The Foodie Bugle launches today, and we are always very interested to find out how other people’s projects and careers began. We asked renowned food stylist, blogger and cook book author Genevieve Taylor to tell us all about her career from the very beginning. Since the launch of her new cookbook STEW! (published by Absolute Press) in February 2011, her feet have not touched the ground. Now embarking on a new project, a food Blog, called “An Egg a Day”, narrating her hen keeping and egg cooking activities, we wanted to know how the seeds of her love of food were first planted and where she draws inspiration for all her recipes and ideas.
Genevieve Taylor – How it all began
I have been passionate about food for as long as I can remember. Certainly I have vivid memories of cooking entire meals for my family as quite a young child, perhaps 10 or 11. Not because circumstance meant I had to cook, but simply out of a desire to prepare and create. Despite that promising start, my path to a career in food has been a rather long and convoluted one.
Having gained an ‘A’ in GSCE Home Economics my teacher spent a long time trying to persuade me to take the A level, convinced I had a brilliant future working as a nutritionist or dietician. It was indeed my only ‘A’ so perhaps I should have followed the calling towards food at age 16. But instead I chose to pursue my other great passion, wildlife, and went on to do a Biology degree at Manchester University. After my degree I moved to Bristol and began to work as a freelancer for the BBC’s celebrated Natural History Unit. I started my TV career as a researcher and progressed up to being the producer of the BBC’s long running Animal Park series. I travelled far and wide and was lucky enough to have some amazing encounters with the natural world. The perfect career for a young, free and single girl in her twenties….
Then, as I entered a new decade, I got married and had two wonderful children and it no longer seemed the perfect career. I returned, gradually, to my original love. In fact I never stopped loving food – for years and years I have kept notebooks stuffed with my own recipe jottings, tasty-sounding recipes torn from magazines and ideas for things I wanted to cook. But I never thought I’d get to use them as inspiration for writing my own book.
Since leaving television I have worked in various food related jobs – from having a jam and chutney stall at the Slow Food market to outside catering with my own company, ZEST food. For the last few years I have been working more and more as a food stylist and home economist, which in a nutshell means I write recipes for use in magazines and newspapers, on supermarket recipe cards and on food packaging – and then I go on to produce the recipes so they look beautiful for the accompanying photography. Last year I was asked by Absolute Press to do the food styling on various cookery books and that was to be my lucky break into the world of book publishing.
Food for photography needs to be stunning and sumptuous, after all you are trying to tempt people to buy the product or try the recipe. But its also about making something that has instant visual signposts – one glance and you can ‘read’ the picture, know what the dish is and be able to think ‘Yes, I really want to make that’. Before the creative side of the process can begin there are the practicalities to deal with – the endless list making and food shopping that goes with trying to make dozens of recipes over the course of a shoot. Imagine shopping for a dinner party with 40 completely different courses and you get the idea. I have learnt, through painful trial and error, not to do the shopping with the kids in tow!
People often ask me how I know where to begin writing a recipe. A lot of it is instinct, knowing what flavours work and what most certainly don’t. I can ‘taste’ things in my head, a skill I’m sure I share with everyone else who creates recipes, and I can picture how I want a finished dish to look and smell. This is exactly how I approached the writing of my cookbook “STEW!” I knew I had to produce a hundred recipes and I wanted to include not only my own variations of the old classics, such as boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, lancashire hotpot, but also lots of spicy dishes from around the world. I researched stews from other cultures and tested and tried out dozens of recipes before settling on my final list. Once the manuscript was written I went on to decide which ones would have the most visual appeal and came up with a list of recipes that we would photograph. Mike Cooper, the photographer, and I went into the studio for 4 days and came out with a collection of photos that would illustrate the book beautifully. I am really rather proud of the result. STEW! is my first book, but it will definitely not be my last.
As I came to the end of writing STEW! I started searching for my next writing project. I had got the writing bug and knew I had to continue. To that end I persuaded my husband to let me have some longed-for chickens and the blog ‘An Egg a Day’ was born. Four hens in an urban garden are expected to produce 3-4 eggs per day and the blog follows my journey into the world of egg-cookery. So far I have made all sorts of cakes, meringues, quiches, pate, scotch eggs, kedgeree and spanish scrambled eggs – and there will be plenty more over the coming months. Or should I make that years? The chickens will lay for three to four years, and so I shall continue experimenting with this most useful and versatile of ingredients. Do follow me on my journey, as there really is no ingredient more delicious in the larder than the humble egg.