‘Don’t get me started on chia seeds’ – food writer Rukmini Iyer gets real about food

***Rachel Khoo would like to thank all the inspiring people who helped make the Khoollect studio a hive of creativity. Although the Khoollect studio’s doors have now closed, you can keep up with Rachel’s newest adventures on RachelKhoo.com and on Rachel’s Instagram and Facebook pages – and, continue to enjoy the Khoollect website’s stories and recipes, which will remain available.***

Rukmini Iyer joins Rachel Khoo in her unwavering love for butter. The London-based food stylist, food writer and avid reader – affectionately known as ‘Mini’ to her butter-and-salt imbibing friends – has just put down her own quill after polishing off her debut cookbook, The Roasting Tin. This sparkly personality, with an equally bright Instagram feed, spent some time in the Khoollect Studio recently and shared culinary tales of putting food in mouth and pen to paper…

What inspires you?

Now that the Roasting Tin is out, I’m really inspired to write more recipes and to make them perfect. It’s great hearing from readers who say they love the recipes and that they’ve transformed their weeknight cooking. Family dinners are such an integral part of the day: it’s a privilege to have written something that contributes to that.

Your cooking focuses very much on simplicity. What are the challenges you face when you develop these kinds of recipes?

Nowadays, I want to pack in as much flavour with as little effort as possible – when I started out cooking for dinner parties, I tried to recreate dishes from Maze: The Cookbook with six different processes to make one dish. When writing recipes now, I think about how I can get a good whack of flavour and texture in, but reduce the cooking processes to just one or two; so the challenge is to keep it interesting as well as simple.

Working as a food stylist you must have to cook lots of other people’s dishes. How does that influence your own cooking?  

I think that with cooking, you’re learning all the time – the best thing about working on shoots is coming home and saying ‘I made the most incredible thing today, we have to make it again’. Curtis Stone’s ricotta pancakes with lemon butter and melted raspberries are still a fixture in the house a good few years after I first made them on a MasterChef cookbook shoot. Otherwise, seeing new flavour combinations, or thinking ‘I’d have done that differently’ can shape how you cook at home.

You ran a supper club; what did you enjoy most about the experience? What was the least enjoyable?

I loved having the house full of people who were enjoying the food! It’s an incredible buzz, cooking for people – there wasn’t anything really un-enjoyable about it. My friend Danielle worked on them with me doing all the table settings, flowers and organising, and with lists pinned all over the kitchen, it felt like we had loads of time to clear down between courses. I suppose an industrial dishwasher would have helped, but we managed! I’d love to do another series over the summer.

Any food trends you’ve noticed emerge in the past year?

Don’t get me started on chia seeds – I’m not interested in any kind of food that requires shopping in Holland and Barrett (though I do like their skincare range). I think the trend for clean eating on the one hand, and for doughnut-and-candy floss-topped freakshakes or deep fried seitan burgers on the other hand, is interesting, but unhelpful – it’s a shame that food trends seem to run to extremes.

Where do you currently call home? And what inspires you about your city?

London! Everything about the city inspires me – the food markets, Billingsgate up the road for fresh fish (worth the 3am start!), riverside pubs with proper fireplaces – it’s the best place to live.

Top three foodie spots in your city? And why?

  • Padella at Borough Market for the Pici Cacio e Pepe: it is the best pasta on their menu, I’ve been known to order it again for dessert after having it as a main.
  • Chick ‘n’ Sours. I love fried chicken, but will not eat battery-farmed chicken, so Chick ‘n’ Sours is the solution: free-range fried chicken with the best sides – the watermelon pickle is divine.
  • Holborn Dining Rooms – famous for the pies, which are excellent, but the starters we had the other day – octopus with chorizo and aioli, scallops with hazelnut butter, and wine pairings for both – was hands down the best starter I’ve ever had.

I khoollect a few… 

The long-term collection is books – mostly novels, but also a decent collection of good non-fiction (Nany Mitford’s Madame du Pompadour, alongside ‘Sapiens, and a lot of food writing, including everything by Bee Wilson). I love going into shops with really well-curated sections that inspire you to buy things out of your comfort zone because you trust the bookseller – my favourite recent purchase is The Cabaret of Plants from Eastern Biological in Hackney. And, predictably, I collect plants too – there are a lot more since it became fashionable, but there’s been a decent collection for the past few years.

Your three desert island must-haves?

A really good cellar of very cold white wine, the wherewithal to make spaghetti Aglio e Olio, and my collection by A.S. Byatt.

A life lesson that you’d tell your younger self?

To run with it when faced with something inspiring – whether it’s to grab the sewing machine and start running up a dress you’ve just sketched, or head out into the garden and start planting carrots from a seed packet – moments of inspiration don’t hit that often, so if there’s even the glimmer of one, it’s worth tearing yourself away from the television or out of bed to go and do something interesting.

What’s your secret ingredient or top tip in the kitchen?

Er, salt and butter? We had people over for New Year’s Eve and I heard a couple of them saying ‘well, the reason Mini’s food tastes so good is that she puts in more salt and more butter than anyone else would!’. But more recently, my favourite ingredient trinity is sesame oil, lime juice and fish sauce, usually with plenty of garlic and ginger and a bit of fresh chilli – it packs such a punch of flavour, either on rice and veggies, over meatballs or on grilled fish – that dressing is my go-to recipe.

Where do you find your motivation? (We’d love to find out where you find your inspiration online, too. Favourite podcast? Favourite blog?)

I’ve definitely been inspired by Ruby Tandoh’s writing, with the focus on small, achievable things: having some breakfast, self-care etc. She was absolutely amazing when I went through a difficult patch a couple of years ago, and it’s wonderful to see the same brilliant advice in her new book Eat UpOnline, I’m a bit of a granny still and haven’t quite got into podcasts yet – oops.

Can you imagine a world without Internet?

Absolutely – it’s wonderful to be offline. I like walking in the countryside. As much as I love London, the air is definitely better outside it; a few miles trudging through fields with dogs, before pie and mash by a fire – perfect. Though, I’d also like to learn calligraphy, proper dressmaking, pottery, improve my French and Spanish and get the hang of macramé hanging baskets….

Follow Rukmini on Instagram and Twitter and snoop on her delicious concoctions.

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