Stirring Slowly: sitting down with Georgina Hayden
Georgina Hayden’s love for noshing goes far beyond the kitchen table. This food writer, stylist, illustrator and cook from North London fosters a passion for the memories and feelings food can create and evoke for people.
Foodie inspiration has always followed Georgina. Raised above a Greek Cypriot restaurant owned my her grandparents, and taught to bake by her mother, Georgina has also been inspired by her travels around the world. Her new book, Stirring Slowly, is centred on the restorative power of the dishes we consume. We asked Georgina to share some of her food memories and favourite dishes with us:
Where did your love of food originate?
I was really lucky growing up above my grandparents’ taverna in Tufnell Park in London. Even when we moved out from the flat upstairs, my grandparents still lived there and we’d still spend all our time helping, hanging out or celebrating big occasions in the restaurant. Also, our Greek Saturday school was down the road, so Saturdays were a full-on heritage fest, with hours learning Greek (clearly not enough as I’m still terrible) followed by adventures in the kitchen with my Yiayia (grandma).
All that aside, one of my earliest kitchen memories was actually making fairy cakes at home with my mum, with green and red glace cherries. I loved baking with my mum.
Have you always been interested in the restorative nature of food?
Totally, I didn’t really question it growing up as it was so instinctive and that’s just what you did, you know? If someone was poorly there was a special soup; when I was in hospital as a kid having my tonsils out I was brought grilled meats to keep my strength up (I was horrified and just wanted to eat the hospital food like the other kids though). If we were celebrating, there was a full-on feast and trays of cakes. It’s all still the case now; as a family we have always shown we care through feeding. You can say a lot with a home-cooked meal.
Your new book includes a variety of recipes. Where do your culinary influences come from?
As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve always loved to travel and you really can find out a lot about a country and the people through its food. I started backpacking in my late teens and still do to this day. Even on our honeymoon three years ago, after a few days of rest and relaxation, we went travelling. I’m not very good at sitting still for long periods of time.
I also think it stems from growing up in central London, I’ve always been fortunate to have access to amazing and varied foods, and would make my poor parents venture to random places to try things (in particular my hunt for the best Indian sweets. I was obsessed. Actually, who am I kidding? I still am). Local grocers and delis were always filled with amazing and unusual produce, and being of a super curious nature, I would want to try it all.
Do you have a go-to comfort food recipe?
Avgolemono soup is one of my ultimate comfort foods, it ticks all the boxes, especially when it is made by my mum. It’s bowl food, which in my eyes is the most comforting type of food, made with fresh chicken stock which is incredibly nourishing, and finished with ground cinnamon, which I can’t live without. And despite not being a huge fan of ‘creamy’ dishes, I love the creamy nature of it. It’s made by thickening the chicken broth with beaten eggs and lemon juice; it’s easy to get wrong unfortunately and you can end up with scrambled egg soup. When made correctly it is truly delicious and the equivalent of a hug in a bowl.
What ingredients do you use most often at home?
There are the essentials like olive oil, honey and lemons (we use them in abundance) in sweet and savoury, and get through them like nothing else. Other than those, I would say lentils. I love them in almost everything and, depending which ones you use, they are wonderful for a relatively quick meal (red lentils especially are perfect for thickening soups and stews). Also, they’re inexpensive and incredibly nutritious.
If you had to choose between sweet and savoury dishes, which do you love most?
Savoury hands down. I love strong, punchy flavours, and unfortunately I really love salty foods. Cheese is probably my biggest weakness, the smellier the better, and I have been known to finish a jar of pickles in one sitting, although I wouldn’t recommend it (our fridge has more condiments than anything else). That’s not to say I don’t like sweet; I adore good chocolate and have a slight obsession with making (and eating) ice-cream. I don’t consider myself a cake lover, but I just love the process of making one. I find it incredibly relaxing.
What’s your most cherished food memory?
Something incredibly un-glamorous to be honest, but it fills me with such happiness. Growing up, my mum would make such amazing and elaborate home-cooked meals: steak and kidney pies, chicken casseroles and proper roasts on Sundays. And we were spoilt with all the wonderful food from the restaurant. But every Friday after school, before my dad went to work for the evening at the restaurant, the four of us would have a special dinner. She’d buy two fresh baguettes, and fill them with crispy bacon and baked beans. It was such a treat! The four of us would sit down and have half a baguette each. I realise now it probably wasn’t the food itself, but the fact that it was our little Friday night ritual that I loved. Nothing beats sitting down as a family and eating together, whatever it is you are eating.
What would be your advice for someone learning to cook?
Practice. There are lots of courses out there, some long and expensive, and that’s great if you want to go into it professionally. But to be honest, even then, all you need is a bit of guidance and lots of practice. A class in things like knife skills is a great place to start, and then try a few short classes in anything specific that interests you.
Other than that, nothing beats just getting in the kitchen and doing it. And on a much more specific note, sauteing veg: soften the base of your dish, whether it be a ragu, curry, soup etc. for longer than you think. Don’t be scared to let things get a bit of colour… that’s where the magic happens.
Stirring Slowly by Georgina Hayden, published by Square Peg on 9 June 2015 in hardback at £20
Sonya is Khoollect’s Deputy Editor. Having hopped across to London from sunny Australia, this lang...READ MORE BY Sonya Gellert