ITF caught up with Izy to talk basil butter, publishing and calling bullshit on media hyped foods…
Izy Hossack started her multi award winning food blog, Top With Cinnamon, four years ago and at the tender age of 19, has already gone onto do work for the likes of Jamie Oliver and publish her own cookbook. She’s food queen on instagram (@topwithcinnamon) and is the food stylist (it’s a thing) on the tip of everyone’s lips. With a knack for making the weirdest of ingredient mixes wonderful and really cool green hair, we want this girl in our kitchens 24/7.
If you could only cook one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Probably pancakes; I’m forever eating pancakes. I’ll eat them for breakfast, or lunch, dinner, dessert, like whatever.
What’s your favourite recipe that you’ve created?
My chocolate chip cookie recipe. There’s this one where I use a basil infused brown butter; you caramelise the butter, and you put basil leaves in it so you get this fragrant flavour. Then you leave the dough in the fridge to mature (it was an internet trend a while ago, but it really works because it kind of deepens the flavour of the cookie). I put a helluva lot of chocolate in these, really dark chocolate so it’s like super molten chunks of chocolate and this sweet basil-y cookie and it’s just really good.
What is it about cooking that you love?
I really like creative things. Both my parents are creative; my mum did pottery and photography at school and my dad is an architect, so very arty. I also love science, and cooking is a weirdly great combination of the two (especially baking). You’ve got scientific reactions, ways that ingredients work together and flavours. Then you’ve also got the creativity; how you’re going to prepare things, how you’re going to cook them, how you’re going to plate things up and how you’re going to style that.
What was the hardest thing about publishing and creating a cookbook?
I think the hardest bit is the reception; you have no idea what is going to happen. I worked on Top With Cinnamon for six months, and then it just goes quiet for three months while it’s getting published and you sort of forget about it. Suddenly it’s just out there, in all the shops. A blog is online; if you’ve done a typo, or something wrong, you can go in and change it later. Someone might comment being like ‘Oh, I used less berries and it came out better’ and you can add a note to the recipe. A book? It’s done, it’s final, and it’s there. People have this in their homes.
You said you really enjoy the styling aspect of it all: is that something you started off with, or is that something you discovered as your blog progressed?
Well it started off as a way for me to document my recipes, because I started like cooking different creative things and I’d just have them scrawled on a notepad. I thought, ‘If I blog them, I’ll have them typed up and it’s just a very neat way to do it’, but having a food blog means you have to do styling and photography to go with the recipes. I hated it at the beginning. As I got more and more into food blogging and had to keep doing it, I was doing it once a week basically, and I got a better camera so I could take better shots. I started falling in love with that aspect of it: photography and styling is my favourite part now.
Do you feel that the Internet and social media have changed the way people approach food?
I think lots of people are more aware of different food now, or different cultures and ways people eat. You’ll go onto instagram and see and Acai bowl and be like ‘Oh, I know what that is!’ Before you’d see that on a menu and not have a clue. It’s very good for reaching out to lots of people, and also because younger people use technology a lot, it’s reaching a younger audience. I know a lot of people that follow food instagrams and it makes them more interested in cooking and food, and exploring food even when they’re eating out. It’s definitely positive.
Has your age ever been a problem when you were trying to create the cookbook, get it out there and make a name for yourself?
It’s a double-edged sword; it can be really good, people say how little they did when they were eighteen in comparison but then others try and take advantage of you; thinking they can pay you less for the same work just because you’re younger. I have four years experience; I have a large portfolio of work. They think you’re young and don’t know what you’re doing. You just have remember that you can do it, and you’re worth it.
How has working with other chefs helped you develop your own style of cooking?
People ask me which chefs I admire the most, but to be honest it’s mainly food bloggers. Food bloggers are so creative nowadays, chefs have kind of caught onto that and they’re doing more creative things. It’s largely been food bloggers that have influenced me; it’s brought me a completely different way of thinking about food and ingredients. Most of what people do nowadays is so unconventional compared to before.
What is the creative process of coming up with your own recipe?
Sometimes it will start with an ingredient; so it might be a seasonal thing, or that we have something from the allotment. Then I think about what flavours will go with this and what kind of type of thing do I want to make; a muffin, a cake, a cookie. Then you start with basic ratios of ingredients that go together to make different things. Once you’re comfortable with that you can muck around with them: replacing butter with coconut oil to make it dairy free. But then you know you have to cut down on the amount of fat because coconut oil has more fat per gram than butter because butter actually has water in it, then you can change flours to make it gluten free. Then you might need a binder because there’s no gluten in it. It normally takes about three tries if I’m, doing baking things to test it and get it right, savoury things are super easy: you might just have to add more paprika and be like ‘okay, so it’s one teaspoon and not three-quarters’. Then I photograph and blog it.
I’m studying nutrition at University in September, which will be really interesting for me to learn about it. When you read about anything to do with food in the media now, it’s all bullshit. There’s too much influence from people producing the food that want to sell you shit. Antioxidants! This will make you skinny! This will make you lose weight! Blah Blah Blah.
You never see any scientific journals to support it; studying nutrition will help me understand that, and help with the blog because when I’m creating recipes I actually have more knowledge of what I’m actually talking about.
*Fire siren goes off outside; we have to pause*
That’s the second one: the drama of west London. This is Chiswick! What’s going on in Chiswick?
I’m doing freelance food photography and styling right now, which I’m enjoying, so hopefully more of that.
If you could cook with any chef, or person, who would it be?
Ruth Reichl: she was the food critic for The New York Times and I read a few of her biographies that she wrote about food when she was growing up, and her life as a critic. She used to wear outfits, like she’d go into fancy dress shops and buy wigs and stuff so she could dress up and have a different persona for each restaurant she went to. Hilarious. I think I’d like to cook with her and see what she’d write about it afterwards.
Your top three foodie instagrams?
You can buy Izy’s amazing cookbook here
Follow Camilla on twitter: @camillaackley