‘In the Kitchen’ with Anne Harnan
We were lucky enough to meet Anne after hearing her speak at the Universal Cookery and Food Festival earlier this year. She was an inspiring chef with an incredible career history, so we wanted to delve a little deeper and put her in our ‘In the Kitchen’ spotlight.
Tell us about your current role and career history
I am a freelance home economist. These days most home economists tend to be self-employed. Home economist is an old-fashioned phrase, but it’s actually never been more relevant. The work I do is really varied and will include recipe writing, cooking for clients, working for book publishers, doing demos, offering training, as well as PR work for home appliances. We’ve just come out of the festival season and that’s a busy time for me as I will often work behind the scenes in cookery theatres. During the winter, I work on a lot of recipe books where I make the recipes and check they work in a domestic environment.
I trained at Birmingham College of Food and began working in product development for supermarkets. My next role was in food media and I was lucky enough to work on TV shows with chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and writing the recipes for game shows such as “Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook”. After that I moved to magazines working on Prima and Good Housekeeping food pages, so lots of food writing and styling which allowed me to be creative. When my family were young, I wanted to be at home more and that’s why I went freelance. It was a fantastic decision as I’ve done some amazing projects including teaching at the Jean-Christophe Novelli Academy and working on Mary Berry’s cookbooks.
Describe what it’s like to work in your kitchen
If I am working at home it’s generally calm and creative. If I am working on a book that’s all one subject, such as a baking book, my family loves it. However, they weren’t so keen on the offal cookbook! When I’m working in a kitchen out and about, it’s all about preparation as I’m never quite sure what I am turning up to. I like to make sure I have covered every eventuality, for example taking spare batteries for the scales and plastic sandwich bags for prep ingredients just in case there aren’t enough bowls. It’s important I can be flexible and anticipate issues that may arise.
Describe your own food style
My own personal style would be simple and often very practical. Food has got so complicated but there is a whole generation of people who have grown up without learning to cook or a having a parent cooking for them. What I try to teach people is to go back to basics with good ingredients and keep it simple. If I am cooking for a client, I need to make the food achievable.
Why did you choose to work in the sector you work in?
I had a good teacher at school who inspired me to cook. What I love about this industry is I never stop learning and am always inspired to do things differently. I absolutely love meeting the local food producers who have such a depth of knowledge. It’s a creative job and is never boring. Making good food to share is something that brings people together and being freelance brings so much variety to my work which I love.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry?
The uncertainty in the current economy is tough, as is cost-cutting. Home economics often comes under Marketing budgets, which are feeling the pinch. It’s important to be able to prove your worth. Budget constraints sometimes do lead to extra creativity which can be a positive but it’s not always the case. There is also an issue within education. Everyone knows about the lack of chefs but there just isn’t the uptake in colleges so culinary courses are being cut. We really need cooking to be recognised as a valuable life skill and potential career. Another pressure is that media deadlines are getting shorter. If you take a project on with a short time frame, it becomes an added pressure.
What is your biggest hope for the future for chefs?
I would love for food and cooking to become more recognised. Food is never off-trend and always in the news. For example, veganism is creating a completely new way of cooking. If you are a classically trained chef, it means you must go back to the drawing board when creating recipes. It’s important that you are cooking what is relevant to the consumer. So much about food has changed over the last 20 years.
Tell us about your career highlight
I couldn’t think of just one but there are lots of proud moments, such as the first time I had a recipe published and the first time I had my dish cooked on TV. I am very proud of working on a recipe book called ‘Eat Better, Live Longer’ by Dr Sarah Brewer and Juliette Kellow. This explored how we eat and looked at ‘superfoods’ and why we need certain foods. It involved working closely with a nutritionist to develop recipes that were nutritionally balanced but also tasted good. Over the last few years I’ve been running my own food festival called Taste Bedford. It’s always been popular but this year I really felt it was energising the food scene in our local area and it’s gaining respect with food producers and visitors. And as a result, I have become an ambassador for Love British Food, which I’m really proud of.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a chef?
I would say find a good mentor and work with people who inspire you. Be curious, never stop learning.