Anna Helm is a British food stylist and writer living in New York. She has worked for a number of top chefs, including Jamie Oliver, Curtis Stone, Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson, Mark Bittman and Giada DeLaurentis. Anna writes for the food blog London Food in New York, and you can follow her on Twitter: @londonfoodieny
Q: How did you get involved in cooking? Was it something you learned to love early on or did you come to it later?
A: Eating was a passion of mine early in life. With three opportunities a day to eat, learning to cook seemed like the obvious thing to do. I never dreamed that I would end up cooking for a living, let alone write a blog about it! At university, I started seriously thinking about what I wanted to do with my life — it had to be something that I would love and never tire of — and a career in food was the obvious choice.
Q: Why is eating grassfed meat different? How does it affect your cooking? Is it just about health? Or is there more to it than that?
A: Choosing to eat grassfed meat is like casting a bunch of votes: for a healthier lifestyle, for animal welfare and for being good to the environment. People don’t think enough about what they are eating, let alone have respect for it but eating grassfed meat requires a certain level of respect. In terms of cooking, it takes time to adjust to cooking grassfed meat. It’s leaner, which means that it needs more love and care in how you cook it.
Q: How did you learn about grassfed meat?
A: Originally I heard about grassfed meat when I had chefs requesting it at work. I thought it was just a new craze but then I read more about it and realized that it was about a lot more than just better tasting meat.
Q: Why is it so important to have the right ingredients?
I don’t think it’s so important to have the right ingredients as the right quality of food. Cooking is about being creative, so if you don’t have the right herb or spice, don’t sweat it. Think about what flavours work well together, you may just find you develop a new favourite. What I do suggest is buying the right quality and treating your food with respect. If you don’t want to know that the chicken you’re making for dinner had a miserable life, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it.
Q: What are the most important keys to success for the home chef?
A: My advice to any home chef is to read a recipe in its entirety first. Then get together all of your ingredients before you start. That way you’ll avoid missing key steps or missing out ingredients. I also recommend nominating a washer-upper — the cook should never have to do the dishes!
Q: What is the most helpful cooking/preparation tip that you can pass on to other at-home cooks?
A: Because I work as a TV food stylist, I’m always setting up chefs’ equipment for a cooking demonstration. When I’m cooking at home I like to give myself the same royal treatment, so I start by going through the recipe, pulling out all the equipment and ingredients that I know I will need before I get started. It seems a bit extreme but it makes for a lot less mess and a lot less stress!
Q: What is your favorite recipe (using grassfed meat)? What would you prepare with it for the perfect meal?
A: I love a good roast chicken. In the winter I serve them with all the trimmings — roast potatoes and parsnips, gravy, bread sauce, minted peas and carrots. But from spring to autumn I prefer something a little lighter. I make a lemon and thyme roasted chicken sat on a bed of shallots, garlic and lemon, which caramelize in the chicken juices. Once the chicken is cooked I remove it from the pan and add beans and asparagus to the pan for another 10 minutes. Toss this with some mixed greens and you have the most delicious salad to accompany a juicy roasted chicken all prepared in one pan. That’s my idea of comfort food.
Q: What’s your best advice for hosting a successful dinner party and entertaining guests?
A: My advice is to cook what you know you do well — trying out new recipes in front of people you want to impress is always risky! I try to serve my meal family style, as the food is less likely to get cold before it gets to the table, you’ll spend less time in the kitchen and it allows your guests to see what they are about to eat — and hopefully get excited about it! I also try to make one part of the meal interactive — it helps to spark conversation and keeps people interested in what they are eating. Usually I choose to get people involved with dessert with things like make your own ice cream sundaes or crepes. Finally, never say no when people offer to help wash dishes, some of the best compliments are received at the kitchen sink!