Having built up a vibrant and extensive career in fashion, before transferring to the wonderful world of cooking, with features in endless stacks of magazines and online- there’s no doubting Anna Barnett has a lot of strings to her bow (read: she’s one talented lady). Visiting her in her stunning East London pad, with shelves adorned with cookery books, ceramics and china for food styling (as well as more stunning antiques than you could shake a stick at), I got chatting to Anna about dipping your toes into different careers, the ingredients worth having in your cupboard and my one true love, Italian food…
Hi Anna! For those that haven’t heard of you before can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a self-taught cook with a passion for anything edible. I started out by writing my own blog, which led to writing ‘The Reluctant Vegetarian’ blog for the Independent newspaper. My first cookery book ‘Eat the Week’ was released last summer and I currently spend my time recipe testing, hosting pop-up supper clubs, catering press events and writing for Vogue, Grazia, Elle and The Arcadia Online.
You’ve worked in a number of careers, from fashion (and being a pretty key player at House of Holland), to MTV, to cooking- how did you find yourself getting in to food?
I grew up with a big family and have always cooked – I just didn’t realise I would be able to make a career out of it until more recent years. When I finally plucked up the courage to take a punt and give it a try, I found myself wishing I’d done it sooner.
I think it’s hugely inspirational that you’ve tackled so many varied careers and jobs- do you have any advice for women looking to switch things up?
If you have something you’re passionate about and want to give it a try then absolutely don’t hold back. Anything and everything is possible. Be confident, willing to work hard and have no regrets… what’s the worst that can happen?
Your recipes are always so inventive (yet still achievable at home)- what was it like releasing your debut book last year? How long did it take you to come up with everything?
I was working full time while writing the book so it was pretty hectic and stressful but it’s what really gave me the push to make the jump. I knew I couldn’t continue doing everything at the same time and create content of a high standard. I wrote the book in four months and spent most nights writing recipes and testing out different ideas. I really wanted the book to be varied but definitely easy enough for people to make at home.
What are your favourite recipes to cook- how do you get inspiration for new dishes? Are there any ingredients you start with again and again?
I love homemade pasta. My favourite dish from the book is the Squid Ink Tagliatelle with King Prawns and Star Anise. Different dishes take you back or remind you of different places growing up and I love that nostalgia associated with food. My memory is usually terrible until it comes to food or meals that I’ve loved then I can remember every detail. I also love cooking vegetarian dishes; my boyfriend is vegetarian so I’m always keen to come up with something new that he hasn’t tried before.
You’re partial to a dinner party and supper club; what are your top tips, or pieces of advice for a successful shin-dig?
I love to serve up big sharing plates of food for my guests. The sharing platters from Denby’s new Natural Canvas tableware are perfect for modern dinner parties as everyone can get stuck in. I try to be super organised and clever with my menu by choosing dishes I can prepare well in advance and that taste better with time. I also try and do as little as possible on the night and avoid doing anything labour intensive so that I can spend more time with my guests.
What recipes are your favourite to cook at a get-together? Which should we pluck from your book straight away?
The buttermilk chicken tacos always go down well. The ceviche with grapefruit & radicchio is a delicious summery starter and worth giving a go, plus it’s super easy to prepare in advance. The cheats chicken Kiev with caper berry slaw is another favourite that people seem to love.
What are your favourite London foodie hide outs?
I’m a massive fan of Italian food, so anything pasta based. We’re lucky enough to live right by Lardo on Richmond Road and also Rotorino on Kingsland Road so we have some really great Italian restaurant options. Broadway Market on a Saturday is also a favourite of mine – La Tua Pasta serve up the best ravioli. Another recommendation is Pizza’s Don’t Cry who make crazy good pizza’s in Nettle Market every Saturday.
You’ve also got an incredible, and vibrant sense of personal style- who, or what inspires the way you dress?
I dress depending on my mood or where I’m off to. I love colour and smocks, in fact, I’d say I dress for comfort most of the time… it just happens that most of my comfortable clothes are a little bit ‘art teacher’. I love brands that do things a little differently. Miu Miu, House of Holland and Mother of Pearl are probably my favourites.
Which other women, in food, or fashion- inspire you daily? Who are your girl crushes?
Nigella Lawson is a complete hero of mine, she just does her thing, looks fab and sticks with a certain aesthetic. The Hemsley’s are super sweet, always look great and they have a really nice take on recipes and nutrition. I’d say I love people like Bella Youngers aka Deliciously Stella, who take things a little less seriously. I think she’s super funny and I find her take on things both empowering and hilarious.
Finally, what’s next for Anna?
As well as helping to launch Denby’s new contemporary tableware range, Natural Canvas, I have a series of cookery classes planned and a tonne of catering events booked in. I’m also in the process of putting together the pitch for my next book, so hopefully I’ll finally be turning ‘The Reluctant Vegetarian’ into a cookery book.