The Cookbook Test with Thomasina Miers and Melissa Hemsley


Cookbooks are more than just a collection of recipes; they’re a way to tell your brand stories. We speak to Thomasina Miers and Melissa Hemsley about what sets their new cookbooks apart…

If you had to write a book about your brand, what would it be about? If you run a food or drink business, could you publish a cookbook? Don’t even think about recipes. Instead, ask yourself this: what story would it tell? The cookbook question is one that we often ask clients because it serves as a good test for whether a brand has an opinion, a point of difference. In a world where you can find pretty much any recipe for free, people don’t buy cookbooks just to make a particular dish; they buy into a story.

Meat-Free Mexican: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes by Thomasina Miers was published this month and it’s a story of the ancient Mexican diet, a celebration of plant-life and biodiversity with recipes centred around beans, corn and vegetables. “It is strikingly similar to many flexitarian diets being embraced around the world today,” Tommi tells us. “It feels thrillingly modern in its approach as we increasingly realise that changing our diets is an incredibly powerful way to combat climate change and species extinction.”

Tommi has been travelling to Mexico for almost 30 years, but before her first trip, she’d always thought that Tex-Mex was the country’s national cuisine. As she began to “eat her way through the valleys and uplands of Oaxaca, the coast of Campeche and the rainforests of Veracruz” (it helps that Tommi’s a natural storyteller, too), Tommi was astounded by the unexpected diversity of fruit and vegetables. It was this discovery that informed the creation of Wahaca – together with co-founder Mark Selby, we helped to redefine Mexican food in the UK.

Mexico is one of the top five countries classified as “megadiverse”, with around 50,000 plant varieties. “If I was a fashion designer, I would hang around markets and be inspired by the vibrant pinks of radicchios and rhubarbs, by the patterns of beans and courgettes, by the shapes and textures and shades of different varieties of fruit and vegetables,” says Tommi. “[The recipes are] all vegetarian, but in turns subtle yet gutsy, nuanced but clear and bold, packed full of flavour, not always spicy but always served with a spirit of conviviality.”

For Melissa Hemsley, her new cookbook Feel Good (also out this month) is the story of a mindset; of the values of community, connection and comfort. “Feel Good is a sort of antidote to our busy, stressful lives with recipes that bring both more calm to the kitchen and more confidence and ease to the overwhelmingness around everyday weeknight meals,” Melissa explains. “The most popular requests from my unofficial survey of friends, family and community are: ‘more healthy family recipes! more calm in the kitchen! more comforting recipes! more ideas for vegetables! and more stress-free dinners please!’ so that’s what I brought together.”

At its crux, every recipe has to be delicious, but like Tommi, Melissa is a champion of vegetables – and lover of leftovers. “I enjoy a good dinner EVEN more when I know there’s more to feast on for tomorrow. And when I’m frazzled with work or life or sickness, knowing I’ve got a few tasty, veg-packed, wholesome meals in the freezer helps me feel better and makes the recuperating easier,” she says. “My mum taught me so much (and very much still does) about no-frills waste-free cooking (or, as she calls it, ‘just clever cooking’), so this is woven through so many of my stories and cookbooks. She showed me how joyful and satisfying it is to turn nothing into something. Throwing away food is throwing away free flavour.”

Now it’s your turn. What story would your book tell (it doesn’t even have to be a cookbook)? For inspiration, you could try Exercise 2: The Opinion in our pocket guide Defining Your Difference, where we look at finding meaning in your brand philosophy. It’s free to download. And send us your answer once you’ve done it – we’d love to hear from you.

Without create brands that make a difference. If you’d like to discuss how your brand can connect with today’s consumers, get in touch on 02070999080 or [email protected].

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