The Penguin Q&A

The Hemsleys

Sisters and co-authors of The Art of Eating Well, Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley, share their dream dinner party and discuss living in London


'We’d probably make an easy, colourful meal that can be served sharing style so that we don’t have to worry much about plating up' – The Hemsleys on their dream dinner party

Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

Both: In Kingston upon Thames in an army barracks! With a few years spent in Germany as children (where we fell in love with sauerkraut and all things cabbage).

What was your childhood ambition?

Melissa: To be a doctor by day and ballerina by night

Jasmine: Apparently to be a “cooker”! Mum and Dad used to say: “Gas or electric?” I didn’t get it...

What is your earliest reading memory?

Jasmine: Billy Blue-hat (I still remember the classroom and how proud I was to be wearing a moving glitter pen bracelet as I read it to the teacher) and Peter And Jane Ladybird books. Later, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the Brothers Grimm's Hansel and Gretel, Funnybones, Roald Dahl and the Naughtiest Girl series by Enid Blyton stand out.

Melissa: Kingston library – we spent a lot of time in libraries growing up, we’d all go together and then go to our own areas, eg me in children's, Dad in history and warfare, etc and then we’d meet up in the reception area and max out our lending allowance. Our dad was a voracious reader – our family house is covered floor-to-ceiling in books – every room, including landings and toilets!

What kind of books do you write, and why?

Both: Technically cookbooks, but there’s a hell of a lot more to them! Based on our philosophy, which champions nutrient-dense foods of good provenance and a mindful attitude towards what and how you eat, we’ve created delicious, everyday recipes. Our books are peppered with personal anecdotes, menu ideas, pantry lists, advice on sourcing the best quality produce in an ethical and economical way, and tips and tricks for living a healthy, happy and energised life. They are visually exciting and serve as the ultimate kitchen companion.

What did you do before you were a writer?

Jasmine: I studied art foundation and furniture and product design and at the same time started modelling. I then went on to model full time for the next 13 years but I was always dabbling in something creative.

Melissa: I worked for a group of venues in London where I helped to organise parties, weddings, christenings and wakes – I loved it. Our first foray into writing as H+H was setting up our blog four years ago and our first ‘column’ was for – a very proud moment.

When did you know you wanted to write?

Jasmine: I loved studying English at school but other than coursework and emails I didn’t write a thing in between that and H+H! As soon as I started helping friends, family and later clients over email with their eating and lifestyle habits, I felt a passion for it. When we started writing for Vogue and our blog, it really cemented the relationship.

Melissa: Jasmine’s always been good at making up stories; I used to make her sleep in my bed and read to me until I was embarrassingly old and I wouldn't let her leave until I’d fallen asleep and she could sneak off. I was very into the Tudors so I used to invent stories about them, and I loved just writing nonsense in my childhood diaries.

Where do you live now?

Jasmine: Mel and I are both South East London, with the A3 connecting us to our mum in Surbiton, Surrey, and easy access to Central and East London, where we spend most of our time. I live in a new build in Elephant & Castle with my other half Nick, who is the third leg of the Hemsley Tripod.

Despite being open plan (with a mezzanine level and floor to ceiling windows), our home is cosy and eclectic – with plenty of plants that I rescue from the local florist, an eight-piece graphic print 1970s sofa, a burnt orange 1950s kitchen from eBay and quite a collection of plates, vases and other props to style our shoots.

We have a desk in the bedroom, a large kitchen table and an office upstairs – plenty of room to experiment, write and shoot. Many of the pics from our book were shot in the front room and the book was edited by four of us on the kitchen table! We’re always having people stay with us, some for 3.5 years (!) and recently we added a terrier puppy, Julie, into the mix and since then have met more people in our area in the last three months than we had in eight years of being here.

Melissa: After ten years in North London, I live in Stockwell in a beautiful period property, with my boyfriend Henry and our blue Staffordshire terrier Nelly. Henry is an art collector so the walls of our home are ever-changing with new pieces. We have a lovely big table in the living room, which is perfect to work from and write up recipes – it’s an unofficial office as people are always dropping in and stay to get some work done. Some of my self-employed entrepreneurial friends who are starting up amazing, inspirational companies and work from home will come over spontaneously as they know there will always be food to eat, Pep-Up Tea to drink and good wi-fi!

What are your inspirations?

Both: Traditional food wisdom and cuisine, as well as current nutritional research is a huge inspiration behind what we do. Recipe ideas come from many different sources – travelling, chats with friends and family, requests from our private clients and feedback from our readers and social media followers – we are always keeping up with the comments and conversations that take place on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

What is your earliest food memory?

Melissa: Sitting on the living room floor, mum peeling prawns, dipping them in vinegar and feeding them to me like a baby bird.

Jasmine: Waiting for the TV shows to start one weekend and saying “beep beep” to my mum every time I was ready for a mouthful of soft boiled egg out of an egg cup with legs.

Books and authors we’ve loved include:

Melissa: Ian McEwan: I’ve read most of his books and loved them all, gripping storylines, often very sad. Madhur Jaffrey: I adore her enthusiasm to get in the kitchen and cook! Nigel Slater: He writes and cooks beautifully, I enjoy reading everything he writes: books, columns, his tweets! JK Rowling: I’ve read all the Harry Potter books three times, love them, I feel like a kid and love to read them in bed under a duvet.

Jasmine: I’ve not read one Harry Potter book! I read a lot of Sidney Sheldon in my late teens – strong heroines and fast-paced plots – it was the first time I’d heard of Tai Chi practised by an imprisoned woman in solitary confinement to keep her mind and body strong! Also Philippa Gregory – she mostly writes period dramas, especially about Henry VIII, which I love. I’d scan the library shelves for any titles I hadn’t seen before.

I love Deepak Chopra’s work and Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run With The Wolves that my mum bought me for my birthday a few years ago – it’s a real heart and soul book that you can open at any page and find something that resonates. Recently I read The Bees by Laline Paull and woke up an hour before I needed to everyday just so I could read it!

What are you reading (or re-reading) at the moment?

Melissa: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Jasmine: The proof for our second book – coming February 2016!


Which fictional location would you most like to visit?

Melissa: Hogwarts!

Jasmine: Forest of Endor from Star Wars, to hang out with the Ewoks.

What would be your desert island must-haves?


Songs: Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness.

Books: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

Films: Sense And Sensibility and I love the soundtrack too, I’m a huge fan of Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson.

Artwork: Katherine Bernhardt and Eddie Martinez.

Food and drink: A feast of fresh grilled fish, Greek salad, steak with chimichurri sauce, bottle of Barolo, cheese and dark chocolate


Songs: Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind – if I can take a video/YouTube it would be her performance live at Montreux Festival. Also UB40’s Don’t Break My Heart for a bit of reggae in the sun!

Books: Empathy by Roman Krznaric, to remind me I’m still connected to the world and everyone in it despite being alone on my desert island...

Films: Strictly Ballroom, The Breakfast Club, Casablanca.

Artwork: Peter Doig.

Food and drink: A seafood platter, a ribeye steak, avocado, gem lettuce with fresh mint, BIG spinach, artichoke hearts, bagna cauda, lemons, cherries, bone broth and kimchi with everything. I love dark chocolate, red wine and... eggs, got to have eggs. And I guess the coconuts will be there...

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party and what would you serve?

Both: Sir Bruce Forsyth, Joanna Lumley, David Attenborough, Madhur Jaffrey, Keith Floyd, Alan Watts, Pharrell Williams, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, JK Rowling and we’d have the band London Essentials to play. We’d probably make an easy, colourful meal that can be served sharing style so that we don’t have to worry much about plating up – leaving us to spend more time with our guests! Something like our Cucumber Maki Rolls to start, delicious made with salmon or trout, too. For mains, a big platter of our Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad with Brazil Nut Pesto – a beautiful and hearty, hot salad. For dessert, our Pineapple Carpaccio with fresh mint, fresh chilli and a squeeze of lime looks really fancy, can be prepared in advance and makes a wonderful digestive aid.

What are you like on social media?

Both: We love social media and it has helped develop our business a lot. It’s been invaluable as a communicative tool between ourselves and our readers – to share recipes, news, ramblings. We love that it’s a reciprocal discourse and we gain a lot of our inspiration from others too. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.

Not many people know this, but I’m very good at…

Jasmine: High jump, but I haven’t done it in years, mind you...

Melissa: I’m not especially good at it but I absolutely love dancing.

What is your guilty pleasure?  

Jasmine: Massages, Neom candles and car boot sales.

Melissa: Baths with lovely oils. I don’t have a bath and long for one, so I always lock myself in friend’s bathrooms when I go to their house.

What do you always carry with you?

Melissa: A small pot of coconut oil – great for dry skin, hair, taking off my make up, and I can eat it too!

Jasmine: At the moment my puppy Julie has been coming everywhere with me!

How do you prefer to write?

Melissa: I write best when I’m typing on a laptop but I always keep a little notebook in my bag for ideas.

Jasmine: Definitely typing – I can’t actually read my handwriting these days

Where do you write and how?

Melissa: I can write anywhere, on a train is good but ideally at home, with a cup of Pep Up Tea (our signature blend of turmeric, ginger, cayenne and lemon) with Classic FM on and my dog sitting on my toes to keep them warm (and she reminds me every hour to get up and take her outside so I get fresh air and vitamin D.

Jasmine: Anywhere and everywhere. Annoyingly, some ideas come to me just before bed or less annoyingly, wake me up in the morning! I scribble the idea down on a notepad by my bed. But best are Mondays when my brain is refreshed after the weekend and it all flows. I have a pot of tea and play Binaural Study Beats to keep me focused. Meditating before I start is always good and I especially like writing on long trains journeys because usually your phone reception and Wifi doesn’t work.

What’s the most useful piece of advice about writing you’ve been given?

Jasmine: Turn your phone and emails off and start at 8am.

How do you celebrate finishing a book?

Melissa: Sleep!  

Jasmine: A holiday!


The Art of Eating Well

Jasmine Hemsley (and others)

The bestselling cookbook from Hemsley + Hemsley, including recipes from Jasmine and Melissa's Channel 4 series Eating Well with Hemsley + Hemsley.

The Art of Eating Well is a revolutionary cookbook that will help anyone who wishes to feel better, lose weight or have more energy. Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley teach their principles of life-long healthy eating with exciting and inventive recipes that are so delicious you forget the purpose is good health and nourishment.

Jasmine and Melissa’s philosophy is simple: a healthy gut leads to a healthy body and mind, and a better, happier you; that changing the way you eat doesn’t have to involve deprivation, but can be enjoyed everyday - whether you are home, work, with family or friends, or eating out.

This stunning book includes over 150 mouth-watering recipes - all of which are free from grain, gluten, refined sugar and high starch.

The sisters’ down-to-earth, encouraging and practical guidance will motivate you to try new foods and no longer crave high sugar and processed foods. They include comprehensive advice on ingredients, techniques, equipment, cooking in advance, meal plans, juicing, and packed lunches and snacks that fit busy lifestyles.

The Art of Eating Well is divided into clear categories – Kitchen and Store Cupboard Basics; Cooking in Advance; Breakfast; Soups; Salads; Sides and Snacks; Main Meals, including meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian; Baking and Desserts; Dips, Dressings and Sauces; Juices and Smoothies; Basics.

Beautifully photographed and designed, The Art of Eating Well is a kitchen bible that delivers maximum taste and maximum nutrition. A bold and beautiful cooking companion for food lovers that will change the way you eat leaving you energized, healthy, slimmer and strong.

Find out more about the authors

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