Tess Ward On Cooking, Her Career And That Gucci Shirt

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What first peaked your interest in food?

I’ve always been into food more than anything. My mum is the daughter of a farmer, and my grandfather’s always been into fishing, hunting and shooting. As a little one I would help him gut pheasants and fish. I was a total tomboy, I was always the kid that had twigs in her hair and bloody knees – there was a stage where I had a patch of hair missing – but it wasn’t really until university that I started cooking. I studied History of Art at Leeds and had a lot of free time – my degree has definitely taught me how to be self-motivated – and I realised that I had a skill, that I could taste things that perhaps other people couldn’t.

Did you cook for your housemates?

Everyone. Even if they didn’t want me to. I really liked it and had a keen foodie household. We had dinner parties, roast chicken on a Sunday, curry nights, strip poker nights… all of it ended up with everyone hammered on the floor with food everywhere.

Is your London life as raucous as your university days?

I’d like to say I’m going to a dirty rave in Dalston until 6am, but that’s not my vibe anymore. I’m living with friends at the moment, but it’s nothing like a student house. It’s canal walks, pub lunches and yoga. God, I sound middle class!

When did you start to take cooking as a career seriously?

I spent a summer with my ex-boyfriend driving around Europe, eating, swimming in the sea, sleeping in our VW Camper Van, living like nomads. During that trip I started to realise what I wanted – that I didn’t just want to go straight into food, I wanted to properly hone a craft, whether that be in a kitchen or culinary school. So that’s when I decided to go and train.

Are you surprised in the direction that your career has taken?

I really liked working in a kitchen, but when I was 18 I contracted a parasite in India that I had for at least six years. A good portion of the time I felt spaced out and just ill and couldn’t work out what was wrong. I was really thin, really unhappy and not sleeping properly. Cooking in a kitchen doing those long hours became unsustainable, so I decided to stop and I started writing a column for a magazine.

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Do you feel like your lifestyle has changed since you were ill?

I’ve always grown up with healthy food and I ate everything growing up, but I don’t believe in compromising on taste for the sake of health. I think the two can go hand in hand. But it does take a degree of skill – it doesn’t mean putting everything in your Vitamix and pureeing it. I don’t like the infantalisation of food and I think the healthy food industry has become a little bit puritanical and evangelical. It’s not fun, basically, and I think food should be fun.

What cuisine do you eat the most?

I like the countries that I don’t cook: Thai, Greek and Turkish. The food in Istanbul is amazing. My favourite restaurant in London used to be the Palomar but the chef, Mitz Rova, moved to Foley’s. He is amazingly talented.

Is there anything you won’t eat?

There’s only a couple of things I don’t like: anything wobbly that bounces back to the touch, like jelly or mayonnaise. And I don’t like mash potatoes – it’s a texture thing. I’m a roast potato girl always.

What do you predict our next food fad will be?

I’m big into seaweed. I don’t think it’s really hit yet and it should. But I hope our next fad is something that’s local and seasonal to us. I think more people need to get excited about British ingredients and put down the bloody avocado.

You clearly have an interest in fashion – there’s a certain Gucci shirt that both you and Harry Styles have worn that has caused a bit of a stir on the Internet…

It’s a great shirt, we need to appreciate that! And let’s just say that I wore it better. That’s the only thing anyone wants to know.

How have you handled the negative comments you’ve received online since you’ve been linked to Harry?

I think when you’re focusing on your own career and want to inspire people with food and your profession is food and then there’s sudden interest in something that’s completely unrelated to that, it’s a difficult thing to manage. I respect everybody’s opinion and it’s a hard thing to decide to turn off your comments [on Instagram] but regardless of how thick your skin is, it’s never nice to have people criticise you. I just think that no one should be judged for their personal life.

Your last book, The Naked Diet, came out in 2015. Are you writing another?

Yes, I am. I’m not going to reveal too much too soon about this one, but I think it speaks to everybody, not just those that are keen cooks. It’s a different aesthetic to my last book and I’m really excited about it.

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