Melissa Hemsley: Food for the Soul

Melissa Hemsley: Food for the Soul

Holly Louise Eells chats to chef Melissa Hemsley about the power of food and her fond memories of Kingston

Melissa Hemsley has always been passionate about food. Even as a teen, she worked at her local Topshop in Kingston so she could save for a special dinner out.

She tells us: “I would get the bus every day after school (The Tiffin Girls’ School, Sixth Form) to work my 4pm-6pm shift at Topshop. I managed to buy myself a meal at the Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, and that was a treat!”

Both Melissa and her sister Jasmine went on to carve out careers around cooking and eating well, with their Filipino mum having instilled in them a love of good food – and the ethos that ingredients should be respected and never wasted.

Melissa has just written her fifth cookbook, Feel Good, featuring easy and affordable healthy food that nourishes the soul. She explains: “Feel-good cooking is not just what we eat, it’s the mindset around it. The idea is to encourage a relaxed, flexible approach that encourages you to tune in to what you feel you need, your time constraints, and what you happen to have in the fridge.”

Whether it’s a quick dinner after a long day, cook-ahead lunches to see you through the week (batch cooking is encouraged), or a tray bake for an evening of comfort and nourishment; there’s something for every mood. “It’s about equipping you with ideas to make the process of cooking more enjoyable – helping you to grow in confidence as you learn how to mix and match with leftovers and seasonal finds, and encouraging you to take the time to savour the result in all its deliciousness,” says Melissa.

Over the last couple of years, more people are cooking not just for their physical health but for their mental health too, something Melissa describes how she likes to cook and eat at home. “As I was writing the book, and sending recipes to people, I realised we are all quite similar despite our differences. No matter how tricky, challenging and lonely your day has been; you can really connect through food.”

She continues: “What we cook and eat can help to build the emotional scaffolding that supports our busy lives and sustains us through the toughest times. Food alone can’t solve all our problems, but it can play a part in uplifting us, offering nourishment, physically and mentally, and inspiring a little more joy at home.”

Flick through the Feel Good cookbook pages and you will discover energy-boosting breakfast muffins with banana, carrot, and seeds; dinners such as zingy Vietnamese-style noodles with fried sesame tofu, and her mum’s Filipino chicken with mango and tomato salsa.

When it comes to desserts, I loved trying out the recipe for the No-Bake Chewy Nutty Bars… “I’m so glad you enjoyed making them,” she says. “I was actually thinking of making these for my book tour.”

Melissa will be going on her Feel Good tour from May 16. “It feels so good to be back on tour,” she explains. “Even speaking with you now is quite wild because the only person I talk to about my book is my boyfriend, Henry, as he sits and eats every single meal with me,” she laughs. single meal with me,” she laughs.

“It’s enriching meeting people as I get so much valuable feedback and ideas. When people come over to get their book signed, they always tell me stories and thoughts on recipes.”

As well as her cookbooks, Melissa is a proud supporter of the food waste charity The Felix Project, which collects fresh, nutritious food that cannot be sold. She volunteers with them regularly to rescue surplus food and cook healthy meals for children and the vulnerable. Also, she is an ambassador for Mental Health Mates, the Fairtrade Foundation, and Women Supporting Women (The Princes Trust).

Melissa lives in East London with Henry and dog Nelly, but often visits her family home in Surbiton. “For a special occasion, we love to visit The French Table on Maple Road, which is around a ten-minute walk from my mum’s house. I really love Maple Road,” she says.

But it’s her mum’s cooking that she loves the most. “Henry and I were saying the other day how great it is to go out to lovely restaurants and support local businesses, but my mum’s food is actually the best. She is such an amazing cook, I can’t tell you. I would love to do a cookbook with amazing cook, I can’t tell you. I would love to do a cookbook with my mum!”