Melissa Hemsley, Chef + Author
Melissa Hemsley, with her bold, blunt bangs and charming English accent, loves food just as much as us. It's a family affair for her; she and sister Jasmine have been the stylish cooks across the pond, making bone broth and vegetable-forward dishes quite posh for the last several years. Their no-fuss, nutrient-dense attitude towards mealtime led them straight to the spotlight, with a TV show, several (delicious!) cookbooks, and even a cafe inside Selfridges. Melissa is now venturing solo, and released her own cookbook, aptly titled Eat Happy: 30 minute Feelgood Food. Her joy is infectious— as is her passion for making others feel, as she dubs "kitchen-confident." We loved chatting with this bombshell chef, on everything from pantry staples to her self-care musts, to something called "wild swimming." She's teaching us not only what to cook, but how to feel and that makes all the difference.
You have an incredible career story— as a foodie, then landing several book deals with your sister, making it into Selfridges and are now venturing on your own? Take us from the beginning.
Growing up, my Mum always taught me to respect food, never waste anything and how to make a meal out of almost nothing so my love for food and cooking really came from her. She taught the importance of home cooking and eating food that makes you feel good and that is where my passion started. I wanted to make good food accessible for everyone so my sister and I started cooking for people who had busy work schedules in the entertainment industry and demand grew and grew until before we knew it, we had established our own name, sharing our recipes and ethos around the world. I cook because I love how it brings people together in a way that nothing else does. I want to bring the joy back to home cooking and show everyone how satisfying, quick and easy good food can be!
What has your journey been with your body and your relationship to food over the years?
I choose food that tastes delicious and uplifts me and that’s what is always at the heart of my cooking and what I want to share. Healthy to me means treating my body with kindness and eating food that makes me happy, energized and nourished. Eating well is social too so I don’t ever restrict myself when I go out with my friends or to someone's house. I eat what my body wants and usually that is lots of veggies and warming, hearty soups.
Your take on food and your perspective to eat well, simply and with joy, is refreshing. What was the inspiration behind this cookbook?
I’m not a chef and I hate washing up so I was so keen to make a book that requires no skill and minimal washing up. My love for leftovers is also reflected in the book as I really wanted to share my own ethos. The recipes incorporate the parts of the vegetables you would normally throw away and instead show you how to celebrate and make the most of every part!
So many of my friends and loved ones would WhatsApp me about 7pm on their way home on the tube for quick and easy meals that they didn’t need to think much about, that they could get from the shop by the station and get on the table ASAP. I’ve learned that the things that put people off home cooking are lack of time, hard to get ingredients and too much washing up, so I made a cookbook that banished all of those things and made cooking feel good food simple and fuss-free! I love to pack my meals with veg and flavor and have them be uplifting, energizing and nourishing as well as delicious. I know some people steer away from so called 'healthy recipes' because they think they’ll be bland, tricky to make and unsatisfying so I show them that mine are anything but!
EAT HAPPY is feel good food and that’s different for everyone so I had great fun taking inspo from lots of people, putting my spin on the most popular takeaways and comfort foods too.
Food and cooking is obviously a family affair for you... were you and your sister always in the kitchen together, growing up?
We have both been massively influenced by our Mum’s amazing cooking and there’s nothing quite like it. She’s a Filipino Catholic who brought us up on Army bases in the UK and Germany— she must have moved house about 18 times being with my Dad! She’s the queen of leftovers and she’s a practical, no-nonsense cook who cooks for an army every time she cooks, so the kitchen was always a happy, sacred place for us. I was always a lover of making recipes out of anything we had lying around.I have a few of my Mum’s recipes in EAT HAPPY including my favorite tamarind greens and I’m always making the soups she made me as a kid - filipino mung bean stew and tinola with is a really garlicky, gingery broth.
That sounds amazing. What are some English wellness traditions?
Getting together on a Sunday for a big meal with your loved ones - friends, family. It used to be all about a Sunday Roast but now it’s less about the food and more about getting round a table regularly. Young and old, a big feast, a long lazy lunch or dinner, phones away, dogs at your feet. That’s wellness to me!
Often a big Sunday lunch also involves a big walk after and come rain or shine, I make sure I get outside for fresh air and exercise.
These days, though I dislike using the words ‘I’m too busy!”— I am! And so is everyone I know. We try and combine things so we get to hang out as much as possible so I often go and do classes - yoga, dance, something active, with friends.
I’m less keen on this but every year I promise myself to do it as I know I’ll love it and find it so invigorating...but lots of my friends go ‘wild swimming’. They jump in the sea on New Year’s Day!
How does the idea of "food as medicine" resonate with you?
I really listen to my body and figure out what it needs when it comes to food. I eat to make me happy and that changes every single day. Sometimes, all I want is warming soups and that instantly makes me feel happier and other times my body is calling for salads. So, for me, it’s really about paying attention to what my body needs to feel good.
What is it about food that you feel so connected to?
Food brings people together and that’s my absolute favourite thing. I love having people round for cooking classes and seeing how that makes people connect. There’s something really magical about physically creating something with others and all coming together to eat it. There’s also nothing kinder than making someone food when they need a little boost- batch cooking and sharing!
What are the 5 things you have in your fridge, always?
No matter what, I’ve always got my ‘Happiness Balls’ in a glass jar. Perfect for hungry visitors and to take out with you. There’s always a pot of hummus, a jar of dressing that I’ve made out of things that need using up, cooked quinoa and some leftover veggies.
Will you share with us a recipe from the cookbook that you make regularly?
One of my favourites at the moment is my watermelon, griddled avocado, feta salad with olive dressing. Perfect for a BBQ. Another fave is my spiced sticky chickpeas & halloumi with quinoa tabbouleh - I’d eat this for breakfast, packed lunch, take it for a picnic, it’s a great all rounder and so versatile and really gorgeous especially with the black quinoa,
Also chocolate! My chocolate pots - 5 ingredients, 5 minutes of effort and everyone loves them. It’s fun at a party to give everyone their chocolate pot then have a platter of berries, pomegranate seeds, figs, chocolate shavings and let everyone add what they like themselves on top
What is your favorite form of self-care?
Cook yourself something yummy and get an early night. There’s nothing better!
What is your current morning and evening routine?
Every day is so different for me and that’s what I love! But the first thing I do in the morning is make a giant cup of fresh ginger, lemon and turmeric tea and make a quick breakfast, which is usually eggs. I absolutely love an early night and am a sucker for a long bath in the evening to unwind, so when I can, I make sure I’m tucked up in bed with my book super early.
Being a chef and eating/cooking a lot can sometimes make you feel out of balance. How do you stay grounded and feel well and your best?
I’m a sucker for a long bath before snuggling up in bed with a cup of tea and a book. Meditation really works for me (and everyone I know who does it).
Making a pot of soup while listening to a podcast is my type of ME time.
Walking my dog Nelly also really helps me to relax and step away from my phone and laptop. I also love spending time with my (four) godchildren! They keep my uplifting, they give me plenty of play time and they won’t let you ‘JUST write just one more email’ - they demand my full attention and I love it.
What does legacy mean for you and what is the mark you'd like to leave on the world?
I used to find the idea of ‘legacy’ a scary one. The same with a life plan! Now I find comfort in knowing that what I’m doing is right for me and that I'm in the right place now.
My big dream would be to live an authentic life rather than the life I think I should have. I’m not in a rush to know or second guess too much or constantly want to be better and better. When of my fave mantras is 'I do enough. I have enough. I am enough'. When I write in my Gratitude List at night (when you make your bed, keep it on your pillow to encourage you!) the words that often come up when I write down my thanks on that day’s experiences, moments, people I’ve met are kindness, fulfilling, lessons, confidence. And my favorite days are the ones where I am true to myself and I feel like "yes! I feel like me!" I’m not entirely sure what my own little mark will be but my biggest buzz in life is as simple as this - cooking a meal with someone who thinks they don’t like the kitchen or that they can’t cook for themselves or maybe that they feel frightened in some way of some foods then we share that delicious meal and they leave feeling happy that they’ve nourished themselves and feel 'kitchen confident!' I really believe in the feel good power of food and we all deserve that!