About Time You Met: Rachel De ThampleBy Alicia Grimshaw
As part of #ACNourishWeek, we sit down with Rachel de Thample, Head of Food at Abel & Cole. Apart from writing weekly seasonal recipes for Abel & Cole, Rachel has two cookbooks under her belt. We discuss everything from how to uterlise out of date veg to the big plate debate:
You’ve worked in the kitchens of Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal and Peter Gordon – what made you change from chef to recipe writer?
The reasons are many. Firstly, I’m a journalist by trade. When I was a chef, I missed writing. I also missed seeing light of day and quite frankly, having a life. Working as a chef is seriously intense. It’s a hard life. It’s a blessing that chefs are now celebrated because they pour so much energy and emotion into their work. I do miss it sometimes. Would I go back? Possibly. But in the job I have now I have a brilliant balance of being able to cook creatively, write, meet farmers, get my hands in the soil, and shape food policy. It’s really the best of all worlds.
Talk us through the process of creating recipes, where do you start?
I’m most inspired when I’m faced with a pretty empty fridge. I love trying to make something out of nothing, or very little. One of my favourite recipes at the moment is my parsnip and apple mash. I decided to blend raw apple in with the cooked parsnips in place of adding cream, as that’s what I had to hand. It worked so beautifully that I doubt I’ll ever add cream to parsnip mash again.
What does your normal day look like for you?
There’s no such thing as normal in my life. Every day is so different. Typically, I try to have breakfast and watch the news with my son before starting work, as well as a mini yoga practice. Today I was testing recipes for Abel & Cole’s Seasonal Juice and Smoothie Box (banana and coconut milk smoothie with turmeric, carrot cake juice…), plotting a Tudor recipe for our Roast with the Most box to coincide with Shakespeare’s 400th birthday. I wrote a proposal for an Easter Egg kit where you make your own dyes using vegetables, I met with our videographer Fred about filming my 15 min marmalade next week, as well as a School of Veg soup video. I’m now off home to smoke some parsnips (a test recipe for our February mini mag), then bedtime reading with my son. We’ve just finished Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders, which made me cry.
Do you think being a woman in the food industry is a help or a hindrance?
I think it can be a bit of both, especially for women who decide to have children. If you want to be part of your child’s life you can’t be working 16 hour shifts in a restaurant. But there are lots of other options. I started working for Abel & Cole when my son (now 9) was a year old and it was the perfect job. I could work from home most days and much of my work could be served up as breakfast, lunch or dinner.
What’s the best way for people to get more veg in their diets?
I always try to stick to a little formula which guarantees you get at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day: Have a piece of fruit in the morning, two portions of veg for lunch and two with your dinner. If I’m craving something sweet (chocolate) or salty (crisps), I always try to grab a piece of fruit or veg first to ensure I’m not filling up on treats but merely having them as that: a treat.
What’s your favourite seasonal dish to make at the moment?
Parsnips are my absolute favourite thing at the moment. Steamed or smoked (over black tea and vanilla) and then whipped into mash with a raw apple, they’re absolutely heavenly.
People are very passionate about waste at the moment, what’s your best recipe for unused veg?
Saurkraut is a great one for this time of year. Beyond cabbages, you can shred or finely grate root into a nourishing kraut. I could also live off soup and the best flavour combos are always born out of leftover bits and bobs in the fridge. Sprinkle in some spices you’ve been neglecting and there’s magic.
In your opinion, what makes Abel & Cole different to other veg box services on the market?
I’ve been with Abel & Cole for eight years now and I still get really excited about doing my weekly shop with them. There’s always something new, exciting and a little different. A glimpse at the shop I just did will give you a taster and will make you see that we’re doing stuff no one else is. Here’s what I ordered:
• Our fabulous Seasonal Juicing and Smoothie Box (recipes include a watercress, orange, avocado and lime smoothie, a juice made with a rare sweetie variety of grapefruit, pears and ginger and a smoothie made with sweet potato, apples, cardamom and tahini).
• Our new Snacking Box featuring little black tomatoes, blood oranges and carrots along with organic popcorn popped using coconut oil, almonds, pumpkin seeds and unsulfured dried apricots.
• I selected three new recipes from our new Mix and Match Recipe Boxes. The recipe I’m most excited about (created by my colleague Sorrel) is a Sausage and Sage Frittata and Cannellini Bean Salad (a healthy twist on an English Breakfast).
• Bergamot lemons (our Fruit and Veg buyers are currently on a mission to bring us the most exciting things around. Coming up: purple sweet potatoes!).
What’s your secret to making a good Yorkshire pudding?
Tip 1: gently warm your milk before whisking it into the batter. Cold milk = lumpy batter.
Tip 2: let the batter rest while you get your oven and pan super hot.
Tip 3: heat the oil in the pan before adding the batter. If it doesn’t sizzle when you add the batter, it’s not hot enough.
What’s your predictions for food trends this year?
Fermented foods have been on the radar but I think they’ll become more mainstream this year. I also think new products created from food industry waste will come to the fore: things made from whey leftover from cheesemaking (it can be used just like buttermilk in baking). I’m also a big fan of modern cowboy cooking (which is very frugal but delicious and exciting). I’m from Texas and this has really snowballed in popularity across the States, especially in New York. Food from America’s Deep South has been gaining ground so I think we’ll see a bit of this. Look out for things like Chow Chow, a pickle made with green tomatoes and hush puppies (cornbread fritters).
What three items should be always have in our cupboards?
Tinned tomatoes, coconut milk and curry powder. Add them together with some roasted veg and you’ve got a curry.
Plates – do we still need them? How do you feel about serving food on things that aren’t plates?
While I hate eating things off slate – that’s a trend that needs to die, there are some other great alternatives to plates. I went to a book launch where the starter was served on a fig leaf. That was magical.