Mandy Miller Simmonds is the perfect person to feature in our December issue of SO magazine as she’s a fantastic font of knowledge when it comes to creating sensational food where the focus is all about the flavour – and not the fuss. That’s particularly useful given we’re entering into the culinary calendar’s busiest time of year with plenty of Christmas and New Year celebrations to cook for.
The married mother of two from Hildenborough is the face and force behind the enormously successful Simply Food By Mandy Blog which on Instagram now boasts more than 23,000 followers and sees her regularly working with some of the industry’s top chefs and gourmet brands. In fact the day before the SO team went to photograph Mandy at home she had just spent a day with the legendary French chef Raymond Blanc at his magnificent hotel Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons in Oxfordshire.
My steer is on food for the family and recipes that aren’t overly complicated but are always full of flavour
“My day with Raymond was definitely a bucket list dream ticked off,” laughs Mandy, who established Simply Food by Mandy in July 2018. “He was an absolute delight and brilliantly passionate. But I also love Gordon Ramsey – who now follows me on Instagram – and Jamie Oliver for his fuss-free attitude to cooking.”
Scroll through Mandy’s Insta account and you’ll be treated to a series of her mouthwatering dishes which range from exotic curries to healthy Mediterranean inspired quiches, deliciously colourful traybakes and indulgent puds – with the odd cheeky cocktail thrown in. So in short it’s fair to say that Mandy covers all areas of the food spectrum but the emphasis is very much on making it stress-free.
“Each week on my blog I hope to share a vegetarian meal, a mid-week budget option, a family friendly pleaser, a minimum washing-up dish, something spicy on a Friday and the odd treat here and there,” adds Mandy.
“I focus on nourishment from within and have no interest in omitting food groups or jumping on the bandwagon of the latest in-vogue diet. I cook for pleasure and health and I am an advocate of promoting wellness through the varied meals I create. My focus is on food for the family and recipes that aren’t overly complicated but are always full of flavour. My favourite meals to create are those that you may think have taken hours and are way too complicated but actually they are straightforward and simple to make.”
And judging by the number of followers she has online it’s clear that her varied selection of inspiring recipes are a bit hit. “I absolutely love sharing my recipes and I enjoy the feedback I receive. I like to feel I help others who lack imagination in the kitchen or are open to trying something new. I cannot explain the pride and joy I feel when people try my recipes and they not only work but become regular features on their weekly menu. I am a self-taught home cook and I create and prepare achievable meals for real people.”
So as Mandy didn’t do a conventional chef’s training course how did she get into the world of cooking?
“In a previous life I was a professional dancer and travelled the world whilst pursuing my dream job as a performer. I taught ballet for a few years which was fantastic, but I knew I had another itch to scratch in a totally different world. I come from a foodie family – both of my parents are brilliant home cooks – and we have always enjoyed eating out and trying new things. I definitely have my parents to thank for my love of food!”
Although Mandy didn’t have a problem coming up with a variety of simple but deliciously nutritious meals for her children Toby, 16, and Charlie, 11, lots of her friends did.
“It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut cooking the same thing every week. Cooking and sharing the results of my time in the kitchen with my friends and then on social media really started as a hobby. I think because I’m not a trained chef and because I intentionally keep things simple people believe they can do it too. For the first year it was hard to make a living, but as my online following has grown brands have approached and want to work with me.”
And how did she manage to attract their attention in what is a pretty saturated market with all manner of foodie influencers out there? “First of all I approached the brands I love and genuinely used on a regular basis. In the beginning some of them sent me wonderful ingredients and equipment to try, and when I reached over a certain number of followers on social media platforms I began to be approached to create content and sponsored posts. I love working within such a creative industry and today’s technology makes our reach so much wider.”
I focus on nourishment from within and have no interest in omitting food groups or jumping on the bandwagon of the latest in-vogue diet
Now Mandy works with more then 20 PR companies including Tim’s Dairy, Saint Agur and Lindt Chocolate and brands as both a content creator and brand ambassador. This means that Mandy will often create dishes using a brand’s ingredients or a piece of kitchen equipment and then tag them into those specific posts so that her followers can discover the companies Mandy likes using. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that applies to a number of influencers and helps to drive that all-important cyber traffic into real term sales.
After achieving her goal of working with some of her favourite brands in the sector, what has Mandy learnt from running her own business? She says: “To be driven by your passion and then the rest will follow.”
And as for Mandy’s plans for 2020? “I plan to keep growing my following and write for magazines and newspapers and hopefully publish something in hard copy one day too.” Given her natural cooking flair and genuine passion for producing fad-free tasty food we somehow know that her next dream will come true for Mandy soon . . .
Follow Mandy Miller Simmonds at @simplyfoodbymandy
How to be social media savvy
How useful is social media for you?
It’s all about having an audience and social media has such reach – it’s amazing
Which platforms do you use most and why?
I use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter but most of my customers favour Instagram as it is a very dynamic platform
Do you collaborate with any other influencers?
I have become friends with many different influencers and have had the privilege of meeting some of them at various events I attend. Occasionally we’ll collaborate with cross promotion things. It’s funny, we all hear a lot of negatives about social media, but on the whole I have found it a very positive and supportive platform
Describe your perfect Christmas Day?
We wake up at 7.30 and start bubbling the stock for the gravy – turkey giblets are perfect for this. We light a fire and open presents from under the tree. Toby (my 16 year old) is normally in charge of breakfast. It’s smoked salmon, salmon roe, sliced avocado and scrambled eggs with a slice of toasted sourdough. After breakfast, hopefully we can squeeze in a lovely walk with Hamish the Springer Spaniel.
Our family arrives at 1pm and the fizz is cracked open shortly afterwards! My mum and I will potter around in my kitchen and then lunch will be served at 3pm.
We’ll enjoy a gorgeous feast, followed by a game of Monopoly. Hopefully all of the clearing up will have magically disappeared and we can sit on the sofa in front on the fire watching Christmas television.
Mandy’s top tips for a stress-free Christmas in the kitchen:
- Plan: Write a list and a schedule. I find working backwards helps. Decide what time lunch is and go from there.
- Delegate: My family are brilliant at this and I actually think friends and family love to be involved. If I’m cooking the turkey then my mum will be in charge of starters. My auntie always makes some homemade sausage rolls, and my mother-in-law often brings a superb selection of local cheeses.
What’s on Mandy’s menu on December 25?
Mini Yellowfin Tuna Poké bowls,
Seared scallops, pea purée and black pudding
I quite like the idea of a goose or a six-bird roast, but my boys (including my husband) love a traditional turkey with all the trimmings, that’s why I go to town with the vegetables and give them a little twist . . .
I’ll serve rose harissa heritage carrots, spiced red cabbage and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, pancetta and pomegranate seeds. In addition to this there’ll be goose fat potatoes, parsnips and Sauternes gravy
My mum’s Christmas pudding and homemade chocolate log
…and of course some Champagne!
Mandy’s festive feast
This is a very simple turkey recipe, but feel free to add a few extras to upgrade your bird. Often I like to completely cover the turkey with streaky bacon, 2 packs will do the job. I also like to stuff the turkey with a sausage and chestnut stuffing mix. To do this you will need to carefully place your hand under the skin of the breast and lift the skin away from the breast meat. Spoon the raw stuffing inside and fold the skin underneath the bird. Remember to weigh your stuffing and add that to the weight of the turkey to work out timings.
1 Turkey (mine was 4.5kg)
3 small onions or 6 shallots – peeled and halved
4-5 carrots – roughly chopped
1 garlic bulb – top chopped off horizontally
1 clementine – halved
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees or regular 180 degrees fan.
Remove the giblets, set aside and use for gravy. Add the clementine, 1 onion and the garlic to the carcass.
Add the carrots and onions to the pan and sit the turkey on top. Drizzle with a little oil, season generously and cover loosely with foil. A higher-welfare bird will take less time to cook – about 30 minutes per kilo. A standard bird will take about 40 minutes per kilo. As a guide a 3.6kg-5.4kg turkey will take 2 hours, a 5.4kg-7.25kg bird will take 21⁄2 to 3 hours. Plus resting time.
Remove the foil for the last 45 minutes. Test in between leg and breast with a meat thermometer. The turkey is ready when the temperature reads 74 degrees. Rest for at least an hour.
Why I love Tunbridge Wells – Mandy Miller Simmonds
Where is your favourite place to shop?
I love Fenwick’s, Hoopers and the lovely small boutiques on the High Street: Tunbridge Wells definitely has a little London feel about it
And to eat out?
I love having the chance to get dressed up when I go out so places like The Ivy, The Beacon and Thackeray’s are perfect venues. For amazing food in a more relaxed atmosphere I’d have to say The Kentish Hare in Bidborough is a favourite.
And for coffee – or cocktails?
I’d recommend Juliet’s and Hattons of Tunbridge Wells for great coffee, lunch and beautiful salads. But if I’m going out for drinks then I’d head to The Wine Rooms on The Pantiles.
Finally, where’s the best place to go locally at Christmas?
A walk through The Pantiles followed by something to eat at The Beacon or The Ivy will definitely get you in the Christmas mood!
Art Direction: Lee Smith
Photography: Craig Matthews