We are super-thrilled to be joined this month by food stylist and cookery writer Frankie Unsworth. Frankie has worked with many cooks, photographers and writers at the top of their game, styling photographs to create a story around each object or dish that’s being photographed. She has just launched her own cook book, complete with stunning images and brilliantly useful tips for making your meals look as good as they taste.
She has kindly taken time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions. This is a real treat: read on for inspiration about choosing to follow your passion in life, the joys of owning a dog, the love of good linen and being held at gunpoint at the age of 17.
Can you tell us what you do and how you came to be doing it?
I am a food stylist, and more recently, a cookery book author. I have always been obsessed with food and everything that goes with the experience of eating, so working in some way with in the food industry was always on the cards for me. Even as a child I loved soaking in the atmosphere in restaurants, obsessing over every little detail and specifically chose to study languages at school (Italian, French, Spanish) from countries whose cuisines I liked the most. I worked as a staff writer for many years on an Italian food magazine but found that it was the visuals as much as the words that inspired me, and I love the demands of working in a kitchen, being on my feet all day and working with my hands.
An average day on a cookery book shoot, we will cook about 8 recipes and create (alongside the photographer and sometimes a prop stylist) little scenes to bring the food to life. I love the finickity little details that go into my job – picking out the prettiest leaves for the top of a salad, carefully segmenting citrus with surgical precision and the regular challenge of wrangling a linen napkin into a seemingly natural but picture-perfect positon beside a plate.
If you had one piece of advice or wisdom to pass on to your younger self, what would it be?
Not to worry about not having a plan! The best things seem to happen by chance, so it’s important not to get bogged down in setting yourself life goals. Being freelance can be such a rollercoaster ride: you can wake up one morning wondering what you are doing and craving a little structure and a monthly pay check, then it just takes one email with a dream project to flip it all on its head. But I guess that’s why I get such a kick out of working for myself and desk work didn’t suit me.
What is it about slow living and the simple life that you find appealing?
Living in London can make slow and simple living a bit of a challenge. I’ve found having a dog has been really life enhancing, and now I spend a disproportionate amount of time at my local parks, come sun, rain or snow, which helps you feel a little more calm in the chaos of the city. In the last two areas of London I have lived in, Mile End and now Brixton, I have really embraced the weekend scene, using my local markets religiously, meandering the parks and drinking in the pubs. If you treat your part of London like a village, life in the city does become simpler and you really get a sense of community that I think makes you feel more rooted.
I am also a firm believer in making the most of the everyday necessities and making them pleasurable experiences – especially when it comes to eating, cooking, food shopping. Shopping in the endless out-of-season aisles of a supermarket rarely gets you that excited about what’s for dinner. If you seek out interesting suppliers or independent greengrocers, you’ll not only get better quality and often cheaper produce, but you’ll also build up a meaningful relationship and make it a pleasure not a chore. I also think that setting a table for dinner, even if it’s a dinner for one, will really enhance the experience of eating the food, you’ll value your time at the table and switch off from the day and concentrate on the dish before you.
How can we counter the pulls of content-sharing and curating images of our lives with the need for being in the moment?
I go through phases of posting on social media, sharing maybe 3 images in one day, then none at all for a week or so. I personally like catching the behind-the-scenes shots that go into my daily work. Lots of the shoots I work on have to be kept under wraps until the book or brand’s release, so I like snapping the beautiful detritus, piles of colour coordinated props, or awe-inspiring location homes we end up in, without giving away too much of the client’s secrets. I don’t tend to use it overly for my personal life, it’s probably not curated enough to warrant it!
Who inspires you?
I am currently devouring interiors stylist Hans Blomquist’s work. His styling is so seemingly effortlessly put together (the sign of a brilliant stylist) and never looks overworked. I am currently renovating my kitchen, which has made the house a bit of a bomb site, so when I’m feeling un-zen in my mess I open his book In the Mood for Colour and pretend I’m living in his world of vintage French linens, foraged branches and firewood. I was introduced to his work by Kristin Perers, the talented photographer who shot my book, who is another huge inspiration to me, a true wonder woman and incredible collaborator. I am quite lucky that my work allows me to meet so many creative talents on a weekly basis.
What are your essential homeware items/ things you couldn’t do without?
Forgive me if it sounds contrived, but I genuinely believe in the uplifting power of good linen! Surrounding yourself with beautiful textures really is not only a visual feast, but a sensory one too. My whippet always gravitates to the most beautiful fabrics (and expensive) in the house, I think she might be my spirit animal. Tablecloths, napkins, linen dresses, you name it, I use them daily. And they only get better with time.
Candles are another must for me. They can completely transform an atmosphere. I can’t stand overhead spotlights and always opt for lamps and candlelight. In the last year we got a wood burning stove, which has been my dream for a very long time, and it has lived up to my expectations on every level. Sitting by the fire has become an activity in itself, and those long winter nights are all the more cosy.
What would you like to be doing in 10 years’ time?
If I ever recover from renovating my downstairs kitchen/living room in Brixton, it would be to leave the Big Smoke behind and return to the south of France, where I spent a few years growing up. I will renovate a crumbling old farmhouse, keep goats, make fresh cheeses from their milk, have a few rooms and cook from the kitchen garden for guests.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?
I finished my Baccalaureate when I had just turned 17 and boldly booked a trip to volunteer in Sri Lanka. I had barely travelled by myself before, but 3 months over there seemed like a brilliant idea. It was during the civil war and I arrived not long after the roads had been reopened from Colombo to Trincomalee (the north and north-east of the island was where the majority of the fighting took place during the conflict). In my typically naïve fashion, this seemed the opportune moment to hop (and stand all the way) on a crowded 7-hour bus to go check it out. At one point, we were all unloaded from the bus and at a machine guarded checkpoint, something which would terrify me now. I do miss that feeling of fearlessness and invincibility of youth in my 30s, while I still have wanderlust I am far more risk averse!
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Frankie, this is one of our favourite interviews! Best of luck with your beautiful new book, The New Art of Cooking, out now. For a chance to win a copy of this gorgeous book head over to the blog at LinenMe.com.