Oh yeah, I’m blonde now.
It feels like a lifetime ago that I started this blog – I was at Uni, had just purchased my first DSLR camera and was taking pictures of all the food I was cooking. It was really procrastination that led me to start writing and documenting recipes, pretty soon I was part of this larger community and it was all-consuming. From the blog I made the leap to freelance food writer (but, in all honesty, I really don’t think I was terribly good at it – lack of routine + masses of competition for paid gigs + definite lack of self-motivation and oodles of self-doubt when left to own devices = poor, sad, lonely Jackie), and from there a bit of an identity crisis and the decision to start cooking full-time, which has led me to where I am today. As such, the blog has changed as I have – these days I post barely any recipes, when I was at culinary school it became a diary of sorts for those 9 months, and following finishing there it’s become kind of an afterthought; when you spend 90% of your time in basements cooking, even entertaining the idea of writing a blog post seems like a mammoth task. Sadly, my once loved blog has seen better days.
London has been my base for all of these operations thus far. Sure, I travelled extensively and spent time living abroad in my younger years (lulz, younger years) but it’s always been London that I’ve returned to – the city I was born in and for the majority of my 29 years have lived in. I went to school in London, made and lost friends, found my first writing jobs, went to culinary school and subsequently worked exclusively in as a chef; and for all of the wonderful things London has brought me, it has also been a cause of great stress, heartbreak and struggle. I have moved house every year, barring 1, for the last 6 years of my life (because renting in London is akin to chopping off both legs and pledging your first born to your landlord), moved jobs countless times since I started cheffing (always with good reason), and poured my heart and soul into everything I’ve done, only to be taken for granted, trampled upon and unappreciated (by and large, obviously many exceptions). And, frankly, I’m exhausted. I still love food, I still love cooking and making others happy through my food, but I’m a little jaded, a little saddened and in need of a little change.
About two months ago TS and I received an email from our current estate agent, informing us that our landlord had decided to repossess our property. On the 26th December. Yeah. I know. After the initial outrage had passed, TS and I sat down in our kitchen to discuss what we were going to do about it – were we going to find another house in London to live in? Were we going to say “screw it” and get out of London, maybe move to Scotland, or perhaps Oxford or Cambridge? Or, was it time to maybe think about moving to New Zealand, a card that had been in our deck for the last couple of years?
For those of you who don’t know, TS is from the South Island and a couple of years ago he took me for a holiday around New Zealand where I completely and utterly fell in love with the country. It was green, it was peaceful, the food was incredible, the people were lovely, and from that moment I had already started to plot our escape, but one thing led to another, TS’ job situation changed slightly, and after discussing it we had decided to remain in London for a few more years, save up some more money (ha! Saving! In London!) and make the move “eventually”.
So back to the conversation TS and I were having in the kitchen. We had ruled out remaining in London and as we started to discuss the logistics of moving we realised that moving to another part of the country was going to be just as much effort as moving to New Zealand, and if we were planning on leaving at some point anyway, why not make that point now?
Friends, if I can say anything about myself, it is that I am very good at taking a terrible situation and turning it into an opportunity.
Fast forward a couple of months and now TS and I are hurriedly tying up all of our loose ends, saying goodbye to friends and family, and desperately trying to pack (but procrastinating like crazy), and with only 11 days left in London. It has definitely been a very interesting time and, although it’s a bit more rushed than we would’ve liked (the cats, for example, can’t come with us straight away because they need rabies shots and boosters 6 months before they travel), it is exactly the kick up the ass we both needed to actually make the move. I can see how we would’ve continued plodding along and getting swept up in the day-to-day of London living for another 2, 3, 4 years, and “eventually” would have become “never”.
People keep asking me how I feel about leaving and the truth is it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, I’m sad to be leaving friends and loved ones behind – when we’re over there I literally won’t have any support system except for TS and a couple of our friends, I also won’t be working initially until all of the paperwork goes through, and that is a little worrying; on the other hand, it is so exciting and exhilarating, I almost can’t control myself. The opportunities are endless, the possibilities boundless. TS and I find ourselves giddy at the prospect at times, laughing uncontrollably in public because we’ve just realised we have nowhere to live, nothing to tie us down and can do anything we want. It’s a little dangerous but I find myself so unbelievably happy I’m just. Not. Worried.
Speaking of jobs, we aren’t being completely irresponsible – TS is, amazingly, keeping his job and working remotely, I’m already looking for opportunities as soon as my visa paperwork is all sorted out, but with no rent to pay imminently and a place to rest our heads at TS’ mother’s place should we need it, we aren’t going to find ourselves destitute and homeless.
What the future holds for us is anyone’s guess right now. We know we’re spending Christmas in Hong Kong with Papa Lee and New Year with TS’ mother in Central Otago, but after that? Who knows – it’ll be an awfully big adventure.
For anybody who’s curious, here’s a selection of what I’ve been up to over the last year:
Joined a company I’ve known for a long time as their pastry chef/baker, had the opportunity to create my own line of cakes and bakes and even had a named review in Time Out because of it! Sadly, they couldn’t afford to keep me and so moved on, but it was a great opportunity to have my own name out there and feedback from customers (although I have also lost my people skills from the last 3 years spent in basements, because when people did tell me they liked my cakes I very awkwardly thanked them, said something inappropriate and then ran away – go me!).
Worked for a short time with my fantastically talented friend Uyen – I was in-between jobs and she needed some assisting with video shoots, pop-up and her weekly supperclubs (which you should 100% book into because Uyen makes the best Vietnamese food in London). The above photos are the cake I made for her partner James’ birthday and the dessert we co-created for the pop-up I assisted her with over the summer. So fantastic to work with Uyen – sometimes when you work with friends it doesn’t work out because your personalities clash, with Uyen we just clicked and worked together like a dream, which was lucky because we’re also next door neighbours and had we fallen out it would’ve been awkwaaaard…
Ran my first ever supperclub with my friend Oli, whom I met when we worked together at one of my jobs. We ran it for 2-nights only at Uyen’s studio in East London and, proud to say, sold out both nights and created a really fantastic menu together. Highlights included giant Sichuan pork crackling, stuffed sea bass in broth, Oli’s shredded beef rib, my dessert (a “trifle” of sorts: green tea frangipane, green tea condensed milk mousse, raspberries, lychees and lychee sorbet), yuzu macarons and umeboshi truffles. It was incredibly stressful but also so satisfying and fun. Would definitely do again now that I’ve done it once!
For the past over half a year I’ve been in this Michelin kitchen in Spitalfields, working in a senior position and learning about the management side of kitchens. It’s been very tough at times but also a great opportunity to learn how kitchens run and I was pretty much given free reign over the pastry and desserts, with a really great exec to oversee my work (whom I feel pretty blessed to have met and worked with because we just got each other), which was a fantastic opportunity for me. I was blessed to work with a lovely team and train an apprentice from scratch, which has been pretty great experience (for both of us, we definitely struggled together at the beginning but grew into each other!).
Look at their lovely faces. I was definitely the mother of the kitchen (which happens everywhere I go but particularly with this lot because they were all so young). Thanks for all your work, kids – we survived those days and you’ll survive the next!
So off we go on our adventures to New Zealand! I’m planning on keeping up with the blog a bit more on the other side of the world (pretty good opportunity to resurrect it) so hopefully I can get back to writing, cooking (for fun) and re-building my blog network, because you know what? I miss it. I miss you guys and I miss writing.
On a side-note, a couple of years ago when TS and I visited New Zealand, when I got home I wrote on our whiteboard that my goal was to be living and working in New Zealand by the time I was 30; well I’m going to be 30 in February, so sometimes life just works out exactly the way you hoped it would.
Until next time, peace and love,