Community Spotlight – Nadine Brown, Writer and Food Stylist
For this month’s Community Spotlight, we interviewed Nadine Brown, a recipe developer, writer and food stylist from London. She’s worked for many leading food publications, including Sainsbury’s magazine, Weight Watchers, Olive, BBC Good Food to name a few. We spoke to Nadine about her career to date.
Frankie: Tell me a bit about yourself…
Nadine: I used to be the web editor for Bliss magazine many moons ago, I was freelancing in that position for about 5 years. I always loved it but there’s only so much you can talk about One Direction and Girls Aloud. Then I was made redundant and it was the perfect opportunity to test things out, so I did a food writing course. I discovered that the world of food was so much bigger than I realised. When I came to the Thrive in Food event, Melissa hit the nail on the head- unless you’re in it and you enquire, you don’t know that the food world is so big. I’d always seen pictures in magazines and hadn’t realised that you have the photographer, the stylist, the props stylist, the art director of that shoot, the assistant to the stylist and more. There’s so much that goes into it.
I currently develop, do some styling, do food writing for lots of lovely clients, lots of lovely jobs that I really really enjoy! It’s a lot of fun.
We’re very much encouraged to follow our dreams, but when we think about dreams it’s like being a singer, or a movie star. I don’t think people equate dreams with things like cooking, or maybe even being a teacher. Things that are a lot more grounded and seem really accessible. I’m aware that there’s still so much within food that I haven’t done but I would love to do. Maybe one day I’ll pluck up the courage to delve into it. Right now, I am very much in my lane, I’m earning my money, I’m doing a good job. I don’t wanna sway from that. Maybe one day it’ll be photography, who knows, who knows.
Frankie: What is your favourite thing about working in the food industry?
Nadine: It can be clique-y. But ultimately, I love the network and the understanding. There’s something really special about that understanding when it comes to food. My partner is quite the health nut, and there’s certain things he absolutely won’t eat. I love my kids but they are my kids, they don’t get it if I get really excited about the latest food trend that’s out. I have made some amazing friends who if I call them and say ‘have you seen there’s gonna be a pop up’ they get it straight away. I’ve had a few jobs within this, I’ve worked for a few different companies and I’ve got a lot of different clients that I work for. But my core group of people that understand why I love it so much and have that connection is something that I really value and really like.
I also like how fluid food is. How something as simple as bread has this ability to really unify people and changes and morphs according to culture and country. And now I think we’re definitely in a time where culture is coming much more into it, and people are starting to appreciate that and are provided that voice and opportunity. I’m loving seeing more magazines not just showing the food and representation but also including the people that represent it. We’ve heard the bad stories where certain food is represented but the history of it and how it got there is not given. Now, it definitely feels like that is starting to come together. I’m seeing that change, there’s still a lot more to be done, but it’s happening. And that’s a positive thing.
Frankie: Can you name a challenge you’ve faced during your career?
Nadine: I have to say I’ve had it pretty easy. There’s something to be said about imposter syndrome. Being a woman, being a black woman, within an industry where not a lot of people look like me, didn’t really know my background or history, I have found that can play a part in making me feel that maybe I’m not good enough for a job or for a piece of work that I know I’m capable of. Certainly at the very beginning of my career, I’ve never had any formal training, and I would be reminded quite often in test kitchens. Not by all, actually a very small few, but we all know that you can have 100 people say that you’re great and one person makes one comment and that is the comment you’re thinking of. I used to be told, you’re very lucky to be in this test kitchen because you haven’t had any training.
I began to be in these kitchens with these people whose backgrounds were so different from mine. They did the courses and paid a large amount of money, or if they didn’t pay it their mum or dad did. They’d always done a season somewhere, some kind of skiing thing and I always thought- this is so not my life. We’d go to Margate for the weekend, and this was before Margate was cool. It would make me feel slightly self conscious. Like I said about the clique-ness, there is unfortunately a snobbery that comes with food.
If you go somewhere like Leiths, which I think is amazing, it focuses on what you call the ‘classics’, the ‘French-way’ of doing things. As a girl whose family are from Ireland, Barbados and Jamaica, that did not factor in. It is so easy to think that because you don’t know that stuff, you don’t know how to cook. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I still try to tell myself now, that you don’t need to have that background. You need to be creative, and you need to have a bit of moxie. I’m not going to take a backseat and I know I have what it takes, that’s what I’m going to use to propel myself forward. It’s the voice in your head that’s the hardest thing to come up against. And 90% of the time I’m able to battle the voice. That’s the hardest thing I’d say.
Frankie: Who’s been your biggest inspiration?
Nadine: My nan comes to mind! My nan is someone who could take a bag of flour, bowl of water and a carrot and she is going to come up with this amazing, unbelievable, incredible dish that is going to blow your mind. There’s a book out, West Winds by Riaz Phillips, that speaks to me in such a way. The recipes in there aren’t necessarily any different from what I know, but that’s the beauty in it. The representation is just amazing. It instantly made me think of my nan. Riaz makes a comment that, certainly in Caribbean households, it’s very much a waste-not-want-not mentality. If my nan looked at my spice rack and all my vinegars and oils she’d ask what I was doing with all of that stuff. Because you don’t need half of it to make a delicious meal. As much as I love my miso’s and my harissa’s, I have an insane amount of respect for someone that can cook in a way that requires minimal ingredients, doesn’t need any books or reference points, and just gets it done. That for me is the cook that I aspire to be. She just has that touch, and it’s an incredible thing.
Frankie: Can you tell us something about your career that people might find surprising?
Nadine: Food styling is not as simple as you think! You have to think on your feet. I love how messy and taxing it can be because when you see the final product, it’s 100% worth it. That’s definitely one thing. From a food development point of view, I would say that you need to have in your back pocket about a million ways to do a lasagne, or a shepherd’s pie. There are dishes, certainly for magazines, that always tend to pop up because you’re catering for different audiences. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had to come up with a recipe for a lasagne, a shepherd’s pie or a pasta bake. We’d be here forever. Loving to cook and being creative with food are two completely different things. You really have to love food. And it doesn’t mean you love eating. You have to love food. You have to have that passion and interest in order to propel you to do certain things.
Frankie: The future of hospitality is…
Recognition. I think that people are going to start being recognised for what they bring to the table. There’s so much space, and room for it. Just look at Instagram. There are hundreds of accounts doing more or less the same thing. And there’s hundreds of different accounts doing something completely random and different. There is so much space. People are able to put their food and ideas out there and be recognised for it. I love to see it. There are people who I wouldn’t have seen or known about when I first started. Now they’re getting that recognition and that push and I’m seeing them as columnists in magazines. It’s amazing and it’s so inspiring and encouraging.
Certainly as a girl who used to buy food magazines as a kid and didn’t see anything or anyone that looked liked me and did what I did- seeing that now, seeing my face in Olive magazine. I think wow, there’s going to be another Nadine, aged 8, and be like oh! That could be me. And that can go for anyone, from anywhere, for any type of food. Bring it to the table, don’t be afraid of what people are going to think. There’s someone out there who’s going to want to try that. Start that account, that digital mag or that newsletter- there’s someone out there who wants to know. And you’ll get an appreciation for what you bring. That’s what I think is going to happen more and more.
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