Throughout my life, food has been the defining characteristic. Beyond the daily rotation of ingestion, whatever work I turn my hand to and regardless of the spills, scrapes or serenity that are littering my personal life, my world always turns once more, unto food.
Starting with the prized lick of the mixing spoon from one of my mother’s cake mixing bowls, a delicacy to be savoured or the secret biscuit barrel at Aunt Mid’s. As a teenage rowing champ my diet consisted of ‘all you can eat’ and no holds barred as the calorific exchange from 12 training sessions a week left no food too energy-laden or out of reach, eating until stuffed was the order of the day. In my late teens, I worked in propped-up hotel bars, restaurants with awkward guests and even more awkward staff, backed by kitchens with alcoholic chefs, flying cookware and ice cream fights; these were places filled with bravado and anarchy which nurtured a love for the boisterous creation of food.
…kitchens with alcoholic chefs, flying cookware and ice cream fights; these were places filled with bravado and anarchy which nurtured a love for the boisterous creation of food.
When studying Industrial Design at university, project briefs allowed room for food to become the focus, hence I created a fantastical device which launched sugar cubes into the air before landing in your mug to impress guests. Further foodie creations were a large pneumatic machine which re-corked wine bottles and a clever device which froze water into an ice cube in just sixty seconds. My friends and I were renowned for our fine cooking in halls, we would hunt yellow stickers in the supermarket and then transfer the little sticker to a fillet steak, we ate handsomely for students. Termly trips to Wing Yip harvested sackfuls of garlic, onions, rice and noodles alongside exotic sauces and our favourite bao.
Latterly, in 2010, the design and print company which I co-founded moved to larger premises. My business partner asked what I looked forward to most from the move?
“Having a proper kitchen” was my reply — food came first.
In recent years, everything I focussed on became explicitly about food. A food blogger, food photographer, food writer and food policy student, the stories, spirit and camaraderie that drive me are ensconced in stories about food and inform everything that I create. I couldn’t be happier.
It never made sense in the past, I often looked back at my life and viewed a tangled passage of misdirection, wondering how leaping from hospitality to product design would ever make sense, or from graphics to food blogging. In his famous 2005 Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs stated “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards” and there’s huge wisdom in that statement. Whenever food appeared in my professional life, it informed me somehow and propelled me forwards, despite not making sense at the time.
Waiting in a restaurant is a perfect example, I hated this work, my subversive streak wanted to disrupt, rather than blindly assent to the whims of the customer or manager. In the kitchen, the raucous insanity of cheffing was an addictive environment, which was the exact same reason that I wouldn’t commit to it as a career, it looked like a road to highly stressful conditions and burn-out.
…my subversive streak wanted to disrupt, rather than blindly assent to the whims of the customer or manager. In the kitchen, the raucous insanity of cheffing was an addictive environment, which was the exact same reason that I wouldn’t commit to it as a career…
Hence, a career in hospitality was vetoed before my mid twenties, trading the pass and silver service for design studios and cameras. In product design, building crazy food machines was an exciting technological flourish to demonstrate my ability for the benefit of my tutors, I had little desire to continue designing food-related machines after uni, so I designed music awards, then graphics, finally settling in my own business.
Providing food for those close to me became a driving force, I have a desire to provide food which piques people’s interest, something oblique or unobvious. In the intervening years between leaving the hospitality world and beginning blogging, I forged a strong identity with food, always being known as the one who could cook well.
I love showing people a new food for the first time, guests for dinner would provide an opportunity to show-off and create something incredible. At home I became the cook, doing all the shopping and cooking for my girlfriend and I. Meanwhile, in the raucous parts of my lifestyle there were petrol-fuelled BBQs, impromptu bake-offs at 4am or a drunken lesson in cooking light and cripsy calamari where the student was too drunk to ever remember. It may not have been healthy, but it sure was fun.
-…petrol-fuelled BBQs, impromptu bake-offs at 4am or a drunken lesson in cooking light and cripsy calamari where the student was probably too drunk to ever remember.
Through all of this, I could never see where I was going. I thought food was gone from my professional life, to become just a hobby and little more. I thought the food industry as I knew it — cooking and serving food — was gone forever.
Meanwhile, all over the world, people are wondering what their next meal is — not because necessarily because they’re in poverty, but simply because food is vital to our survival, it’s an ongoing consideration. That may bring joy or fear, calm or anxiety, each of our feelings around food are as individual as our personalities. Food comforts me, its abundance has a calming effect, I like to know there’s a stock of food lining my shelves and a freezer full of home-cooked, portion-packed meals.
The first error was assuming that the world of food is limited to those who make, serve and sell the stuff. The industry is infinitely wider-reaching than cooking and service, a fact which I was ignorant of for many years. Farmers and supermarkets seemed like ancillary parts to the process of cooking, and ‘Big Food’ was an unknown place, all I considered was the next thing that I would put in my mouth.
There’s also a world of people who spend their professional lives thinking about food every day. They write about it, discuss it and help create a society which can facilitate it. This is the knowledge economy of food and it’s a big place which sat outside of my most elaborate ideas about growing, packaging, cooking and selling. I was naive.
Restaurant critics, bloggers, politicians, academics, charities, public figures and businesses of all sizes are pre-occupied with one thing; informing and providing ideas about food in a way that they feel is best for everyone. They all believe in food and have devoted their lives to serving people.
It never gets boring. Some days, writing about food is so exciting that I run to the loo and back, not wanting to miss a moment.
This knowledge of food is the area which excites me more than anything else — thinking about it, then translating those thoughts into words. Writing about food is something I can do all day, I can sit, think, type, read and edit with pure joy and excitement. It never gets boring. Some days, writing about food is so exciting that I run to the loo and back, not wanting to miss a moment.
As I discovered the areas of food which excite me, the dots began to make sense. Everything in the past becomes an influence on the future, not one single job was a dead-end, everything helped me understand the world I live in now, the technology, the visual presentation and the policy. Even the years spent seeing a therapist helped to understand how the world thinks about food. The dots only make sense going backwards.
Now that life is beginning to make sense, I want to commit to writing about food in every way that I possibly can.
One element which drives my passion is experience. The best writing comes after engaging with people; talking, questioning and experiencing new things in life. For all the information and wisdom that sits in text books, online and in magazines, there is little more engaging and fulfilling in life than talking to real people about food.
What happens when a desire to write about food every day meets a desire to experience and talk with people about food in every possible way?
Buy a one-way ticket out of England and travel the world, learning and writing about food in every place that you visit. I’m leaving on 1st October, so I’m going to leave you here and start planning.