“Get cooking. The wonderful thing about food is that there’s just endless possibilities and always so much to learn.”
The Wordrobe talks inspiration, autumn essentials and must-try mouthfuls with food writer and stylist Rosie Birkett
Tell us, what inspired you to become a chef/food writer?
Food was always a massive part of my life growing up, my mum is an amazing cook and my dad used to take me foraging around the Kent countryside where we lived for cobnuts and mushrooms.
Mealtimes were a big deal in our house and the only time we were all together during the week as my dad commuted to London to work every day. Mum always made an effort and we grew our own veg and had chickens as well as fruit trees, so I was so lucky to have a good appreciation and respect from early on of where food was coming from.
All the most memorable moments in my childhood involved food, but my school was very academic and I ended up going to uni, and after my English degree at Leeds university I knew I wanted to write and work in publishing, so I went into journalism, not realising that food could be my job.
From here I specialised in food writing and eventually this led back to cooking and cookery writing. It’s been quite a topsy turvy route but I feel so lucky to be able to combine my passions together.
Tell us more about your culinary background…
When I got into writing and journalism I specialised in writing about food and restaurants, eventually getting a job on a trade magazine for the hospitality industry – Caterer and Hotel Keeper.
This was in 2008 when the British food scene was really changing and diversifying because of the recession. You had amazing chefs leading the way for more diverse and informal restaurants of an astounding calibre, which we didn’t have that many of before then.
I was so increasingly obsessed with and inspired by what I was reporting on and the food I was eating I decided to train in cookery, doing a cooking course and cooking as much as I could with friends and caterers for experience. Eventually this all led to food styling – cooking for the camera, and writing and contributing recipes to magazines, eventually getting a book deal with Hardie Grant.
After releasing my first cookbook A Lot On Her Plate, I started putting on little pop up dinners and collaborating with chefs and restaurants, cooking food from the book as well as new recipes. I’ve cooked twice at Carousel in Marylebone and also with James Lowe at Lyles and J Sheekey.
What’s your favourite autumn dish?
Autumn is one of my favourite seasons as a cook as there as so many awesome ingredients to play with. I love wild mushrooms sautéed in loads of butter with garlic and tarragon, either on toast or stirred through a banging risotto. Also, I love cooking with all the different gourds at this time of year, so a roasted squash salad with cobnuts and fresh cheese or goats curd.
For something really comforting and warming a good old cheese toastie is just the ticket – I’ve just created a recipe for one with Leerdammer which has a distinct nutty taste and melts beautifully, and is stuffed full of caramelised onions spiked with harissa. Perfect fodder after a chilly beach walk or afternoon on the allotment.
Who inspires you?
My first foodie inspiration was my mum, who was and still is an adventurous and brilliant home cooking, always trying out exciting new flavours and nailing classics like roast beef.
These days I’m also spoiled for choice with so many foodie friends: Olia Hercules, Anna Jones, Claire Ptak and Elly Curshen all spring to mind. I also love Henrietta Inman’s cakes and baking, and Anna Higham, the pastry chef at Lyle’s is a massive talent and definitely one to watch.
Describe your cooking style in three words
Seasonal, homely, joyful.
Name three of your top restaurants.
1 Lyle’s, London
2 P Franco
3 River Cafe
What inspires you when creating recipes?
Seasonality and travel are my main inspirations, and I get a lot of great ideas from things I’ve eaten out, but also thinking about what I want to eat is very helpful. I love finding new, more exciting and innovative ways of approaching/upgrading familiar or classic recipes.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chefs?
Get cooking. The wonderful thing about food is that there’s just endless possibilities and always so much to learn. I’m still learning every day and developing as a cook, and I still try and teach myself something new every week.
I teach myself from books, or things I’ve eaten and made notes on the flavours. There is so much inspiration these days and it’s just about getting stuck in and not being afraid of failing. Some of my best recipes have grown out of things that didn’t work first time round. It’s so satisfying once you perfect something after working on it for a while.
PLUS: Rosie Birkett has partnered with Leerdammer to ‘upgrade the everyday’ with an array of deliciously inspiring recipes that embrace the distinct nutty taste of the Dutch cheese. It’s not just the iconic holes and unrivalled taste that makes Leerdammer so unique, every delicious slice is made from 100% Free Grazing milk.
Try a taste of Rosie’s cooking with these three delectable Leerdammer recipes…
1 Smoked Ham, Cherry Tomato And Leerdammer Pizza
This crispy pizza comes packed with delectable, cheesy flavour.
2 Cheese And Harissa Onion Toastie
When it comes to comfort food, nothing beats this cheese-laden toastie.