work-related reading), so I really love it when I have the chance to read something new. Having a mini-brain holiday is almost as good as an actual holiday sometimes.
Carrie: How do you know when a recipe is finished?
I guess I never really like to think of recipes as truly finished. There’s always the basic recipe, but then you can tweak things a little depending on the time of the year or what’s in the cupboard. There are some recipes I’ve cooked a hundred times, but even with the same ingredients they can still taste different. There are so many factors that affect taste (not always to do with the food itself).
Sometimes recipes just work the first time, but other times I will have to play around a little to get the taste and balance right. I normally think of a recipe as finished when I taste it and know I’d be happy to give it to someone else to eat.
Carrie: What do you hope people get out of your programs?
I hope people come away with a sense of fun about cooking and food preparation. I want to inspire people to get creative and not just cook from a recipe. Being more intuitive and listening to your ingredients is important: sight, touch, taste and smell are better indicators of something being ready than strictly following recipe instructions.
I also want to help people get more in tune with their different senses when they eat. We’re so often rushing around in life, and this carries over into the way we eat: eating on the go, munching at our desks without paying attention and playing on our phones while we’re at the dinner table. We lose the simple pleasure of taste. Eating is something we have to do every day and it should be something we enjoy. My programmes show that with simple ingredients and interesting flavours anyone can create delicious food. And it’s even more delicious when it’s eaten with attention!
I’m really excited about the launch of my new online programme, The Joy Of Eating. It takes a few of the areas from my workshops, but goes into much more detail. It also gives people the chance to try more things out in the comfort of their own kitchen.
Carrie: What advice do you have for people who are learning a new skill?
Experiment, explore and don’t give up. You won’t be an expert straight away, but you’ll never get close to being an expert if you don’t give things a go and make a few creative mistakes along the way. I’m constantly learning new cooking and business skills, and it’s really exciting when you see (and taste) the fruits of your labour. Even though sometimes it doesn’t really feel like you’re making progress at the beginning, when you look back you’ll see how far you’ve come. And things do get easier.
I’m a fan of working on a mix of skills, including some you know you’ll enjoy and find easy alongside others that aren’t in your natural comfort zone. You can learn from both and they feed each other. It’s also good to learn some skills just for fun, and to have no other purpose than that. We sometimes forget that as adults.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
It’s a bit general, but my books. I get a lot of inspiration from good writers, food and beyond. One of my favourite flavour books is The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, which I go to again and again to consider flavour ideas. I really enjoying books written by people who are creative thinkers, including anything by Helene Hanff (of 84 Charing Cross Road fame) and Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I’m constantly inspired by women working in the food industry who create really interesting businesses in different areas. There are trailblazers, like Alice Waters and Maggie Beer, and lots of exciting younger women doing cool things, like Olia Hercules or Rosie Birkett in London.
There are also a couple of places in London that I know I can always go to be inspired: the Barbican Centre and Soho Theatre. Both host a quirky mix of music, theatre and comedy. I really enjoy seeing what other people create, especially when I have no idea what to expect. I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who has the guts to create something and then put out into the world for public consumption.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
The ability to ponder, experiment and explore – and then put all of this into a concrete creation. There is creative thinking, but I personally think creativity needs to have an end product, whether it’s an incredible search algorithm, a beautiful painting or colourful cake.
Be Creatively Courageous: What is an action you can take today, for your art, that brings you a tiny bit outside your comfort zone? Tell me about it in the comments below.
Additional Contact Info:
The Joy of Eating site with £15 discount (£15 off already applied in the basket)
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Lovely interview, Carrie. Thanks.
You are most welcome Lynn!