Sunday 21 January 2018

The golden girl: Indy Power's recipe for success

From food blogger to Instagram star, Weekend's resident cook Indy Power is on a roll. Now, with her debut cookbook out and her wedding to plan, the 23-year-old is busier than ever. Here, our reporter finds out her recipe for success.

Indy Power with her French Bulldog, Arnold
Indy Power with her French Bulldog, Arnold
Like mother, like daughter: Indy Power and mum Laura George. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Loves of her life: Indy Power with her dog Arnold and fiancé Tom
Indy Power and her French Bulldog Arnold. Photo: Naomi Gaffey

Orla Neligan

'I'm a bit of a granny," laughs Indy Power.

"A good Saturday night is sitting in with my fiancé Tom, drinking tea in front of the telly." Casual in jeans, jumper and suede jacket, she's not dressed to make an entrance but as she strolls through the room, bright, beautiful, bubbly with a complexion as fresh as almond milk and a waterfall of glossy hair, she does just that; definitely more nymph-like than granny (did I mention she's also only 23?).

Years ago the pinnacle of luxury might have been a Hermès Birkin bag, nowadays it's a green juice and the liver of a 25-year-old at 40; good health is a major fashion trend and Weekend's resident cook Indy Power is leading the pack - a poster child, if you will, beaming with the kind of good health you'd expect from someone who eats chia seed pudding for breakfast.

Only one year out of college, she has done more than most in her short career to date, her blistering rise down to a successful blog - The Little Green Spoon - that has now spawned her debut cookbook of the same name , as well as 46.5k Instagram followers, TV appearances and other food projects including a tie in with the Camille takeaway chain. Are we likely to see her on our TV screens soon endorsing products? "No," she says emphatically.

Like mother, like daughter: Indy Power and mum Laura George. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Like mother, like daughter: Indy Power and mum Laura George. Photo: Naomi Gaffey

"It's hard because financially you want to say yes to everything and there's a huge pressure when so many people on social media are being paid to do just that. I really want to stay true to myself, what I do and believe in and the business." So, we're not likely to catch her tucking into a quarter pounder on behalf of a fast food giant then? "Unlikely," she laughs. "I'm happy to promote the product if I believe in it, but I'm fairly picky."

She is evidently master of her own fate but her foray into food was more accidental. The blog was started in college as "a bit of fun". Initially, she told nobody, not even her family. "It's hard to put yourself out there. I'd take a bad photo and post it with a recipe hoping nobody would see it," she laughs. The blog's thousands of followers are all keen to get a slice of what Indy's got. She is somewhat surprised by this. "When I think of how it started and where it's gone, it's simply amazing." Her message is clear: real, honest-to-goodness, healthy food - natural, nutritious and nourishing.

Although I can't imagine life without a bacon sandwich and a bar of Dairy Milk, she's keen to stress that her approach is not about giving things up but a balance of good food and health. "It should be satisfying and enjoyable."

Despite her youth, Indy has a serene self-confidence offset by an innocent affability; she is both decisive yet sometimes anxious, guarded yet honest, a person to take risks but, in her words, calculated ones. She is a mix of guileless youth, determination and virtue all rolled into a beautiful yet modest package; it's no wonder she is quickly gaining cult-like status.

But her path might have been different had she pursued her childhood dream of becoming a vet until she changed her mind at the last minute for business at Trinity College, going on to study Nutrition and Health Coaching. Much of her college days were spent cooking and saving her money for nice restaurants. But her love of food goes back to childhood summers spent in France with her parents Laura and Robert and siblings Sophie (28), Sam (26) and Ely (21), where they were sent to the local markets to forage ingredients for the week's meals, all of which were usually eaten on the first day.

"We're a foodie family. My mom, Laura, is a fantastic cook. Her mother, my granny, was Japanese so I learnt a lot from them. We'd visit her each year when she'd cook up these amazing feasts. My granny died last year, she was 102, and my mom brought back all her traditional cooking pots and utensils so we'll keep her legacy alive."

Loves of her life: Indy Power with her dog Arnold and fiancé Tom
Loves of her life: Indy Power with her dog Arnold and fiancé Tom

Family scattered around the globe as far as Hawaii and Mexico meant she was lucky enough to travel a lot and sample exotic flavours. "I love eating different food: one day French, the next Japanese, it keeps things interesting. When I'm cooking I use ingredients unintentionally, I might put soya sauce where others wouldn't, probably due to my love for strong ethnic flavour."

The mere mention of her favourite meal and she's off on a passionate pique about the 'fox sushi roll' from Hamasaki Restaurant in LA - a tiny, nondescript place in a strip mall off a highway.

"It's honestly the best thing I've ever eaten," she says excitedly. But there's also the maple-syrup-baked foie gras from a restaurant in France and the baked cheesecake from Atlantic Restaurant in Martha's Vineyard. That sounds like a good death row menu, I offer? "I'm not sure they go together but I'll be dead, so, who cares?" she laughs.

While admitting to be a self-confessed gym junkie, she is also a self-confessed sweet tooth. "There isn't a day I can remember when I haven't eaten chocolate," she admits sheepishly. "But it's dark raw chocolate so I forgive myself." The chocolate is worked off every morning at her 8am personal training workout, which she says has become a seminal part of her working day. "I love my sleep so without that workout I'd probably lie in bed half the day."

When she's not in the gym, cooking or writing about food, she's walking her French Bulldog Arnold - who quickly became the star of our photoshoot - or watching Netflix (while drinking tea). Her perfect day would be a lie-in, brunch, a walk near the sea with her fiancé Tom and Arnold and a big family dinner, not to mention a spot of wedding planning.

To add to her busy schedule, there is a wedding in France to organise. Tom popped the question in New York earlier this year just three months after Indy's sister Sophie got engaged. The two couples have both chosen the family's home in the South of France as their wedding location (just three months apart) where Indy hopes to reap the local produce for the wedding feast. Double wedding then? "That's certainly been mentioned more than once," she giggles.

Indy Power and her French Bulldog Arnold. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Indy Power and her French Bulldog Arnold. Photo: Naomi Gaffey

"No, we're both quite different. Sophie's wedding will probably be a bit more casual and mine more traditional. My poor mom is a full-time wedding planner these days," she laughs. "But Tom is great, he loves a good party so he's hands-on with all the planning."

Twenty-three is young to be married, but then, as Indy points out "when you know, you know". "Tom was my first boyfriend at 16 and while the proposal came as a surprise, I didn't hesitate." Tom, it seems, is the perfect ally, the ideal recipe tester, event planner and equipment carrier and cooks a mean saltimbocca which is Indy's current favourite, especially when she's worked all day and can't face the kitchen.

Her mom Laura, whom she refers to as her "momager" is her "unofficial" manager (and wedding planner), doling out advice when required. "Mom and I are so alike, we share the same tastes in everything and she usually knows what I'm thinking before I do."

Any parents who run a publishing house (Laura George and Robert Power are both directors of Image Publications), might be tempted to give their children a career leg-up, but Indy is quick to point out that was never the case. "I don't use my connections, I prefer to get there by myself, but my parents have a lot of experience and that's what I connect into."

It's obvious cooking inspiration comes from her intrepid nature. One of her favourite things to do is seek out unusual ingredients and find a way to include them in her own dishes. "I was in Thailand at Christmas and discovered some incredible flavours at markets so I wrote them down and I plan to use them at some stage."

Everything is transcribed to her phone, usually at night. Recipes come to her in the evening. "If I don't put them in my phone, they're gone from my head in the morning. I have about 300-400 in there at the moment," she admits, inspired by travels or seasonal ingredients and the occasional Barefoot Contessa, Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver TV show. "I love Jamie, I credit him for much of my cooking skills," she admits freely. "I used to watch all their cooking shows religiously after school, I found the Barefoot Contessa really therapeutic; she has such a clean kitchen and everything is in its place," she laughs.

Talk of TV shows has us on to the subject of her television debut with TV3's Ireland AM. She puts her hands over her face and cringes. "It was amazing but it was live and my first TV appearance so naturally I was nervous. I was cracking eggs and dropped all the shells into the bowl not realising the camera was above me," she groans, before adding in a mock-accent that she's "not a trained chef you know" and laughing hysterically.

On the subject of publicity she is evidently uncomfortable, shifting in her chair. "I suffer a bit with anxiety," she admits, "so that side of the business is a bit more challenging. I get nervous before any public event or demo. I think if I did it 100 times I'd be the same but once I get going I really enjoy it. It just doesn't feel all that natural cooking in front of lot of people while describing what you're doing. I prefer to get my head down and do my thing, I like the nuts and bolts." Her worst fear is forgetting an ingredient.

"You know those dreams you have before exams, that you've slept it out? I have the same ones about ingredients, they're not in my box or I get to the studio and there's no box," she says, eyes wide in mock horror.

On that note, does she have any advice for would-be cooks or bloggers treading the perilous waters of the public domain? "Be yourself," she answers quickly. "That goes for anything you do. In an industry that's saturated with blogs, books and social media, it's the only thing nobody else can do, nobody can copy being you.

It's one thing I didn't do at the start, I'm not sure I knew how to approach it but I've finally found my stride." It sounds like solid advice. "My parents always encouraged us to be ourselves but my dad would always tell me to trust my gut and I always have, even when I'm struggling with decisions."

And, what of the advice she didn't take? "I often get people telling me to take on more stuff to balance the financial side of the business and that's important for survival but so is doing things you believe in. I think that's what I've learnt most about myself these last few years; that I am decisive and can trust my own instincts."

Her instincts were on the nose when she accepted her first book deal. The Little Green Spoon, which launches next Thursday, is an extension of her blog, compiling some of her favourite recipes from her website with new ones. It's premise, she tells me, is no-fuss, accessible, simple meals packed with flavour for busy people or people who don't like to cook much. "I'm not a trained chef, so, if I can do it anyone can. It's all about balance and I believe it will only work if it becomes a lifestyle so it really has to be accessible for people. If it's too hard, they won't bother."

Flavour and flexibility - two words that perfectly befit her first culinary manifesto. Pouring (while salivating) over the beautiful glossy pages, I predict her Good Karma Korma to be the breakout hit. "Ooh yes, that's one of my favourites," she gushes while flicking through the book making amorous sounds as she goes. She has her own particular fondness for the Moroccan Quinoa Pilaf and the Cajun Salmon Burgers followed by the Pecan Pie Spread (which, she admits, never lasts more than two days) and the Almond Butter Swirl Brownies.

They sound a little unforgiving, I add. "They're probably not the best thing for your waistline but they're still very healthy plus they taste divine," she offers.

Dieting is not something she advocates. "What's the point of losing a stone just to put it back on again?" she says, somewhat defiantly. "If you eat healthily as a lifestyle, you're going to look and feel good and it's much better to do something sustainable. The most important thing is to enjoy it." As for food trends, there is only one that irritates her - the 'clean eating' phrase.

"It suggests dirty versus clean and that it's a fad to eat well. Eating well shouldn't have a label, if you start eating this way and feel good, hopefully you'll continue forever."

In a very crowded market place, saturated with health cookbooks, where superfoods have made healthy eating sound daunting and the mere mention of spirulina might make you want to hurl your spiraliser out the window, every book needs to shout to be heard. So, what makes hers stand out and is there room for them all? "

Just like regular cookbooks, there's room for them all if they're good quality. The reception to the blog has been huge so it's seems like an organic next step. I differentiate my recipes by making them tasty, simple, no-fuss nourishing healthy meals that can be cooked mid-week, or for a dinner party; that's the beauty - they're flexible."

The queen of flavour might have youth on her side but she's also got prescience, navigating the industry as though she were a veteran. And for her next trick? There's talk of her own shop/deli/restaurant.

She knows the name, the location and the design but is keeping her cards close to her chest. We may well see book number two, or perhaps a TV show, definitely no advertisements for take-out chains (unless, of course, they're healthy). But right now she's off to plan her book launch followed by an evening of Netflix and a cup of tea in her pyjamas with Tom and Arnold. Spoken like a true granny!

Photography by Naomi Gaffey

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