Photography by Sasha Israel
FOR MANY, THE NOTION OF TWO BRIT-BASED CHEFS HERALDING HOME-COOKED CUISINE MIGHT BRING TO MIND TRADITIONAL DELICACIES LIKE BANGERS AND MASH, BUTTERY SCONES AND TUBS OF CLOTTED CREAM. WELL, NOT QUITE THE CASE WITH MELISSA AND JASMINE HEMSLEY. Growing up outside of London on Kingston Upon Thames, the stunning Hemsley sisters gleaned cooking tips from their Filipina mother and British father who taught them the value of whole foods. “When we were young, we ate home-cooked food,” said Jasmine. “If you wanted to eat, you had to get in the kitchen and chop some onions.” As adults, the sisters embarked on their respective careers (Jasmine in modeling and Melissa in gastropub marketing) where they noticed how much they missed nourishing food. “Suddenly we had disposable incomes and could start eating out,” recalls Jasmine. “We tried sushi and other exotic foods but when we cooked, we always felt better.” It wasn’t long before the pair returned to their roots and founded their eponymous firm Hemsley and Hemsley, a boutique company devoted to cooking and feeding clients the way they themselves eat (Think: vegetable-laden curries, cannellini bean cakes and buckwheat noodle salads.) The difference between the Hemsleys and say, your average raw vegan chef? They’re happy to tuck into a steak or rich baked goods–as long as they’re prepared with the proper ingredients and care. Since launching their firm, they have built a burgeoning empire based on serving healthy food to an A-list clientele. This month, the VOGUE UK columnists debut their best-selling cookbook The Art of Eating Well here in the States, which features plenty of decadent recipes–but of the quinoa sort. Below, we caught up with the sister/chef duo who hopped the pond earlier this summer to speak with bonberi and whip up their famous black bean brownies.
How did the idea to start a meal delivery program come about?
Jasmine: I was modeling and would take my own food to shoots. Everyone would be like, “Ooh, what’s that! Why do you eat that?” It could be anything, a mung dahl or leftove quinoa or a smoothie. I would get a lot of same bookings so if I knew it was a studio full of biscuits, crisps and dodgy sandwiches, then I’d pack for the entire day. If I knew they had a fridge, then I knew exactly what I’d take. I just couldn’t eat a vending machine sandwich, it felt wrong.
Did you get a lot of flack for bringing in your own food?
Jasmine: I’d get a lot of curious people who would say, “Why are you eating butter? You’re a model!” If I’d be eating a steak, people would say, “Oh my god, what are you doing, that’s a heart attack on a plate.” The biggest thing that was killing me was watching people eating corn flakes with skim milk and a Diet Coke or calorie counting. I thought, if I had a B&B, I’d take these people for a week, feed them and they would transform.
So who was your first client?
Jasmine: A makeup artist who worked with a lot of celebrities. When he turned 40, he said, “Whatever I was doing when I was 20, going to the gym and it would all be fine, is not working anymore and I’m killing myself. I’ve got this trainer and these strict rules about lean protein and broccoli.” I was like, “Ooh, wow, good luck for the rest of your life on this planet because it’s not going to get better than that.” And he said, “Well come on show me then.” So I went to his house with a box of things and said, “If you’re going to use salt, this is the salt you use. If you’re going to fry something, use ghee, coconut oil or butter for sautéing.”
Melissa: We were with him morning, day and night. Some people just want you to fill their fridge and go and we did that for a while too. We only look after 4 or 5 clients at a time. We only started the company 3 years ago and that’s when we started writing recipes for Vogue who called us their Food Fairies. We just drop of the food and make you feel better.
How would you describe both of your approach to food?
Melissa: We are about a celebration of food. We try to take away any negativity. Food shouldn’t be frightening, it should be simple and delicious. Our most important rule is the Better Than Rule. If you need to have more sugar in the beginning or more honey to get your kid to eat, then do it. Don’t feel guilty, just small step by small step. We made sure that every recipe in here is something that a beginner cook can start with. We don’t want people to get obsessed with the rules so we talk about guides to eating out because everyone wants to go eat out. You don’t have to think I’m going to eat like this and then I’m going to eat out and eat everything. It’s too overwhelming.
Do you avoid any foods?
Jasmine: We steer clear from gluten, grain and refined sugar, but that could mean you could be having a full on, date, nut, guar gum, brown sugar syrup explosion. Often in these health food stores, everything is all fruit and nut or huge portions or overly sweet and like 60% dates. We are about very low sugar. We use just enough of low natural sweeteners to give you that satisfaction.
In your book, you talk about sprouted nuts. What is the benefit to soaking them?
Melissa: People eat so many handfuls of nuts without activating them. Just guzzling them as snacks, adding them to smoothies or granola and just living off of them. That is way to heavy for the average digestive system.
Jasmine: Soaking nuts make them more vegetable like. You’ve released B vitamins, enzymes and you also breakdown the acidic barrier that protects it, which is the bitterness that you taste.
Do you have any tips on weaning yourself off sugar?
Jasmine: Start with raw honey and bit by bit bring it down. Start with a lovely strawberry smoothie and add a little spinach until your taste buds get used to it. It’s the same with children. Kids get used to things visually so they feel safe. It’s amazing how many children have textural and brand phobias. Even one-year-olds have a preference for the color of the squishy pot they’re going to suck their food out of.
What is your stance on food combining?
Jasmine: We work with a lot of people with very sensitive stomachs. Even a carrot juice will make them fall over because they’ll get such a sugar hit. So we start by removing grains and extremely high starch foods. Those foods don’t digest well with meat. With everything going on, the drugs we take, the chemicals we breathe in on a day to day basis, the lack of real food that we’ve grown up eating, our stomachs are very sensitive. Food combining works very well because we just put 2/3 low starch veggies so you fill up on those. We use cauliflower rice instead of rice so you’re still satisfied.
What is your favorite dish from your cookbook?
Jasmine: I love to make a big hot daal. If you make it for breakfast. It’s really hearty, warming, easy to digest. It’s fantastic to start your day on and it’s extremely anti-inflammatory. At night, if you come home at 10pm and you really need to go to bed but you’re hungry and don’t want to cook, it’s perfect as leftovers or frozen.
Melissa: I love the green smoothie and raw soup. We’ll make a blender’s worth and then we pour half out and put it in a canister to take away and to the other half we add chili, scallions, coriander or some cilantro and mint and you can make it a raw gazpacho. You have a sweet smoothie and then a savory smoothie that we drizzle flax seed oil on. That’s amazing to have when you’re running around and it’s so simple. My favorite thing is to make a massive vat of broccoli soup then split half of it up and blend half of it with ginger and chili and blend the other half with basil and it’s two completely different things.
Do you have any detox dishes that you resort to after indulging?
Jasmine: This happened after going to weddings one summer. I got back and knew I needed something alkalising, balancing and hydrating, but I didn’t actually need more food because I ate my weight’s worth. So if the last thing I ate was really sweet, I would make a really oniony, garlicky, cayenne-y green soup and if I had a way too much for rich fried foods or a roast then I’d go for something more lemony, apple-y.
What is your policy to dining out?
Jasmine: Feel comfortable asking for things off the menu.Ask if they can use butter or coconut oil over vegetable oils.
You are not shy in promoting good fats in your book, but isn’t fat bad?
Jasmine: We know that polyunsaturated fats are touted as heart healthy but because they are not saturated they are unstable in heat, light and oxygen so many of the forms eaten on a day to day basis are either rancid or highly refined and hydrgenated to make them more stable.You must stay away from those oils like vegetable oil, which is industrially produced. It’s loaded with deodorized chemicals. After sugar, that’s the worst thing. Flax oil, which is always refrigerated, is great, but you can’t cook with that. Curry is amazing when they cook it in ghee. Everyone is scared of ghee but it’s grass-fed butter.
Melissa: We went to Cambodia to this amazing retreat spa and we asked them to teach us how to make Cambodian food and the chef was cooking up curry. He said my mom would use lard. In the last 40 years, everyone’s decided more vegetable oil and more sugar.
Jasmine: For example, our brownies use butter. Not for tasting but because grass-fed butter is extremely high in vitamins. It’s also cheaper than coconut oil. Wherever butter fits, we also give the option of coconut oil. Usually dairy cows don’t eat soy and grain but you do get cows that are fed a portion of those things, which is why we stress grass-fed butter. We try to explain and make people remember our grannies ate butter, so did millions of people before these health foods were shoved in our faces. We stick to flax, sesame and olive oil. You can get other things like sunflower oils but they’re high in omega 6 and unfortunately in the Western diet, omega 6 is very high because of all the nuts, seeds and plant fats. Animal foods, fish oil and butter are all high in omega 3s, so we need to get that balance back.
What other healthy foods do you promote or use in your own diets?
Jasmine: We’re really keen on probiotic foods. Certainly our generation, it was all about antibiotics and no one thought about repairing our gut flora after taking them. No one thought about repairing them. Probiotics should be done taken at intervals in batches rather than continuously. If we’re traveling to someplace like Cambodia, we take them before and then after.
Melissa: We also make our own coconut yoghurt. We take coconut butter, add a probiotic capsule or sauerkraut juice, incubate it and you get this tangy thing that you can add to cakes or sandwiches or granola. It’s a tangy milk substitute.
Jasmine: Most people cook but they think it’s quite scary to make your own yoghurt. So we try to simplify it.
Melissa: Probiotic ketchup is also amazing. We all know that ketchup is full of sugar. It’s also a condiment that everyone loves. You can make a massive batch and it will keep in you fridge for six months. All it does is get tangier and tangier and full of good bacteria. If your child is eating that everyday, it’s amazing. We also make sauerkraut, which is cabbage and water and kimchi. Kimchi with eggs, kimchi with quinoa. My mom started feeding it to me when I was seven. We grew up near an area of New Malden that’s full of Korean restaurants.
What do your mornings look like?
Jasmine: I can’t get out of bed without scraping my tongue. I oil-pull three times a week with sesame oil. Then I’ll have hot water with ginger and lemon, you don’t need any sweetener at all.
Melissa: In the morning I might have a buckwheat porridge. I don’t really do caffeine. I love fresh ginger tea in the morning with turmeric and cayenne in the winter. All that is quite nice chilled in the fridge as well. I like to do muffin frittatas, but I don’t do any frying, just grate carrots or courgettes, bake them and that’s breakfast for the next few days. We don’t really differentiate between breakfast as a different meal. When it’s good food, it’s good food any time and day. Maybe it’s because we’re half Asian. People will say they can’t imagine eating fish in the morning but then they have sausage and eggs.
What about nighttime?
Melissa: Before going to bed, we activate anything we need for the next day or get ahead on the week by soaking overnight like a handful of almonds to go in my breakfast smoothie, a bag of quinoa for tomorrow’s supper or I might start a broth in the slow cooker.
Jasmine: If I eat a steak for dinner, half of it is at night, half of it is in the morning. Protein portions don’t have to be huge. I don’t need a massive amount of it. I just eat until I’m done. The next day, I’ll strip the steak and pan-fry it with some vegetables and that will be breakfast or it will be broth with an egg dropped in and some chopped up watercress.
What is your stance on juicing?
Jasmine: I tend to only drink vegetable juices or eat lots of fruit in the summer when it;s nice and warm and the fruit tastes good! But if we’re on tour or traveling for a period of time then a juice, smoothie and fresh fruit becomes a primary source of fresh food and vitamins. If it’s just us going into the work kitchen or cooking at home then we’ll make a big salad and load up on veggies in that way instead.
Melissa: It’s important to remember that smoothies are a meal. Don’t just glug them down, chew them. We always talk about digesting, chewing, taking time to eat.
Any tips for on the go?
Jasmine: If we’re on a fast paced trip like this visit to New York and we know we’re not going to get much sleep or chance to relax then we make sure we both drink a lot of water to keep us from feeling sluggish, which is why we have to pee every 5 minutes.
FOR MELISSA & JASMINE’S GREEN APPLE, CLICK HERE