Ghillie James is a food and travel columnist, ex Sainsbury’s magazine food editor, cookery teacher and the author of five cookery books. Her latest book ‘The Little Grower’s Cookbook’ is a collaboration with gardening expert, writer and friend Julia Parker. It is the first, of hopefully many books published by Lettuce Publishing, her new fledgling company, Lettuce Publishing.
SHARING NOURISHING FOOD
Ghillie wholeheartedly believes in the importance of eating good home cooked, nutritious food both for physical health and mental wellbeing. She is passionate about the joys and importance of home cooking, as well as eating locally produced, seasonal food. Her house is filled to the brim with family and friends whenever possible and nothing gives her more pleasure than sharing food together around the table.
EXPLORING THE GLOBE
Though her forever home will always be the UK, Ghillie has been lucky enough to travel lots and experience living in Singapore for nearly a decade with her family. It has been the perfect location for her to explore and write about so many fascinating countries, as well as of course, learning about and eating the food! A skip and a hop from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, India and Sri Lanka as well as New Zealand and Australia too, her cooking has taken many twists and turns! Her third and fourth books Grains are Good and Asia Light were both researched and written whilst living in Asia, as well as many food and travel articles for The Boston Globe, Straits Times Singapore and others.
A FAMILY OF FOODIES
Coming from a family totally obsessed with food, it is no great surprise that Ghillie turned to food as her career. She has cooked for as long as she can remember! Making meringues in the bath with half of her mother’s kitchen cupboard in the water, is one of her earliest happiest memories – whisking up the foam and adding half a pot of talcum powder for the ‘sugar’! Delia Smith’s cooking programmes were Ghillie’s 1980’s equivalent of her daughters’ obsession with ‘Bake Off’ . So, she was pretty starstruck and gob-smacked when suddenly given the opportunity to work for her publication Sainsbury’s Magazine. When she met her at Norwich City Football ground, she nearly fainted, then burbled at her for far too long about her ‘pretend to be Delia’ cooking sessions which involved standing on a high stool and placing loads of random ingredients in little bowls then stirring them together and baking them in the oven!
She was lucky enough to grow up in Kent – the garden of England, with its fruit farms, hop rows and beautiful scenery. Her energetic mother, who ran her own catering business, taught her the value of home cooked food. She never wasted anything and always bought from local producers where possible. They had fruit trees and a veg patch of sorts, and her mother always knew where to find the tastiest strawberries and asparagus or buy the best locally produced lamb or sausages. Their cottage was always filled with comforting smells and however busy she was as a single working mother, or however poor they were; there was always a delicious and nutritious meal on the table. Both of Ghillie’s grandmothers, her father and brothers were and are fabulous cooks too and many of the recipes in her books are inspired by them. The simple act of cooking for others has been the way that Ghillie’s family have always shown their love and respect for each other.
A FOOD LOVER FROM THE EARLY DAYS
Ghillie’s first job was working at White House dairy farm, for Stan and Mary Lane, aged about eight, selling Jersey cream and milk to the lucky locals who knew about the small shop attached to the farmhouse and helping out at the once a year lambing days that they used to hold. She doesn’t recollect ever being paid in money, but she enjoyed it so much that it didn’t really matter! When she was older, in the school holidays she worked at a wonderful cheese and wine shop in Cranbrook called Perfect Partners (eating as much as she sold!) and for her mother’s catering company ‘Just Jane’. Sometimes helping with the cooking (large bowls of coronation chicken, dressed salmons and glazed hams), sometimes waitressing and sometimes doing the washing up! A degree course in Art and Design in Newcastle, then a PGCE, gave Ghillie her first taste of teaching – something which would come in handy much much later on. She travelled lots, was mostly broke and always spent the last of her pennies on food!
LONDON AND BEYOND
The next decade or so was spent in London, where her professional career began. She worked for SimplyFood (owned by Carlton Food Network), then Taste (a joint venture with Sainsbury’s and Carlton), then on to Prima Magazine and eventually Sainsbury’s Magazine, where she was Food Editor for five years. Three small children at home in Hampshire meant that freelancing was the logical next chapter and she had the greatest experiences working for Delicious Magazine and helping to launch a magazine for Tesco as well as other bits and pieces. Her first book Jam Jelly and Relish was thanks to the good faith of Kyle Cathie, who assured Ghillie that her experience working on Delia’s sturdy ship would guide her through the perils of such the challenging subject of jam making! Jumping forwards to 2019 Ghillie linked up with gardening expert Julia Parker to set up Lettuce Publishing. Their first book, The Little Grower’s cookbook (link to site), has been a whirlwind lesson in book production, but Julia and Ghillie are thrilled with the end result! Covid 19 bought a full lockdown in Singapore and the chance for Ghillie to zoom teach adults and children cookery all over the globe, raising money for the construction workers in dormitories and a wonderful reminder of her love of teaching.