The ART of eating well

by marlies|dekkers

Loved by the food, fitness and fashion industries alike, sisters Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley have taken the health and wellness industry by storm since launching their family-run wellness business in 2010 for people who want to live healthier, happier lives. Within two weeks of creating their blog, the girls were asked to contribute to, where they are still regular columnists. The Art of Eating Well is Jasmine and Melissa’s best-selling first cookbook which was followed by Good + Simple, both of which champion nourishing, home-cooked food. They have since gone on to launch The Hemsley Spiralizer, opened their first cafe Hemsley + Hemsley at Selfridges in London and seen their TV series Eating Well With Hemsley + Hemsley air in 28 countries including Channel 4 in the UK. Jasmine and Melissa are experienced public speakers, having given talks for BBC Worldwide’s International Conference, Penguin Random House, YouTube, and Facebook. The girls have also appeared on TV including Channel 4’s Saturday Kitchen and BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

Marlies: You moved from modeling and marketing into food and started a culinary wellness revolution, all with a smile! What was and is your main drive?

Jasmine: Yes, I was working full-time as a model from the age of 19. I was fascinated by the many different ideas surrounding health and nutrition and over the years developed a way of eating that made me feel energized and toned. Through this I found that natural, easy to digest and nutrient dense foods were what truly counted despite whatever ‘fads’ were being hailed by the media.

Melissa: Jasmine soon begun sharing tips and tricks with friends, family and myself. I was working as a footwear brand manager and later in marketing and promotion for gastropubs and bars but soon caught the bug and helped spread the word. Hemsley + Hemsley started 7 years ago as a bespoke service aimed at helping people with their digestion and relationship with food. We were cooking for clients, clearing out their cupboards, filling up their fridges and freezers and showing them how to cook our recipes and feel better – happier, healthier and more energized.

Marlies: You encourage people to feed themselves both physically and spiritually. What was your personal turning point for adopting this holistic approach?

Jasmine: We have always been interested in food and aware of it’s connection to health. After a trip to Australia 4 years ago we, along with my other half Nick, were determined more than ever bring that holiday feeling of sunshine and vitality back to our hectic London lives. We’d also came across several books whilst away that confirmed that the natural foods such as animal fat that had been labeled bad these past 40 years were actually good for us – something that we had come to realise through all of our own research into eating.

Melissa: Once back in London we jokingly said – wouldn’t it be great to have a family business making the food we all want to eat, food that keeps us happy and energized without struggling and be able to share it with everybody… and with no concrete plans but plenty of passion and willingness to continue learning and work hard here we are today!

Marlies: I understand that you are very much influenced by the women in your family: your (Filipino) mother and your ‘granny’. Can you tell me about that?

Jasmine: Our Mum really provided us with the foundations of a healthy approach to food. We grew up knowing the importance of home-cooked food and that a good bowl of bone broth could help with a multitude of ailments.

Melissa: Mum cooked intuitively based on what was in the fridge and cupboards, making great use of everything we had – definitely where our frugal streak comes from – and each meal was made with great care and attention. She is Filipino but we grew up in army barracks in the UK and Germany so this heavily influenced the food we ate too – lots of sauerkraut!

Marlies: By providing us with a way to energize our lives without having to spend hours in the kitchen, you are truly empowering so many women! Would you call yourselves feminists?

Both: We’re chuffed to know we’re helping people. We love our job – we’re multitasking, hardworking women sharing hard working real food for hardworking real people!

Marlies: What would be your quick & easy advice for someone wanting to start eating healthier, now? Perhaps you can share 3 tips?

1. Swap cooking oils – Use heat-stable ghee or coconut oil, save the delicious taste of extra virgin olive oil for drizzling and preserve its goodness. Eat butter, not margarine.

2. Use proper sea salt and steer clear of the refined stuff. It will make everything taste better as well – we add a touch to our sweet treats like Black Bean Brownies to really bring out flavors.

3. Cut down on sugar – Even natural sugars. Opt for pure maple syrup when baking and raw honey for drizzling, dressings etc. and gradually use less to tame that sweet tooth.

4. BONUS… Chew! Digestion starts in your mouth, no teeth in your tummy, not just what you eat but how you eat and it’s what you digest that counts, don’t drink too much water while eating as this dilutes digestive enzymes, make enjoying your meals a time of focus and pleasure.

Marlies: The theme of this issue of my magazine is ‘Express yourself’. Do you consider cooking an important way to express yourselves?

Jasmine: Yes, cooking for yourself is a beautiful expression of self-love and cooking for others is a great way to share the love and connect with people.

Melissa: Coming up with new recipes or reinventing existing favorites with interesting twists is so much fun and bringing friends over for a tasting session to get their feedback is truly satisfying too. I love to get in the zone when I’m cooking, I’ll put on a good podcast, TED talk or some classical music in the background and it’s an enjoyable, relaxing time for me.

Marlies: In the tradition of Nigella, you make cooking -healthy cooking in your case- sexy! How do you see the link between cooking and sensuality?

Jasmine: Well, of course there are ingredients such as chocolate, oysters, and beetroot which are natural aphrodisiacs, but just the gesture of cooking for someone and sharing a meal can be a real act of love. Cooking and food are about a connection to ourselves and the wider world -the sexiest and most sensual thing is being truly present and grateful for your food and how it got to your plate- tasting and enjoying the flavors and textures is a real exploration of the senses.

Melissa: And as George Bernard Shaw famously said, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food”.

Marlies: What are the pros and cons of working with your sister? (I used to work with my sister too, so I’m very curious to hear about your experience!)

Jasmine: Everyone’s favorite question! Of course, it’s not always plain sailing as it would be with anyone you work with all the time. As sisters, what works really well for us is being able to cut to the chase and because we know each other so well we get stuff done really quickly. As with all small businesses, you have to roll up your sleeves and get involved. The business has evolved naturally and we now work in areas that we love the most.

Melissa: Luckily our work is so varied -we have weeks where we work remotely, speaking via email, phone and Skype and other weeks where we are constantly together traveling- last year we did England, Ireland, Scotland, Sydney, Dubai, New York, Germany, Holland, and Belgium together! With cooking, meetings and recipe developments there is lots of room for creativity and also plenty of time to work alone and remotely from laptops so we aren’t in each other’s space the whole time. The good thing is when it comes back to just being family we find it remarkably easy to switch off!

Marlies: Over the course of the last few years, you inspired us to sip bone broth, cook with coconut oil and use a spiralizer. What are you into right now? (in other words, what will all of us be into in the near future?)

Jasmine: We are definitely still into all of those things! A big focus for us is finding genius ways to enjoy more veg, so another fantastic way of eating more vegetables which we’ve been enjoying for many years is grating cauliflower to make rice. It has proved very popular with everyone, even our Filipino family who grew up eating lots of grain rice. We love cauliflower rice with our curries and also turn it into tabbouleh to serve alongside lamb meatballs.

Melissa: By swapping vegetables and other more complex carbohydrates in and swapping out or decreasing the simpler carbohydrates we not only ensure that we are eating more whole foods which have a greater nutritional value but also achieving our 5 a day in veg. We’ve seen it on menus at more and more cafes and restaurants recently and there’s even ready-to-go cauliflower rice sold in supermarkets too! Vegetables are truly at the heart of all of our cooking and we love packing them into recipes in clever ways to increase the nutritional value of our meals, making cauliflower rice is a great way to do so.

Marlies: What is your life’s motto?

Both: Good mood, good food, good digestion, good health!

Black bean brownies – recipe:
(use organic where possible) (makes 9-16)

– 2 x 400g tins cooked black beans, drained
– 230g (8oz) unsalted butter
– 4 medium eggs
– 85g (3oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
– 150ml (5fl oz) maple syrup
– 1½ tbsp vanilla extract
– 1 tsp coffee extract, or use extra vanilla extract
– 130g (4¾oz) chopped walnuts, soaked and dried
– Preheat the oven to 170°C/330°F/gas mark 3½.
– Rinse the black beans and leave to drain.
– Melt the butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat, set it aside.
– Place the drained beans, eggs, cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla extract and coffee extract (if using) into a food processor with a large pinch of salt. Pulse a few times and then blend until smooth.
– Add the melted butter, very slowly so as not to cook the eggs, while the machine is running.
– Taste the batter -add more maple syrup if needs be-.
– Then stir in most of the chopped walnuts, reserving a handful.
Grease the inside of a 24 x 20cm (9¾ x 8in) china or glass baking-dish.
– Pour in the brownie batter and gently tap the baking-dish onto a kitchen counter to even out the batter.
– Sprinkle the remaining walnuts on top and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the brownie feels firm and springy and its surface is cracked.
– Allow cooling completely before cutting into squares. Refrigerating the brownies makes them wonderfully fudge.

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