Tiniest Thai Talks To // Jassy Davis

Jassy is a food writer, blogger, recipe developer and food stylist, writing for magazines and websites (we met when working at the same publishing agency for a while before she went freelance), and is also the co-author of The Contented Calf Cookbook.  

I've been poring over all the food photos on her instagram feed for some time, and I'm always inspired by people doing what they love, so thought it was about time I got in touch to see if she'd talk food, life and blogging with me.

Oh and to ask if she'd share a recipe with me too of course.  

The recipe she's given me is for her bacon and egg pie and I love why she chose it:

For about six months I ran a baking stall at Greenwich market, earning extra money to put towards Ballymaloe. This was already an old favourite recipe by then, a mash up of two recipes that has graced Boxing Day tables, party buffets and picnics. It’s a total winner and I expect I’ll still be making it when I am an old, old lady.
— Jassy Davis

I am not a natural baker or pasty-maker so I am a little nervous about making the pie - but oh I do LOVE good pies.  I went through a stage when working in Soho where pies and Bloody Marys at the Nellie Dean were part of mine and my colleagues' staple diet (really recommend - amazing value and so good).

Anyway, I digress. I can't wait to try Jassy's recipe and am optimistic that it's going to be a winner for me too. 

I'll be back to let you know how I got on with the pie-making, but in the meantime here's her A's to my Q's.  

I really loved reading her answers and want to thank Jassy again for her honesty in answering - she's been really open and frank and I can certainly relate to some of the things she shares.

I hope you enjoy this conversation too.

Can I start by asking about your blog?  How did Gin and Crumpets come about?

The honest answer is actually quite a cynical one. I set it up in 2009 and I'd been working on food magazines for a few years, slowing dragging myself up from being a sub-editor who wrote the occasional recipe tip to developing recipes and editing magazine sections. 

I knew that if I had any hope of a future in food publishing, then I needed a blog.  It was the way the industry was moving - I needed a calling card and a place to showcase what I could do outside of my fairly stuffy day job.

I umm'ed and ahh'ed for a while, eventually managed to work out the basics of a free wordpress blog, asked my parents for a basic DSLR for Christmas - and got going.

I love your honesty. So what was the inspiration for your blog?

The inspiration was really the fact that other people had blogs.

I used to read a lot of blogs in my lunch hours - Londelicious (now Passportdelicious), Eat Like a Girl, Food Stories, Cheese and Biscuits, Hollowlegs. Having an interest in food was a niche thing - and I would just gobble up those blogs, along with the Chowhound forum.

Even though I know that on a practical level that I needed a blog for my work, it still seemed like an amazing, bold thing to do.

And when I set it up, I felt like a total fraud.  

Even more so when I actually met some of the bloggers in real life.  I was pretty starry-eyed and couldn't believe I was talking to these people whose blogs I'd been following. (I think I kept a lid on it and that they didn't notice.  But they are going to find this hilarious now).

how has your blog evolved & has it taken any unexpected turns?

My blog itself has changed in that eventually I moved on from my very basic free site to a proper website that a friend designed for me - and it's much, much better now!

My writing has also improved and occasionally I go back, read a post, and think how obvious it was that I was trying on personas and styles, trying to find my voice.  I think I'm finally comfortable, both in how I write and what I write about. I am a much better cook and writer than I was when I started.

What's been unexpected is realising that the blog also acts as a record of my mental health.  

Not a fun answer, I know, but if you look at my blog you'll see months when I posted a lot and then a steady decline in posts with just occasional sporadic bursts ... and it's finally picking back up now.

This tallies with a fairly tough few years when work was difficult and I was extremely anxious and stressed. I was working long hours at various jobs, barely making ends meet, and I was pretty crazy, even if people couldn't tell in real life.  I was fairly good at hiding it.

But I couldn't write.  I didn't have the words.

My life is more stable now, and I'm only mad in parts, and the words have come back. Being able to write and blog is one of the ways I check in on myself and see how I'm doing,

have you always wanted to be a food writer?

I didn't actually plan to work as a food writer. I didn't know it was a job you could have!

But I have notebooks stuffed with recipes that I cut out from my mum's magazines when I was a teenager, so I guess that should have been a clue that food was destined to be part of my future.

Most 12-year-olds aren't organising recipes by season and obsessively baking custard tarts during the school holidays.

When I moved to London after university, I got a job in a very boring business-to-business publishing company collecting entries for catalogues, fact-checking them and typing them up.  It taught be the basics of writing and editing but it wasn't exactly the London dream!

A friend was working for a publishing company that had a vacancy for a food sub-editor. She told me about it and somehow I got the job. Since then I have worked as a sub-editor, writer, recipe developer and editor for various magazines, websites and books, and I'm lucky enough to have a great job now as a recipe developer for Abel & Cole.

I can't quite believe how well it's worked out!

I'm really interested that you trained at Ballymaloe and just want to ask what the experience was like? 

It was very challenging and I made some truly terrible things while I was at Ballymaloe.

The burnt kumquat marmalade was especially epic. It was physically exhausting - I once fell asleep sat in the front row of the demo theatre while the recipes for the next day were being demonstrated. I woke up with quite a start! And there was a lot of learning to cram in. I was also terrible at finishing on time and plating things up so they looked nice. 

I did basically learn that, while I knew how to cook, I also really didn't know how to cook at all.

There were so many techniques and foods I'd never tried. Failing to recognise onions dug straight out of the ground was another low/highlight! The staff were all amazing: really patient and encouraging. Even Darina, who walked in on me burning a pan of boiled potatoes (boiled potatoes!) during the first week, was careful to always be positive. 

I learned a lot from their enthusiasm, and I am always careful to read recipes right through now before blithely embarking on them. I don't burn things quite so often any more.

So, what's the best meal you've ever had?

I'm quite greedy, so there's a lot to choose from! I've just come back from a weekend in Copenhagen and I had a lunch at Noma.  It was epic; really eye-opening and inspiring.  I came out feeling a bit giddy (and that wasn't just down to the wine!).  

A meal based entirely around offal that was curated by Anissa Helou at The Dock Kitchen was also incredible.  It made me look at offal in a whole new light.  

I love meals that open up a whole new world to me.

Although for sheer joy, a meal I had in a pub in Kent after a long snowy walk was hard to beat. It was ham, eggs and chips and it was perfect. There's nothing better than a good hot meal when you're starving hungry. It still makes me happy to remember it.

Rachel Redlaw Jassy David ham egg and chips

What's next for gin and crumpets?

Well, I'm very strict about keeping my blog mine.

When it started there weren't that many blogger events or PR freebies.  We used to organise our own mad restaurant crawls and parties. Now I'm snowed under with press releases, events and invitations.  I turn almost all of them down and just go for things that I think I will really enjoy or will teach me something.

Otherwise, I keep PR and ads out and keep my blog a space for me. I can write about whatever I want, and that freedom is very precious.

You do a lot of different things with freelance writing, recipe development, blogging etc ... what's your favourite?

The variety is great and I learn so much every year.  I don't think I'm every going to stop learning.  I do also like my classic 'writer' days, when I am sat at home in my pyjamas with a pot of tea, a pack of biscuits, a laptop and a deadline.

I love your instagram! any tips for good food photography?

Lots of filters and the judicious use of the sharpening tool are my secrets to success! 

I just snap away with my phone (an Android.  I gave up on iPhones this year after my last one died). I don't spend ages propping or styling images for Instagram.  Personally, I like feeds that show you what real people's lives actually look like, rather than ones that are full of artful shots, clean white interiors and tasteful junk.  

So much more interesting to have a good nosy around someone's real life!  

is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

Well, every day starts the same way; I stay in bed much longer than I should do, then rush around getting dressed and eating breakfast.  Three days a week I work at home writing and testing recipes, two days are in the kitchen studio at work.

Whether at home or in the office, there's always a lot of tea, some Radio 4 and meals eaten at strange times because I've been testing them or shooting them.

and, just for fun.  what are a few of your favourite things?

Detective dramas! If ever I am stressed, I put on a detective drama and immediately feel soothed and relaxed. Not sure why - perhaps relieved I am not being murdered in a country house? 

Tea; the radio (especially 4 and 2); walking (I would walk everywhere if people didn't expect me to be on time); dancing (even though I am terrible); soft, snuggly blankets; and hand cream (too much washing up makes for dry hands). 

I've not mentioned any foods, probably because it's my job. I think about food all them time, imaging recipes and planning cooking sessions. Food is always present, so I never long for it, in the way I might for a brisk walk or some nice flowery hand cream. 

Finally ... what are you most excited about right now?

Still Noma. It really made me think about the flavours and techniques I cook with, not that I am in a hurry to start dehydrating things or scattering ants everywhere. But it felt very fresh and new: years after everyone else, I finally get it.

And winter veg! We always think of summer as a great time of year for food, but there are so many gorgeous fruit and veg in the shops now.

Winter is a great time to cook.

And if, like me, this leaves you wanting more Jassy and her food in your life, you can find her here on twitter, instagram and of course, blogging.

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