In conversation with

Mina Holland

Editor Guardian Feast, author The Edible Atlas and Mama

Mina Holland

Introduction

Introduction

Reading, writing and eating are some of life’s greatest pleasures. Lucky Mina Holland, the Editor of Guardian’s Feast supplement, who gets to combine all three. She has travelled to Naples on the trail of Elena Ferrante, making the most of deep-fried antipasti and hand-tossed pizzas as she went. She has even hosted supper clubs inspired by her favourite novels, serving up canapés for American Psycho and a “holy trinity of beef” inspired by To The Lighthouse. Irish Murdoch, Junot Diaz and Nora Ephron are Mina’s dream dinner party guests, and they’d feast on chicken fattee and baba ganoush. How do we get an invite?

Question and Answer

Which authors from your childhood have stayed with you in adult life?

I read almost exclusively pony books as a child – things like The Saddle Club, books by Patricia Leach and Flambards, which was my favourite. I grew up in London and was totally animal mad so reading was my porthole into that world.

What was your first encounter with food writing?

In my mid-teens I remember doing GCSE revision and suddenly being awoken to Nigella. I remember being given How to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess and that was my form of procrastination – quite wholesome procrastination! That’s the first time can really remember reading about food and engaging with the stories.

How to be a domestic goddess by Nigella Lawson
"In my mid-teens I remember doing GCSE revision and suddenly being awoken to Nigella"

Do you seek out food in fiction?

Well I had a supper club that combined both food and books. I was working in advertising but wasn’t happy with that, so I started a blog where I’d cook a recipe inspired by whatever I was reading on my commute at the time, and that sort of morphed into a supper club where we brought novels to life through food. The first one was To the Lighthouse which has some great food in it – Virginia Woolf describes “a holy trinity of beef, potatoes and vegetables” so we did boeuf en daube with mash. We did American Psycho as a nine-course canapé menu at Shoreditch House. We did the The Bell Jar which was really depressing and did avocado with crab meat for the “ladies day luncheon” that Sylvia Plath mentions. The Great Gatsby was really the best one. It was just really opulent. Fitzgerald describes “a turkey that’s burnished gold” and “salads in harlequin designs”.

Mina Holland Heartburn
Mina reads Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Mina Holland Home
"I remember being given How to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess and that was my form of procrastination"

Which author/s – dead or alive – would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

I’ve always thought Iris Murdoch would be interesting. Junot Diaz. Nora Ephron. My columnists from Guardian Cook, Rachel and Jeremy.

What would you cook for them and why?

I’d definitely make my babba ganoush because it’s very good. Chicken fattee with a really lemony green salad. And then we’d finish with fruit and ricotta and honey.

How do you choose what to read next?

Recommendations a lot – Guardian Review, things mentioned in the New Yorker. I’ve started listening to the Longform podcast and loved the interview with David Remnick. If a columnist I enjoy reading has published a book then I’ll read that, like The Scent of Dried Roses by Tim Lott.

Rachel Roddy Five Quarters
"You really get the feeling that they’re recipes she makes time and again"

What cookbook would you give as a gift?

It depends on the person. There are certain essentials that I think everybody should have but they’re real cook’s cookbooks, like Fergus Henderson and Simon Hopkinson. The Morito cookbook is fantastic. I love Beaneaters and Bread Soup. And Rachel Roddy’s first one – that is ten years of living in Rome and you really get the feeling that they’re recipes she makes time and again.

Home Cooking Laurie Colwin
"It’s basically the recognition that food is about so much more than food"

What do you think makes a great food writer?

It’s basically the recognition that food is about so much more than food. Food writing is really about life. Rachel Roddy does it brilliantly, so do Laurie Colwin and Simon Hopkinson. It’s a luxury in publishing to today to talk about anything but the recipe at length, but I’ve tried to bring in stories with Cook and restore the balance between recipe and content.

What should great food writing achieve?

It doesn’t necessarily propel you into the kitchen, but it should awaken your curiosity to try new things. The food world can be quite alienating – good food doesn’t have to be expensive but it often is (and can be quite elitist). Good food writing should be relatable and break down some of those divisions.

“The food world can be quite alienating – good food doesn’t have to be expensive but it often is (and can be quite elitist). Good food writing should be relatable and break down some of those divisions.”

Mina Holland

Which authors write about food really well?

Heartburn by Nora Ephron really typifies my point about food writing being about so much more than just food. It’s so tragic but so hilarious all at once. It’s really skilled penmanship to be able to do that.

What is one of your favourite lines from the book?

“I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them”

Who do you trust for restaurant recommendations?

My friend Jo Woodhouse is a food photographer. He’s a vegetarian and I know if he really rates somewhere it means they’re giving the meat-free option as much love and attention as the meat, then that’s always a very good sign. And we have the same taste in wine which helps!

Mina Holland Ernie
Mina with Ernie the whippet
Mina Holland
The Scent of Dried Roses by Tim Lott

If you had to escape to one restaurant and write for the day, where would you choose?

Quo Vadis – I do that a lot. They have a really good newsletter which talks about what Chef Jeremy Lee’s reading and I trust his opinion on books. And I also really like Rochelle Canteen.

How have your reading habits changed over the years?

Since working in journalism I’ve got much for into reading non-fiction. I suppose I read a lot for plot when I was younger and I still love doing that but I don’t need it so much. I read only to be transported, but since leaving formal education I feel like I have to educate myself a bit, so have got more out of non-fiction.

Mina's Storylist

Novels

  1. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  2. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
  3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Non-fiction

  1. The Scent of Dried Roses by Tim Lott
  2. As If by Blake Morrison
  3. Love’s Executioner by Irvin D. Yalom

Cookbooks

  1. Five Quarters by Rachel Roddy
  2. The Good Cook by Simon Hopkinson
  3. Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson
  4. How to Eat by Nigella
  5. Jerusalem by Ottolenghi
  6. Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

Podcasts

  1. Prince Street
  2. Longform

Magazines

  1. At the Table
  2. Cherry Bombe
  3. The New Yorker
  4. Noble Rot

Websites

Newsletters

  1. Quo Vadis ­
  2. Food 52
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