Tuesday 20 March 2018

The art of simplicity from Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley

Spiralizing queens Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley are poster girls for the healthy eating revolution and believe eating well can be simple and fun for everyone. Our fashion editor met the glamorous sisters in advance of their visit to Dublin next weekend

Healthy eating poster girls: Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley.
Healthy eating poster girls: Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley.
Jasmine Hemsley and her boyfriend Nick Hopper.
Melissa and her boyfriend Henry Ralph.
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

The Italians must love the Hemsley sisters… I jest! The glam sisters from London have converted legions of cooks away from using pasta, and noodles as dinner staples and switch over to the world of spiralizing vegetables.

Step forward the humble courgette, baby sister to the marrow which has leapt to rock star hero status among health-conscious consumers who reach for their spiralizer as quickly as their juicer and yoga mat, in order to cut raw veg into long julienne ribbons resembling spaghetti.

Indeed, such has been the popularity of the Hemsleys' spiralizer (you can buy them at Brown Thomas) that Melissa and Jasmine carry the moniker of the 'Queens of Courgetti.' Building on the success of their first best seller, The Art of Eating Well, the siblings are off on a world tour to promote their new book, Good + Simple, taking in Europe, Australia and America. First stop is Dublin next Saturday for our Weekend magazine reader event where you can meet the sisters.

Oh, and by the way, you can call them Mel and Jas.

The Hemsleys leapfrogged around the place as kids as their dad, Jack, was in the army and they attended no less than 10 different schools. It was their Filipina mother, Evangelina, who instilled in them a love of preparing good food.

"Eating well is one of the most important ways to keep in good health and it is also one of life's pleasures," says Jas (35) who was a model for 10 years, working with everyone from M&S, Oil of Ulay and The Body Shop to airlines like British Airways and Emirates. She then started her own business cooking for private clients, including a famous actor who she is too professional to name.

Jas took her little sister's 'empty fridge' in hand and introduced Mel (30) to hearty, home-cooked food and broths. Out of this act of sisterly love, Mel's head was turned and she eventually gave up her career in branding and marketing and joined Jas as a private cook in people's houses.

"We were doing that for two years underground and we didn't have a name and our clients called us their 'food fairies'," explains Jas.

Word spread about their blog which they started five years ago and they were invited to write for British Vogue and The Guardian. "It was amazing because we were completely unknown. We had three followers on Facebook, probably our mum and our boyfriends, and nobody knew us. We were really surprised at how quickly people started sharing, it was very much word of mouth and social media. When we decided on Ebury to publish our first book, they said 'whatever you are doing, just keep doing it.'"

Mel says, "For us, it was always important to stick to what we wanted to do which was to make healthy food really easy and simple for everyone, and fun too. We are self-taught cooks, Jasmine taught me, and we wanted people to be able to pick up the book, people who had never cooked a boiled egg in their life. Cooking food in a non-stressed way makes you feel good, sharing it with people you love makes you feel good too. People were waiting for books like this where you don't have to be a gourmet cook, you don't have to have lots of kit, you don't have to be able to chop fast and you can eat well every day."

Rarely photographed publicly without each other at their side, the sisters say they aren't joined at the hip in daily life. They are funny, and opinionated, and don't appear to disagree about much.

The nearest thing I can detect of a "kinda disagreement" came when they hung out at their mum's house in Surbiton at Christmas and Jas didn't share Mel's penchant for detective thrillers.

"I can stand them at all, I don't like anything too anxiety-inducing so we kind of argued back and forth about the merits of watching it or not and finally agreed on watching Sense and Sensibility," says Jas.

Both sisters live in south London. Jas lives in Elephant and Castle with Nick Hopper, her partner of 10 years, who did all the photography in the book, and the third founder of the Hemsley + Hemsley brand who looks after the business side. Nick is sometimes to be found in front of the camera too - and it turns out he is the driver of the car in the Audrey Hepburn Galaxy advert set in Capri.

While Jas cooks in her retro-style kitchen, Mel's kitchen is more of a modern style and she lives in Stockwell. As we discuss the mechanics of what to serve at our Weekend food event at Cooks Academy next Saturday, I remark how we will have food to sample - a 'here's one I made earlier'.

Mel immediately pipes up: "It was my boyfriend's mother who came up with that phrase." Turns out that Mel's boyfriend, art collector Henry Ralph, is the son of former Blue Peter presenter, Lesley Judd.

Mel doesn't like too much clutter. She likes books and her favourite gift from Jas was, "a pair of pyjamas that look like they are for an eight-year-old boy and they are the softest thing ever, I'd wear them right now if I could."

The siblings tend to spend a lot of time around south London and they've just announced - after keeping it secret for a year - that they are opening a café in Selfridges on Oxford Street on April 5.

Both are agreed that they have very similar tastes. They love the same gadgets, namely a slow cooker, a grater and, of course, a spiralizer. Jas adds a spatula to her list of gadgetry "because you can just get so much more out of a bowl with a lovely, flexible spatula and it makes washing up so easy. I can't live without mine, in fact I have a collection of them.

"Mel used to not like peanut butter but now she has come around. Mel is the spice queen, she really knows her spices. There once was a time when she cooked everything with sage and now I think it's oregano. Actually, we were going through the book and there were loads of recipes with smoked paprika, and I've gone a bit tahini mad," says Jas.

"We love really tasty food, we love lots of texture but I tend to do the sweet stuff, the baking and savoury and Mel is great at stews and curries. Every time we meet each other, we bring each other a little taste of what we've been experimenting with and then we try them on our publisher and our team. There's definitely Mel and Jas in there as individuals rather than some kind of side-by-side, recipe-producing machine," says Jas.

And what about wine? Do they pour themselves a glass a wine when cooking?

"Oh yeah" says Mel, "and cider too. I'd drink the glass and then pour another glass into the pot."

Jas takes up the wine topic and interjects, "I think you'd have to taste the wine before you poured it in, otherwise that would just be rude," she laughs, adding that she prefers sitting down, eating and drinking wine with food. "If I was picking, it would be red. If someone that I trusted was picking, I might go white."

"If someone else is paying, I'm a Barolo girl for red," Mel adds.

They laugh at my enquiry about whether they take holidays together.

"Oh, I think we see enough of each other," says Jas. "But we did go to Cambodia about two years ago. We had a lovely time and we did a food reccie, explored a wellness hotel and Nick took the photographs."

The holiday was a reward, a kickback after their first book, but as Jas explains, "we are such perfectionists, we were editing while we were still there. Last month, we went on a food reccie to Dubai."

Hugely photogenic, the sisters are a publisher's and marketeer's dream and when it comes to clothes, they admit they are quite different.

"I get quite hot and sweaty and I wear a lot of dresses," says Mel. "We are always running around so I guess we like practical, comfortable clothes."

Jas, on the other hand, notes it is "a rare occasion for both to wear a dress, and we are today. It happens twice a year, the rest of the time I'm in jeans or trousers and a knitted top. I'm a bit colder than Mel so I like to have layers. We are both quite sneaky about carrying around heels and only wear them when we need to."

Launching their new book in London last Monday, I enquired if there were any rows about what recipes made it into the book and the ones that got left out?

"Not fights, but definitely tears," says Jas. "There were some we felt so sad about, the shoulders were up but our publishers were great and they left in an extra 20 up on what they were hoping for. I've already got book three half written in my head." 


Weekend magazine is delighted to host a 'Meet The Hemsley Sisters' Event on Saturday March 5 to mark the publication of Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley's keeny awaited second book, Good + Simple.

The event takes place at Cooks Academy, South William Street, Dublin at 11am with a meet and greet, cooking demostration and food sampling of favourite recipes from their second book, which will be available at a special price on the day.

Tickets cost €40 and are available from www.cooksacademy or Telephone: 01-6111-667

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