An interview with the cooking sensation from Cork: Lilly Higgins.

Welcome to the first of a series of interviews and posts about influential and interesting people in the world of food and wine. First up is Lilly Higgins; mother of two, writer, blogger, photographer and chef. A cookery course at the esteemed Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2007 saw Lilly move to food in a more professional way. She started her blog ‘Stuff I make, bake and love’ in 2010 and hasn’t looked back since with her first book ‘Make, Bake, Love’ published a few months afterwards. Since then in between writing for publications like Easy food magazine and the Sunday Business Post Lilly has appeared on TV and published her latest book ‘Dream Deli’.

Lilly at the launch of her new book Dream Deli

Lilly at the launch of her new book Dream Deli

Lilly found the time to fill us in on what’s driving her passion for food and her increasing interest in wine.

Harriet (HT): You obviously love cooking. Was there someone or something that made you realise that you wanted to make it your life?

Lilly (LH): I always loved food and cooking but never considered it as a career until I met my partner Colm and we dreamed of opening ‘a place of our own’ where we could serve gorgeous food. That was when I enrolled in Ballymaloe Cookery School.

HT: How do you get inspiration for your recipes?

LH:  I really love instagram. I know if I search for ‘tomatoes’ for example I will instantly see what hundreds of people all around the world are doing with tomatoes at that exact moment. Theres no recipe, its just a visual catalyst that helps me think about an ingredient differently and it sets a train of thought in motion which leads to a delicious meal! I also love talking to people about what they eat and how they prepare it. Visiting a Farmers Market and talking to producers are fantastic ways of rekindling my passion for seasonal local produce and giving my creativity a boost.

HT: Do you try to source all your foods locally? Is there a particular supplier who you really admire for what they do?

LH: I find that the local seasonal produce is usually the best quality so I do use local when I can. I’m very lucky living in East Cork as I’m surrounded by fantastic Farmers’ markets in Midleton and Mahon Point as well as having The English Market in Cork city. I really admire artisan bakery Arbutus. Declan Ryan is producing incredible real bread and there’s always a queue at his stall. The medieval loaf is my favourite, it’s studded with plump sultanas, almonds and figs. I also love anything produced by Frank Hederman’s Smokehouse. Their smoked salmon is soft like butter and literally melts in your mouth. They do fantastic smoked mackerel too.

Frank Hederman, smoker extraordinaire.

Frank Hederman, smoker extraordinaire.

HT:  We love wine, we hear you love wine too! In a recipe which calls for wine would you think about the style of wine going in?

LH: I would never cook with a wine that I wouldn’t drink. Cheap acidic wines won’t improve by cooking! If I’m making a stew I’d use something full bodied that can stand up to the herbs and beef flavour. I love a citrus scented white wine to gently steam fish.

HT: Carrying on the wine theme (funnily enough!); what wines would you enjoy the most? Do you have a favourite country, grape, region or style which you’d go for?

LH: I really enjoy wine and lament the fact that I don’t get to drink it often enough.  Generally speaking I love new world wines. I know that if I choose an Australian wine like Sticks Cabernet Shiraz that I will like it. New Zealand and Californian wines are favourites. I can almost taste the weather, the climate is captured in the grapes for me and I really love experiencing that first glass.

I usually prefer red wine, nothing too oaky or tannic, soft full fruits, berries and a lingering warmth of spice are all tastes that I look for.

If I had to choose a French wine I would go for a light beaujolais. I once had a case of Torres, Mas le Plana, Cabernet Sauvignon. With every bottle I came to know the wine more and absolutely love the warm chocolate notes and spice that it developed.

Having said all that I really love a fresh white wine where I can close my eyes and taste butter or gooseberries. Albet i Noya Lignum Blanc, DO Penedes does just that with grapefruit and peach fruits. I always find it amazing how each wine has different layers of taste and brings you on it’s own journey of flavours and smells.

HT: Our Nirvana Port from Dow’s was made specifically to go with dark chocolate. Have you ever experimented with food and wine matching and found some amazing matches?

LH:  I love the idea of port made for chocolate! Amazing. If I do happen to have any leftover I freeze it and it becomes almost like a granita due to the alcohol content. I just add it to bubbling pots of stew or casseroles straight from the freezer.

I do make a gorgeous champagne chicken dish but it’s very extravagant! We left a bottle of champagne open one night after a big get together and I added it to the pot roast chicken and it was amazing!

HT: Your new book ‘Dream Deli’ looks set to be very popular. Do you think a positive of our tough economic climate could be the fact that people experiment more with cooking at home and explore the riches that home cooking can give?

LH: Yes definitely. It’s so positive to see people cooking more at home. If given the choice I would probably prefer to stay in and spend more money on quality produce and a good bottle of wine. Experimenting with cheaper cuts of meat and buying seasonal vegetables are all great ways of saving money whilst expanding your recipe collection.

HT: If you could change one thing in the food and drink industry, what would it be?

LH: I would love if food and drink wasn’t constantly advertised as ‘the cheaper, the better’. Two for one offers and buy one get one free ultimately end up costing someone and unfortunately that’s usually the producer or farmer taking the hit for the large supermarkets.

HT: Finally if you were stuck on a desert island and offered your dream meal (& wine!) what would you chose?

LH: It would have to be a seafood platter with prawns, lemon butter, samphire, crab claws and plump scallops. Served with a chilled bottle of Logan Weemala Brut NV. A crisp sparkling Australian wine with a slight pink colour and hints of apple and nutty pear.

 Thank you Lilly Higgins!!

To follow Lilly you can find her regularly tweeting from @LillyHiggins 

Yum! What a seafood platter!

Yum! What a seafood platter! 

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