Wednesday 28 September 2016

New cook in the kitchen - Indy Power

Meet Indy Power, Weekend's dynamic new columnist who tells our reporter how her family and travel have influenced her love of cooking - and how she balances a healthy food philosophy with a sweet tooth

Aoife Carrigy

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

Indy Power says her recipe ideas come to her at night. Photo: Patrick Bolger
Indy Power says her recipe ideas come to her at night. Photo: Patrick Bolger
Indy Power at work in her kitchen. Photo: Patrick Bolger
Indy Power. Photo: Patrick Bolger
Indy Power loves getting direct feedback from her readers. Photo: Patrick Bolger

Indy Power's regular travels have proven a great source of inspiration for that precious list of recipe ideas stored in her iPhone and updated every night before she goes to sleep. "I get my ideas from everywhere. It could be something I tasted when I was away, or it could be something from a magazine or I might start with one ingredient, like sage, and consider what will I do with it," says the bubbly 23-year-old.

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"And then a lot of the time it's about making a healthy version of something that's not particularly healthy, like chocolate brownies."

Healthy brownies? Isn't that an oxymoron?

"All the sweet stuff I make is actually really indulgent," she agrees. "So it's not necessarily good for weight loss but it's still healthy, in that it's not processed so there's nutrition there too. It's not just empty calories."

Besides, Indy doesn't care for calorie counting. "I prefer to look at what the foods do have - the amount of nutrition that is in there - and to eat the rainbow and get the most nutrients you can out of things. So it's not about leaving things out but more about incorporating the good stuff. I don't use anything processed, no refined sugar, no white flour. Just fresh and usually seasonal whole foods that really feed and nourish your body."

Feel good food that is as delicious as it is simple? Well, what are you waiting for? It's time to get cooking with Indy Power, who joins the Weekend team today with an unmissable new weekly food column.

You might recognise Indy's fresh-skinned face which has been popping up all over the place, along with her simple, nourishing recipes.

Just this month she appeared on RTÉ One's Healthy Home Chef when she joined chef Neven Maguire to explore the theme of immune-boosting foods. Indy shared some of her favourite recipes including a cacao and chia seed buckwheat granola that would set you up for the day, and a spiced carrot and sweet potato soup with turmeric, garlic and cumin that would ward off the sneakiest of late spring sniffles. And earlier this year 10 of her recipe videos appeared on the RTÉ Player's Food Bites series, including her wholesome but utterly indulgent raspberry brownies.

The progress of Indy's food writing career has been impressively swift: within a year-and-a-half after setting up her food blog, Little Green Spoon: The Healthy Irish Kitchen, Indy had accumulated 20,000 followers on Instagram, her social media channel of choice. "I very much started it for fun but when Instagram started picking up speed I started hoping that it might become something more," she tells me.

One year on and that Instagram following has jumped to 37,000, with followers from as far afield as the US and Australia. Though the blog was already taking up several days a week while she was studying business in Trinity College Dublin, since graduating in May, she has devoted herself fully to food writing. And with her first Little Green Spoon cookbook being published this autumn, we're set to see a lot more of Indy and her fresh approach to food.

A quick scroll through Indy's Instagram feed provides lots of clues as to who this Bright Young Thing is. Hailing from Dalkey in south Dublin, she loves working out in the Glasthule-based gym, Elite Training. One recent short video shows her proudly doing her "first ever unassisted chin-up", which she had been working towards with personal trainer Austin Rhatigan for four months. "I go three to four times a week," she says. "It's very casual and great fun, and you never dread going. There's a nice community there and we all encourage each other."

Indy loves to travel, too. She's had lots of excuses lately to pop over to London where two of her siblings live - older brother Sam and sister Sophie are based in the city, while younger sister Ely is in her third year at Trinity College Dublin. London is also where her publishers, Ebury Press, are based. "They do Ottolenghi's cookbooks so it's really exciting to work with them," she says.

And she recently spent Christmas in Thailand, "soaking up the sun and enjoying the markets, massages and amazing food". She did a cooking class while there to get a better idea of the foundation of Thai flavours. "It's really cool to see how they do it there, as opposed to how we think they do it here." Knowing she had a busy year ahead, she says she "finished the trip with a three-day detox to give me a kick start before heading back to reality."

With a half-Japanese, half-American mother and various family dotted all around the world, Indy is a natural-born globe-trotter. "My great grandmother lived in Hawaii until she was 102." Indy has great memories of her visits there, and the abundance of "amazing tropical fruit and fresh fish". She has other family in Mexico (it'd be rude not to visit them too, right?) and her Japanese heritage led to a visit there when she was just 14. "Japanese food is amazing but it's a lot more hardcore when you're there!" she recalls. "All that raw fish can be quite daunting when you're a kid. And often you don't order, they just bring you stuff. But I'd love to go back now that I'm more adventurous."

As much as she loves travelling, Indy is also a home bird at heart and loves coming back to Dublin - to her routine, to her kitchen and to her utterly gorgeous French bulldog, Arnold, who appears rather a lot in Indy's recipe shoots. "I'm weirdly obsessed with him," she laughs, although one look at those folds of his silky slate-grey face, his button nose and his over-sized ears is enough to make anyone fall for Arnold. (He clearly has Indy's boyfriend, Tom, on side too - the pair go running together on a regular basis.)

But what Indy really loves most of all is dreaming up, cooking and cataloguing beautiful, nourishing and delicious food. "My recipe ideas tend to come to me at night before I go to bed and if I don't write them down they're gone the next morning," she says, "so I have a really long list of about 1,000 ideas in the notes section of my phone."

Rather than borrowing from other cookery books or food blogs, Indy prefers to find her own way of doing things. That said, she admits to being a big fan of Jamie Oliver, who she'd love to cook for. "Of course I'd prefer if he cooked for me. But I think he'd like my stuff - lots of chilli and lemon and those kinds of flavours."

Indy's food career may have taken off fast, but it was a long time brewing. Her journey towards her health-focussed food philosophy has been a slow evolution - and she hasn't lost her sweet teeth along the way, nor her willingness to experiment with far-flung flavours.

Indy's palate has been very influenced by the cooking of her mother Laura. "My mum is a really, really good cook. She always made everything from scratch, so growing up we ate a lot of really good home-cooked food."

Like most Irish households, Sunday lunches were a regular family affair. "I always begged her for her amazing lemony roast chicken." Easter Sunday was an excuse to eat particularly well, once the Easter egg hunts had been dispatched of course, while later in the year Thanksgiving remains a treasured tradition introduced by Laura who was born in the US.

"I was actually born on Thanksgiving, so it's usually my birthday or the day or two before that," Indy says. "My brother and sisters still come home for it every year and we've one or two family friends who always come over."

Indy's own entertaining shows influences of that Thanksgiving style. "For family get-togethers I love to serve it buffet-style with one big main and then loads of side dishes so that everyone can help themselves."

If that main dish is foolproof and simple to make, all the better, such as her current dinner party favourite of pulled pork. "The recipe is a really slow-roast pork with a really great vinegar-based sauce: it works every time and you can just leave it in the oven until you're ready to serve it."

A lot of her side dishes work well as a light supper or simple lunch. In the introduction to her roast pepper and sun-dried tomato quinoa salad on her website, for example, she writes "few things make me happier than a table full of sides and salads and my fridge is always filled with bowls of colour that I dive in and out of all week. This is one of my latest favourites, it's good hot or cold and the flavour holds for days."

The Japanese influences in her mother's cooking have found their way into Indy's style, too. "My great granny, who taught my mum to cook, used to cook up these amazing Japanese feasts: shabu shabu and stuff like that," she says, describing the Japanese dish of finely sliced beef boiled in broth. "So my mum would make that on special occasions with all the special china and all weird steaming pots of things."

Indy grew up eating ingredients that might have seemed unusual in Irish kitchens at the time. "Things like soba noodles which are made from buckwheat, which I use a lot now - all these traditional things which are kind of the new things now."

She herself began cooking during fourth year in school, experimenting with cupcakes and chocolate brownies and anything else that indulged her seriously sweet tooth. Still today, she has "a huge addiction to dark chocolate" and has to get her daily fix. Indeed, in her first column today (see page 20) she shows you how to make a delicious dark chocolate and almond tart that's perfect for Easter family dinner.

However, about 18 months before starting her blog, Indy's kitchen experiments began to take a new direction with more of a focus on healthy, nutritious foods rather than empty calories.

"I think the trigger for me was when I started exercising and working out. I had never had weight issues when I was a kid. But I hadn't really done that much sports either - apart from horse riding, when the horses are really doing most of the exercise for you."

When she started going to the gym, she found that she naturally wanted to complement that with the food she was cooking rather than undoing all her good work. "It just felt weird to come home from the gym and bake a big carrot cake!

"My parents and brother and sisters encouraged me to set up the blog to share some of the successful experiments. I did the first few posts in secret and didn't tell anyone about it. Partly because I wanted to build up content but also it's kind of daunting to put yourself out there. After about two months I unleashed it!"

As with her self-taught cooking style, the blog itself has evolved hugely since those early days. "It's changed so much since I started in terms of the look of it - I spend a lot more time on the food styling and photography today. And it's also a lot more informed, in that the recipes are based on research into nutrition and not just on the taste alone."

Since graduating from Trinity in May, Indy has been studying with the Irish Institute of Nutrition and Health (IINH) in Bray, Co Wicklow. "I'm finishing the first year this May, when I'll have a diploma in health coaching and the option of continuing for another two years."

Although her website and Instagram feed display a strong visual aesthetic, Indy is a self-taught photographer, too. "For the first year-and-a-half I just used my iPhone. I have a proper camera now - but I'm still just making it up as I go along!"

Making it up as she goes along doesn't seem to faze Indy, who describes herself as a natural optimist who will give everything a go and try anything out. You can see that optimism in her bright and colourful food images and hear it in her sunny voice, which is quick to slip from easy conversation to infectious laughter.

Of course if you are going to teach yourself any new skill, it helps if you've got particularly high standards for yourself. "I'm a perfectionist - sometimes to a fault, in that I put pressure on myself," she admits, "but I like to do things the best I can. I'm always looking for ways to go back and improve on things."

Her boyfriend Tom (25), a health tech consultant, is of limited use to her on that front. The pair have been together for six years, and have been living together in trendy Stoneybatter for the past two years. "He's too kind a critic, which is sort of unhelpful!" she laughs. "He's definitely my favourite person to cook for. He eats absolutely everything, except for chia seeds that is." He's also a good cook himself, she adds, "when he's allowed!"

Her siblings are much quicker to give constructive criticism, so she takes advantage of their palates whenever she can. "None of them cook but they're all very into food so they're great for testing recipes - and they're much more honest than my boyfriend!"

Indy enjoys getting direct feedback from her many readers too. "I get a lot of interaction on Instagram and I get a lot of emails too, which might be queries about recipes or general lifestyle tips." Some days there might be up to five hours taken up with responding to readers. It's a responsibility, but one that she relishes for where it has led her. "Having that responsibility made me want to study nutrition," she says. "You need to know your stuff for your followers, so it makes you delve deeper."

All that dedication is paying off, with her new Weekend column and the upcoming cookbook. Being over and back across the Irish Sea to work on the book has also given her a good excuse to eat her way around London. "I love London," she enthuses. "It's easy to take it for granted because it's so close." Her brother Sam, who works in a start-up company, recently moved to Notting Hill while her sister Sophie, who works for Estée Lauder, is in Brixton. "There's people from so many different countries there, so it's amazing for cheap, authentic food."

Authentic food is what Indy Power is all about, and each week she'll be showing Weekend readers how to use natural ingredients to make real, honest-to-goodness, food that will both nourish your body and satisfy your taste buds. So pass around those Little Green Spoons and get stuck in!

Photography: Patrick Bolger

Styling by: Bairbre Power

Clothing: Suncoo navy T-shirt, €65; Sandro ‘Palace’ lace playsuit, €265; Edit grey dress (see page 20), €260.

All clothes and shoes from BT2

Hair and make-up: Aimee Connolly, aimeeconnolly.com

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