When Melissa Hemsley was eight-years-old, she wanted to be a doctor. Fortunately for the food world, she discovered she “wasn’t cut out for hospitals” and instead turned her attention to becoming a fixture on the modern British food scene.
Together with her sister Jasmine, she is one half of Hemsley+Hemsley –pioneering food that tastes delicious and just happens to be good for you. Her latest book, Eat Happy, is a celebration of speedy, simple, healthy food to make you happy, that even the most kitchen-shy (or time poor) can knock up.
What first attracted you to food?
My mum brought me up on food and nourishment as a focus. She was always teaching me to respect food and not to waste it and how to conjure up an entire meal out of almost nothing! I cook food that makes me feel good, uplifted, restored and comforted and that’s why I think I love it so much!
What was the inspiration behind Eat Happy?
Eat Happy is a celebration of feel-good food and food that makes me happy! Eating well is for everyone and should be enjoyed by everyone, so all of the recipes are fast, fuss-free and so easy to make with inexpensive ingredients that are always in your cupboards. Every recipe can also be doubled and frozen so that good-food is always accessible when you’re in a hurry and time can be spent enjoying the food rather than cooking it. I’m not precious with my recipes; if you don’t have all of the ingredients, play around and use what you’ve got!
What’s your favourite recipe from the book?
I am a sucker for the crispy duck pancakes in chickpea wraps with hoisin sauce (which my boyfriend gets me to make a huge jar of so he can spoon it onto everything) and the spiced halloumi & chickpeas with black quinoa tabbouleh (leftovers of this make the best packed lunch). Sweet wise it’s got to be the little chocolate pots, they take five mins and five ingredients. Another favourite is my BLT salad - bacon, lettuce, tomato, egg and asparagus - I’d eat this for breakfast, packed lunch, take it for a picnic, it’s a great all rounder.
What’s your favourite season for food?
I’m a real lover of soups and cuddling up so maybe autumn/winter. There seems to be less pressure with food and you can just throw ingredients in a pan and let it simmer away.
Having said that we can feel spring coming now can’t we and I can’t wait to start cooking with windows open and having a drink in the garden, even wrapped up and I’m excited to get my hands on spring greens and new season’s veg.
Who or what inspires your cooking?
My friends and loved ones. I love getting feedback from people on my cooking so I’m constantly trying to please them and improve my recipes to make their lives easier.
What’s your favourite cookbook?
I don’t use any! I let my meals be dictated and inspired from what’s in my fridge/freezer and cupboards. But I collect cookery books and read them for pure enjoyment.
I very much admire Tom Hunt and his ‘root to fruit’ philosophy. I love Romy Gill and am excited to cook at her restaurant in Bristol with her in March, she’s the best.
What’s your ultimate cooking cheat?
Batch cook and freeze so that you always have access to good food when you can’t be bothered to cook.
What food is your guilty pleasure?
Healthy to me means treating my body with kindness and eating food that makes me happy and uplifted. Eating well is social too so I don’t 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 soups. I don’t have a big sweet tooth but I make sure my easy puddings hit the spot, my fave recipes are the Happiness Balls (a big jar of them makes a great gift) or my banoffee pie in a glass.
If I’m on a British beach, a nice proper big fat vinegary bag of chips always goes down well! But it’s not a guilty pleasure, it’s just pleasure!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’ve achieved some fun things so far (and faced many fears!) and have been so fortunate but genuinely, when I get my god-children to eat new things or get a friend to eat something they’ve always said they’ve hated and change their mind, then that is my biggest achievement!
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be a doctor since I was 8 years old. I studied chemistry, biology and physics at A level with the hope of studying Medicine and did my work experience with a paediatrician! I realised I wasn’t cut out for hospitals! But I am pleased to meet so many doctors who say they like my recipes as they’re delicious, healthy and convenient to make!
I’ve always wanted to help people, my mum is one of those people who is always helping someone else out and that’s always been a big part of my life. I’m an ambassador for charities like Future Dreams who provide support for men and women with breast cancer and their families as well as the mental health website Headtalks.com and Cook For Syria who raise money through supper clubs and events for families in Syria
You get to choose six people – dead or alive – to have dinner with. Who? Why? And where do you go?
Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet as I love them both individually and then together in Sense & Sensibility, one of my fave films. I’d invite JK Rowling too as I’m a massive fan of HP and then all her books since. I’m a huge Kirsty Young & Desert Island Discs fans so she’d have to come. Oprah at the head of the table alongside Malala Yousafzai and Beyonce too please.
I’d have them around to mine and I’d tell them to arrive early, give them a ginger lemongrass cocktail and rope them into some chopping so we could put the finishing touches together, always a great icebreaker! I’d make a family style feast - platters of roasted spiced cauliflower, carrot ribbon salad with carrot top pesto and halloumi, my za’atar chicken, my anchovy broccoli always goes down well, maybe some mini mexican burgers too and to finish, some little chocolate pots. Then we’d go dancing...
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Go with your gut.
What would you tell your 18 year old self?
Be nice to yourself! Dance more! And you are perfectly imperfect!
We think female friendships should be treasured – what one quality do all your friends share?
Kindness and easy to make laugh.
When are you happiest?
Out walking my dog Nelly, eating good food or in the bath with a face mask on and cup of herbal tea!
Where the bath is.
Over or under dressed?
Early bird or night owl?
Eating in or dining out?
Starter or dessert?
Glass of red wine.
Favourite Foodie Instagram account?
What’s one thing you couldn’t live without?
Food with friends.
Last time you laughed out loud?
Do what makes you happy.
Follow Melissa on Instagram @melissa.hemsley, and her new cookbook 'Eat Happy' by is out now!