Mary McCartney: 'Food' and Family

The Photographer on Her Mum, Vegetarian Myths and Why She Will Never Be Martha Stewart.

Mary McCartney takes one look at me and begins dictating her favorite breakfast smoothie recipe: one banana, a tablespoon of milled flax seeds, one cup of rice milk, a small tablespoon of superfood powder and a scoop of whey protein. "That way, you will be set up for the day," she says, regarding me in a maternal, slightly concerned fashion. "I mean, when did you last eat?"
I have known McCartney for 15 years. She shot her first fashion pictures for me when I was editor at Frank magazine in 1998, to accompany the diary her sister Stella wrote about putting together her first collection for the fashion brand ChloĆ©. Over the years, as her fame as a photographer has grown, we have worked together on various projects. Now, as working mums on the same school run, we continue to bump into each other, occasionally stopping to chat and compare teenage-boy war stories. McCartney last year gave birth to her fourth child—her second son with film director Simon Aboud; she has two others with former husband Alistair Donald.
This month, the 42-year-old launched her cookbook "Food," inspired by the memory, cooking methods and recipes of her beloved mother, the late Linda McCartney. Mary has been a consultant on her mother's brand Linda McCartney Foods for over a decade.

My mum was a rock 'n' roll cook. She cooked more on instinct than by measuring. She appreciated food. She would never, for example, have eaten a Mars bar when she could eat really good chocolate.
For mum, the kitchen was the social hub. She always liked people coming in and hanging out with her while she cooked. I'm the same. I like to cook for a reason—mainly for the kids, or if I have friends coming over.
My parents would challenge each other to cook great veggie meals. My dad was always saying: Right, well, if I'm no longer eating meat, then what can we eat that is as delicious? He is a northern guy, and everything at that time revolved around the meat on the plate. It still does, I think, as opposed, for example, to Italy, where meat is just an ingredient, not the main constituent of a meal.
There's a preconception that veggie food is complicated and time-consuming. I wanted to dispel that. I like to spend about 30 minutes or less on a recipe, and I use ingredients that are easily obtainable.
My mum never wore an apron when she cooked, and neither do I. When I look back on her style, I think of it as easy and cool. The kitchen was no different to anywhere else in terms of how she dressed. I think if you are relaxed, it comes through in your cooking. I will admit, though, that having a mum who wore weird stuff and argyle socks was kind of embarrassing when I was at school.
 My boys cook with me. I learned so much from my mum about where food comes from and how to prepare it; I figure they will do the same. Plus, they are much more likely to eat it if they have had a hand in preparing it.
I always said no to writing a book because it's not my arena. I'm a people person, which is why I'm a photographer—I like to tell a story with pictures not words. Writing is too much like homework. But then, because I support Meat Free Mondays and I wanted to illustrate to people that veggie food can be interesting and easy, I agreed. When the book first arrived, I looked at it and thought: Now, this is why I did it.
Actually, I finally said yes to the book because my husband pitched the idea to me. He has an advertising background, so he's very persuasive. He pitched the idea of us having this recent baby, too.
Food carries with it so many memories of my family. My sister does the same thing with clothes that I do with food. When I look at Stella's collections, I see a bit of my mum's boho and vintage influence and some of my American grandfather's seersucker, lawyer-suits vibe. When I go to watch Stella's runway shows, I feel very nostalgic.

I read a recent review of my book and it said, "nice pictures, but I bet she didn't come up with the recipes." I was like, What!?, because I came up with all the recipes, which were really what I grew up with but healthier—my mum used a lot of cream. I try to enhance what I already know and love, and make it indulgent but good for you.
I tried to treat the food I was photographing like I would the portrait of a person. There was no food varnishing on my shoots—I didn't even have a prop stylist. It was manic. I was making the food, then putting it onto or into vintage-y plates and bowls, then sticking it somewhere like a windowsill and framing the shot.
As a family, we have bad memories of chargrilled vegetables and couscous, which was traditionally all that was on offer in restaurants in the '70s if you were vegetarian. Consequently, neither appears in my book or on my table—ever!
Everything that surrounds food is really complicated. There's so much shame attached to what we eat and guilt about what we weigh. I think celebrating good, healthy food is part of the answer. Wouldn't it be interesting if every person in the country could have a therapy session about how they feel about food?
I have a very clear memory of the first time food changed my mood. I was having a bad day and my aunt took me out, and I had a grilled cheese sandwich, chips and a milkshake. I remember realizing afterward that the meal had actually made me feel better.

My step-grandmother on my mum's side taught me to bake. She was French and a little scary—always saying things like: Children do not run in the apartment. But when I got older, we became friends through cooking. She taught me the value of measuring things and of having an oven thermometer. Those two things are fundamental to my cooking today.
My dad loves home baking, and I think there's a link between my interest in food and making people happy. I love it if everyone eats everything on their plate.
You can tell a good restaurant by the excellence of their vegetarian dishes or menu. I like Raymond Blanc's Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, E&O in Notting Hill, Le Caprice and Scott's—places with a nice ambience.
I'm a huge fan of straightforward, chuck-it-all-in cooks like Nigel Slater and Jamie Oliver, who celebrate food, and I detest anything complicated. What's the deal with all that foamy, fiddly stuff?
I remember my childhood as very normal. We went to a comprehensive, where we kept our heads down because we didn't want to be seen as different. We ate at a certain time, did our homework and, every so often, we'd go on an amazing trip somewhere that would remind us that our circumstances weren't quite like everyone else's.

 I think part of the reason my dad looks so good is that he eats properly. He would never skip a meal. Often, if he's on his own, he will eat something from my mum's range and make himself vegetables or a salad.
I'm not going to become a Martha Stewart. There are no books planned on how my kitchen or home looks. I can't even remember the name of the cooker I use, except to say that it's a double oven and it's good. I have been approached a number of times about doing a cooking show for TV. My husband is pitching me on that now, so we'll see what happens.
I'm obsessed by Amelia Rope—a chocolate range available at Liberty. It's really expensive, so I eat a tiny bit at a time. I love the Pale Lime with Sea Salt. [Also] Cire Trudon candles—again very expensive, so I don't buy too many, but I love all of the fragrances.

I like to be comfortable and practical, but stylish.... I want to be able to walk wherever I go. I wear my sister Stella's clothes a lot, but never the whole look. I mix everything up, which is what my mum did, so I'd wear Stella's trousers with a vintage blouse, a nice knit cardi and flip-flops.
I wear Stella's L.I.L.Y. [standing for Linda I Love You], Penhaligon's Bluebell and Agent Provocateur's Maitresse Gold, which my husband bought me.
I'm very inspired by my mum. She liked vintage—pretty tea dresses and nice knits. I can't see a piece of neon clothing without thinking of her.
Stocking a Kitchen, Mary McCartney-Style
Heavy-bottomed frying pans: small, medium and large
Nonstick frying pans: large (around 28 centimeters) and small or medium (around 20 centimeters)
Magimix food processor—but I prefer hand-chopping
Chopping boards in various sizes—I'm a Virgo, so I need to control the size of everything that's chopped. Two large, wooden boards for veg and one dedicated to fruit, so you don't get garlic or onion flavor on fruit.
Kitchen Aid mixer for baking
Roasting and cake tins
Sharp knives: a selection of approximately six in a wooden block; my favorite is the 13-centimeter, serrated vegetable chopping knife.
Wooden spoons
Veg and zest peelers
Weighing scales
Oven thermometer

—Tina Gaudoin is a contributing editor at the Journal. Email her at tina.gaudoin@wsj.com or follow her on Twitter: @

From: online.wsj.com


Anonymous said...

Mm a cooking show by Mary,I'll watch that!

Majenta said...

Why be Martha Stewart when you can be Mary McCartney (Aboud)?