10 min read
Melissa Hemsley, the UK super-cook using social media to end food wastage
Melissa Hemsley is a self-described sharer and super Virgo. She’s also one of our Women of 2020 – our curated list of smart women doing inspiring things online this year.
We chatted to Melissa about no-waste food, begging your way into Vogue and striking the mystical work-life balance.
Melissa, with the kind of meal prep your working from home could do with right now.
London-based Melissa Hemsley is a familiar face on the UK food scene – she has a column for Vogue, has just launched her fourth cookbook, Eat Green, and is a key voice in sustainable food practices and Fair Trade.
She’s a perfect example of a multi-hyphenate making it work her way and we were lucky enough to grab some of her time, to quiz her on how she keeps everything flowing!
Melissa, how would you describe what you do?
“I use food to do loads of things I like and to make more connection. I’m doing what I love and working, or playing, to my strengths. I try and bring my work and life together in the healthiest way. I’m trying to really make my social life and the work gel. I’m seeing that my friends are available, I’m like, “Do you want to come to this festival (that I’m speaking at) with me?”
"I use food to do loads of things I like and to make more connection."
“The reality of writing is it doesn’t really pay very much at all. I have four books, and people must think you earn so much, but you don’t. So, I write for other people too. But the stuff I enjoy most is putting out recipes. I think I’m just a giver! I’m a Virgo: I love options and plans. So, whenever I think of anything like, “I’m going to make this soup with fennel, pea and potato, because that’s what’s in my fridge.” I think someone else is thinking about eating more vegetables, someone else wants to clear the fridge and not put more waste into landfill and save money, and I’m going to share it. So, I’m a sharer.
“The problem is, I don’t know how to describe myself. So I just do what I love!”
How did this all start for you?
“My sister, Jasmine, and I had been private cheffing. We didn’t have a company name, we didn’t have anything. But we didn’t need anything actually. It was a nice simple time where we didn’t have a website, Instagram didn’t exist, Linktree didn’t even exist. Twitter was then where people ranted, and Facebook was where you found your first love. We went to the market, went to the local veg shop, cooked food, fed our clients, who were bands and actors and really exciting creative people. Just like us, they wanted delicious food that boosted their mood and gave them energy so they could do their jobs better.
“I only learned to cook when I was in my early twenties, and then we started the company when I was 24. That’s something that I’m really trying to show on social media. Cooking is the one of the most basic, probably the most important skill ever. We have to eat, feeding ourselves is something that everybody used to do. But we’ve outsourced that to high streets and deliveries.
“It was bizarre when we finally had to set up a blog and a company name – Hemsley and Hemsley, which is our surnames, and took us literally a year to come up with! I remember Googling, ‘how do you use that up a blog?’ Then I asked every single person I knew for about six months, “Does anyone know anyone at Vogue?”. Eight years ago, Vogue to my knowledge, were the only magazine that had an online presence. We finally found somebody whose girlfriend had just got a job in the fashion department, and we begged her to tell us the name of the food editor of Vogue. She was like – there isn’t one!
“In the end, we got the beauty editor, who we begged and wooed her to get her to give us a chance. We posted a recipe and it did well and they asked for the next. We’re like, “Oh my God. We’ve got a Vogue column.” Then long story short, almost quite innocently we were starting to get offered book deals. I really listened to my gut and we said no because it didn’t feel like the right time. A year later when we had really understood the book we wanted to write, we pitched it and found the right publishers.”
Melissa's oat flour pancakes and 'freezer berry sauce' are exactly what we want on our plates.
How does the new book, Eat Green, differ from your three previous books?
“We always used to talk about waste in the first couple of books. Then, I really delved deeper into it with Eat Happy (book three). When you don’t waste, not only is it better for the environment, better for your back pocket, it also means that you can have leftovers and rollover foods. You’ve always got elements of food to put together.
“So for Eat Green I based the recipes on the 13 most bought and thrown away ingredients. So, you’ve got like salads, eggs, potatoes, everything you’ve got in your fridge. Basically, the things we buy the most are the things we waste the most, because we habitually put them into our shopping baskets and then we think – I’ll just get more of them, I’m throwing away this carrot, but there’ll be another carrot to eat next week.”
“The recipes are all 30 minute meals, because I think that’s basically the time a delivery order will take. If I can show people 30 minute meals, they might cook more at home, which I think is what people most want to do, but for convenience they order in.
Everybody these days talks in terms of content, but it sounds like you have a very organic approach?
“I’m selfish, I’m always putting things up for me, because I know that somebody else will feel anxious today. I know that somewhere, someone else will hear or read it, and it will strike a chord and it might make them feel a little bit better.”
"Some people really like a magazine aesthetic on social media, where everything really ties in, but I enjoy social media the most when I don't overthink it."
“Some people really like a magazine aesthetic on social media, where everything really ties in, but I enjoy social media the most when I don’t overthink it. That’s why I think (not to be a suck up!) Linktree works. Maybe someone sees a picture of mine on their feed and realise they haven’t caught up with my stuff for a while. They go onto my feed, they might even scroll back a month. Then the nice thing is that with Linktree they can go and find what content that relates to. I like people’s content where I can really dive get lost in it.
“That’s why one of the top things on my Linktree is subscribe to my newsletter, because it is really lovely to then go deeper and not just have bite size stuff. I mean, who isn’t using Linktree? I associate it like people associate searching with Google. I just think it’s what’s everyone’s doing!”
Melissa cooking with veggies that would otherwise have gone to waste, collected by the Felix Project and then distributed to community centers in London
Tell me about your online community. Who are they and what do you get from them?
“It’s really difficult to know exactly who they are – we just never really know who people are beyond the picture or the comments that we share. I would say that they’re all ages, with a surprising number of men – men are very welcome – and very interactive. I think my audience is also probably a bit like me, that they love online life, but they also really enjoy coming off it.
“I’m a rambler, I feel like when I don’t overthink my post, when I don’t edit myself, and I just let myself say what I need to say without coming to a point, people really like that. It’s then that people write quite significant lengths of comments back.”
You’ve covered every format – TV, podcasting, you write, you do live events. How did you get your confidence to do all of those different formats?
“Do you know what? I don’t know if I ever feel like I’ve got my confidence. I feel like it’s something I work on. Some days I feel confident. Working from home can be a real confidence killer.
“So just chatting to someone on the phone first thing in the morning, is an example for me of a confidence booster. Having connected with a real life human being in the morning, I know for sure will give me a really good day. Making sure I go outside, getting the fresh air, which is an investment in my mental health, which is an investment in my confidence, making sure I eat, come away from my laptop, rest my eyes. All of the things that come under really the self-care bracket, which also are the confidence bracket, I work on every single day.”
“And I do things that scare me. I try and say to myself, they’re not scary, they’re just different.It’s a different way of working for me. I’ll meet new people or it will be a different audience to share.”
Melissa's All Day Breakfast takes forty mins to cook, serves four people and uses any root veg and greens you have in!
Do you have a team around you or are you a one-man-band?
“I’ve got a friend/guru called Sarah who helps me three times a month collate my thoughts. She’ll always say to me, “I saw you doing that on your Instagram. You need to put that in a newsletter, or you need to put that in a website.” She’s like my voice of organization! She’s the one that’s taught me quite a bit about Linktree.
“Then a year and a half ago, I got a management team. I hadn’t had anything like that for about six, seven years, and I really didn’t want to because, I really loved chatting to people one on one. I wanted to keep that up with people that I work with. But, I realized there doesn’t ever have to be any hard and fast rules.”
The spaces that you work within, wellness and food, have become so popular. Are you finding it harder to cut through?
“I’ve been thinking – what is growth and what is success? I mean it’s definitely not a number on your social media. I don’t have a strategy in my head that says I want to be here and here. I don’t measure what I do in terms of audience. I measure it more in terms of self-happiness.
“I would say my dream is to keep everybody I’ve got happy, keep them cooking, keep them learning, keep them buying more Fair Trade, keep them wasting less. My favorite messages are, “I managed to convert my whole office when I brought them in this dish.” That’s when I know my audience is growing because, that’s not actually me. It’s the knock on effect of inspiring that person, and then she or he has inspired 20 other people.
“I think the market growing is a brilliant thing. The more people talking about respecting food, prioritizing food, caring about the environment, the more people telling us and advising us and showing us ways that we can be greener, the better for the planet.”
We were blown away by Melissa’s generosity when chatting with her. She’s such a great example of someone doing the thing they love, without an aggressively rigid marketing plan, but it really works because of her authenticity. Get out there and buy her book, and then show us your creations!
Melissa's (very pretty) Linktree
Melissa uses her Linktree to connect her audience with her latest recipes, to educate on sustainable food practices, to share information on her upcoming events, to drive book sales and to resurface popular content from her archive. It’s also a vital tool for gaining subscribers to Melissa’s newsletter (worth a sign-up!) – she says it’s the most popular link on her Linktree. We love the color scheme and the styling on the buttons to really make them pop. It’s a fab way for Melissa to showcase all that keeps her busy!