Alexandra Dudley is a woman of many talents, an artist, author and entrepreneur to name but a few. We simply love Alexandra’s recipes, paired back style and with her new book – Land & Sea out we are even more excited. We cannot help but admire Alexandra’s ability to excel in such a multitude of arenas so we caught up with her to find out more…
Tell us a little bit about yourself and where your love of cooking began …
I suppose my career is somewhat scattered. I am part cook, part food writer, part stylist, part artist and then I also do quite a bit of work with restaurants and food establishments helping them create menus and such. I owe a lot of my love for cooking to my mother. She always made sure that the kitchen was the heart of the home. The space was sacred, with immaculate, conscious care taken over choosing paint colour to the place where the wooden spoons were kept.
When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense as the kitchen was where we spent most of our time and I think you’ll find that in most houses the kitchen is the heart of the home. From very young I remember watching my mother and grandmother cook. Cooking for others became my ‘gift’ when I was about seven. I can still remember going through about 16 eggs one early mothering Sunday morning with my sister eagerly waiting by the toaster, ready for the call to action to push down the bread. My mother liked her toast piping hot with a generous amount of melted slightly salted butter. Needless to say I don’t think either the egg or the toast were hot by the time it reached her but I think she enjoyed it all the same and since then I have learned to cook an excellent fried egg.
Inevitably, my inclination toward kitchen experiments drew me to investigating the ways of what I then called ‘proper cooking.’ I ripped out recipes from Sunday papers and spent my weekend afternoons losing myself in my mothers’ cookbooks and started to find my own way or voice in the kitchen. I’ve never really stopped – I still rip out pages from weekend supplements and scribble notes down on kitchen towel. I love to experiment in the kitchen and I adore cooking for others.
What inspired your new cookbook ‘Land and Sea’?
I mentioned earlier that I love to cook for others. A love for cooking and entertaining go hand in hand for me but I have to say that my food is often very simple. I like ingredient led cooking and recipes that celebrate the entirety of the ingredient. Growing up I was lucky enough to eat home cooked food and with a strong European influence the table was often scattered with various plates of fresh salads, cold cuts and leftovers. Still today I have a firm rule to never throw anything away and I love this way of eating. There is always something to be rehashed from leftovers and more often than not I will cook with those leftovers in mind. The cook once, eat twice mentality is incredibly useful especially when you live a busy, fast paced life which so many of us do.
I am very much a seasonal eater and eating sustainably too is something that I believe deserves conscious effort. Whilst I am neither vegan nor vegetarian (nor paleo, pescatarian or whatever else one can be dubbed as today) I do believe in taking care when choosing ones food. The answer is not to eliminate all meat and dairy or to never touch an avocado but rather to eat consciously and with the world in mind. A whole cooked, free range organic chicken will go a lot longer than budget chicken breasts. You could roast it with rosemary and lemon, enjoy leftovers thrown into salad and finish by making a warm and hearty soup from its broth. The taste is better as is the ecological effect. It was noting these (often very simple) ideas down that was the real inspiration for Land & Sea. The more I spoke to people the more I realised how little many realised we could eat (carrot tops, beet stems, courgette stalks). I wanted to encourage people to use bits they otherwise wouldn’t. I like to think of recipes as guidelines as opposed to rigid instructions and really my hope is simply that they also inspire one to be creative and perhaps a little daring in the kitchen.
Seasons are at the heart of your cooking, which season do you love most and what in your opinion are the best ingredients from that season?
Oh this is a tricky one for I love every season. Some are barer than others but each brings something exciting with it. I think that is one of the best things about seasonal eating – the excitement that each month brings. At the moment citrus is in season and I beam with happiness when I walk into the kitchen to a bowl filled with clementines, oranges, lemons and my favourite – blood oranges. February can be quite bleak in weather but her table is bright. I love March and April too when things like wild garlic and asparagus come into season. Food seems so alive then but honestly I could say the same for December with chestnuts and pears.
You have so many passions but which are you drawn towards most and why?
This is true! I have often felt insecure about this. I love to cook, I love to write, I love to make art, I even love to sing and in all honesty is someone were to offer me position of backing vocalist to some sort of folky country western band touring across the world in a van there is a large part of me that would want to say yes. For a long time, I worried about wanting to do so many things – people often say you cannot. Eventually though I made peace with it. Singing and painting are perhaps more hobbies of mine. It is cooking and writing or rather drawing the story from others whether it be through writing or speaking that I am drawn to most. The people I am most fascinated by are those who make food or who make art which when you think about it are not dissimilar. In all honesty I still feel as if I am only just finding my way but I have faith that I will get there in the end.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of what you do?
I don’t think two days are ever the same except perhaps my Fridays which I try to keep blocked out for recipe developing – although each recipe is different. My days vary hugely. Sometimes I can be cooking for an event or catering job, others I could be out with my camera taking photographs or styling for clients. I tend to spend about two days doing admin type work, answering emails or updating my website, even typing up recipes from my recipe note book before they become totally illegible (I have terrible hand writing and if I don’t get them typed up quickly can have real trouble deciphering my short hand). I have just started to do a little more artwork again, something I gave very little time to when I ran my first business; Punch Foods (a snack company that made healthy snacks called ‘superseeds’). I confess I have that slight blank canvas fear but it will pass eventually and it’s just so nice to be putting back some time into making work again.
When working with a client for a private event, what is your starting point?
Usually a client has a brief whether it be a sit down meal or canapes for a private or press showing so that is often the starting point but I take much inspiration from the client or event itself as well as the seasons of course. I recently catered an event for the brand TOAST where they arranged an origami class for influencers and press. It was close to Christmas and they learnt to make Christmas decorations. I made, among other things, parsnip blinis with lemon whipped ricotta and a tarragon sunflower seed pesto as well as crostini with tahini pea cream, black sesame and crisp kale. The colours were important and there was a lot of Christmas tree green with a slight Japanese influence.
What can you tell us about the private cooking classes you offer as these sound amazing …
This is actually something quite new for me and something that until now I have only ever done through direct request. This year I’ve decided to make a bit more of a go of it as I was getting repeated requests. Last week I hosted an event entitled ‘How to host a dinner party’ at Soho House which whilst including tips and ideas on what to make to create a spectacular menu also included cheats and hacks to set a wonderful table that didn’t totally break the bank. I love to throw a dinner party and host many supper clubs too. The key is often to create a menu that means you can prep ahead meaning that there is little to do on the night so that you can enjoy the party with your guests. I’ve got a ‘crafting canapes’ class coming up in April and more ‘how to host a dinner party’ events at Soho House. Even more exciting is that I did a little poll on how many would like me to throw the ‘how to host…’ events outside of Soho House so that non-members could attend. It was a resounding yes so I am currently trying to think of dates and venues for that too.
My ‘crafting canapes’ event is on the 26th April and teaches guests to make four different seasonal canapes as well as tips and tricks to make the event go smoothly. Tickets are available now on my website and also include welcome drinks and nibbles. Later on in the year from about mid-May I will start my secret garden suppers up again. These are really lovely intimate supper clubs that take place in my garden in North London. Previously they have been BYO but this year I am also including the option of a natural wine pairing.
It been a super fast start to the new year, what plans have you got for the rest of 2018?
2018 feels incredibly exciting. I want to focus on creating a bigger network of events. I’d love to do more cooking classes and ‘how to host events’. I’m also hoping to launch a new arty project that I will keep secret for now but can’t wait to show you. Then I am hoping to put a bit more time into writing and getting better at it. There is always more to learn and to refine. It’s that and cooking really and I’m doing a few demos at the summer festivals too which is always fun. I’ll be cooking at Balance Festival coming up and the River Cottage festival in August.
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Thank you so much Alexandra for sharing all this with us. If you’d like more information about Alexandra’s book, classes and recipes visit her website here.
Images kindly sent by Alexandra Dudley.