After a decade in the food industry, first as a private chef for musicians and bands, then as co-founder of hugely successful wellness company Hemsley+Hemsley alongside her sister Jasmine, Melissa has branched out on her own and launched her first solo cookery book, Eat Happy, all about easy-to-cook, feel-good food.
As well as healthy eating, Melissa is passionate about raising awareness around sustainability in the food industry and works with several charities including the Fairtrade Foundation, CookforSyria and The Prince’s Trust.
We chat with her about all things health+wellness, career choices, female role models, and her favourite eating and drinking spots in London town…
What’s the story behind your latest recipe book Eat Happy?
Eat Happy is a celebration of food and how food can make us feel really, really good. It’s packed full of recipes that take 30 minutes or less from start to finish, almost all use just one pan or tin for minimal washing up and they are designed to be easy to shop for, easy to cook and stress-free.
Tell us about some of your favourite dishes that you cook at home…
It’s winter so my fave chapter at the moment is the Bowl Food chapter, which covers soups, stews, curries and anything that is lovely and saucy. When my friends come over, they ask for my lentil chilli topped with guacamole or the laksa noodle soup.
How do you think healthy eating has changed since you first started out as a chef?
Thankfully, it is much easier and more accessible. Restaurants shout out more to their suppliers and the provenance of animal products and there’s more transparency about everything they serve us, which makes sense. We want to know what’s going in our bodies. It’s the same with supermarkets and raw ingredients.
Eating more seasonally is becoming the norm. Labelling makes it easier to see which foods have got added extras like sugar. I hope I’ve played a part in sharing via books and via social media, tons of free simple and fast recipes to encourage home cooking with lots of tips and tricks and time-saving advice.
What are your top tips for a healthy diet and lifestyle?
Eat more home cooked food.
Cook less but cook more when you cook. Use the freezer; my freezer is my best friend!
Prioritise sleep; it makes it much easier to eat well if you’re rested.
Spend a bit of time once a week scheduling in yoga/ a run/meditation/a proper salty bath/time to do a big cook off in your diary. Make all that as important as any meeting or appointment.
Who are your role models?
I’m a big fan of Skye Gyngell for her work on biodynamic farming and zero waste cooking. I also love the chef Anna Jones who is now a neighbour and friend of mine. She’s opened up vegetarian cooking to so many people.
My role models are Arianna Huffington, I really rate her books THRIVE and SLEEP and my friend Amy Thompson who has just launched an incredible app called MOODY about tracking cycles and embracing our changes and learning to work with them.
Tell us about the biggest things you learnt from working with your sister Jasmine to now?
The best way to help people eat well is to show them. Being a private chef for bands and actors at the beginning of my food career was so much fun and so interesting, I buzzed off feeding them and seeing how it affected their energy levels and moods.
The greatest lesson I’ve learnt, so far anyway, is that I don’t have to do it all. I’m a big ‘yes’ person, I hate saying no (this is probably true of many of us).
I try and split my year up now by spending about a third of it doing other projects for other people. This really feeds my soul, keeps me motivated, and boosts everything for me. Some of the causes I work with are the Fairtrade Foundation (I’ve just come back from a trip with them to Kenya to meet female Fairtrade farmers), Headtalks.com, an online mental health tool, Future Dreams (a charity that supports men and women with breast cancer and is opening a special centre in London) and Women Supporting Women (part of the Prince’s Trust) which fundraises and connects with young women all over UK.
Your favourite places to eat and drink in London?
Rochelle Canteen, Shoreditch. Website
Henrietta Inman takeover at Yardarm, Leyton. Website
45 Jermyn Street, Mayfair. Website
Hemsley & Hemsley Cafe, 3rd Floor Selfridges, Mayfair (my one!). Website
Koya, Soho. Website
Native, Southwark. Website
Brunswick House, Vauxhall. Website
Where in the world would you travel to eat?
Anywhere and everywhere! I absolutely love food adventures in the UK but I’ve just returned from Thailand and the Philippines for three weeks of street food.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I try not to feel any guilt! Pleasure is pleasure. I do love reading quite trashy crime mysteries.
What’s your secret London hiding place…
Quiet spots like public libraries and community gardens. I especially love going to allotments, my neighbour has one and I like to help him. It’s knackering but so rewarding and restorative and time flies when you’re digging and weeding and planting.
How do you ‘cool off’?
In a hot salty oily bath with an ice cold gin & tonic, a trashy crime mystery and with dinner doing its thing in the oven.
I also try and prioritise a big walk every day as I live right by Epping Forest (Essex) and it does wonders for my headspace and my dog’s happiness of course.
Who would be your dream client to cook for and what dish would you cook?
I would love to cook for Michelle Obama and I’d want to cook together, eat on the sofa and never let her leave.
What’s in your suitcase?
Alongside a ton of books which I hopefully swap with other holiday friends, a gorgeous woven basket from MMAA Social who support artisans in Africa, Lisa King scarves which are great on the plane and sarong style on the beach, and Divine Fairtrade chocolate, the following are my suitcase must-haves…