I was born in Lancaster, England, in 1977. I grew up in Lancashire, then West Sussex, then Switzerland, then back in West Sussex. I always had a deep interest in food, encouraged by my mother and well-travelled foodie father, who brought me and my brothers gifts from around the world, like biltong from Kenya, or packets of crisps with rude names.
My fascination with how food is produced and the enjoyment I got from cooking everything from scratch seemed a little odd at university. After graduating from Warwick in French with International Studies, I found myself back in Sussex once again, this time in brilliant Brighton, working in fashion retail and then retail banking. I loved Brighton but not my unfulfilling and poorly paid jobs. I grew a window box of herbs that my mum gave me, and, as I LOVE eggs, I dreamed of keeping chickens. At this point, it turned out that one of my brothers had become interested in food too, and encouraged me on my quest by simply getting on with things, like building a smoker and making delicious home-cured ham.
I got together with Perry Lancaster in Brighton, and after several years and a couple of motorbike tours round France, we panic-bought our first amazing home in the Dordogne. It was ancient, had metre-thick stone walls, smelled of medieval fires and was extremely ‘rustic’ (i.e. basic). We had realised that not only could we no longer afford the bills and rent on a shared flat in southern England, but that house prices in France were beginning to soar out of our grasp.
It was 2002 when I moved to France for the lifestyle, ingredients, sun and the incredible house. A jam-packed few years followed, learning about the culture, living hand-to-mouth (sometimes foraging out of necessity), cooking over the open fire; precious memories. It was during this time that I started my food writing career, and also did a stint as a cheese taster. The ex and I then split; we moved out of our old house, and each of us found a stone cottage in the same area.
In my new place, I created my own special kitchen, complete with a wood-fired oven that gets so hot it glows (ideal for making perfect pizza), plenty of beams from which to hang all my equipment, an ancient Bertha-style gas oven and immediate access to barbecues – plural. Lack of storage space is countered by a cavernous cellar, which is also ideal for brewing.
The space and way of life in France enabled me to grow my own herbs and vegetables, and experiment with making all kinds of drinks, recipes and preserves, including beer and cheese. I had two cats, chickens, and for a while I had pigs. The chickens supplied “the best eggs in the world”, according to a chef friend of Masterchef fame, and the excess cockerels were good stewing meat. The pigs did a sterling job of turning a piece of rough grass into a fertilised, turned-over vegetable patch. They tasted damn good, too. Totally amazingly delicious, in fact. Luckily, they had remained really timid (I suspect they were illegal wild boar mongrels), so I never had the chance to get too attached to them.
I still have my little cottage in France, and try to go back there as often as possible, but I’m now living in London. I was feeling a bit stuck in the French countryside, and needed a change. French food is very… French, so I had also become rather desperate for some food adventure and a more cosmopolitan environment. Now I’m spoilt for choice and loving it. There’s a lot I miss deeply about rural life, but I’m grateful I’ve lived the experience to the max, and maybe I’ll go back to it one day.
For more on my food writing, restaurant consulting and photography, see my expertise page.