The Gannet Q&A

Helen Graves

25th October 2016

Helen Graves was born and raised in Gloucestershire and currently lives in southeast London. She is mostly known for the highly-regarded blog Food Stories and the neglected but soon-to-be-revived London Review of Sandwiches. She is also food and drink editor at Londonist. And when not doing all that, she’s working on her PhD in Psychological Medicine. Yes: fingers in lots of pies.

If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

One meal I’d love to revisit happened during a trip to Ethiopia a few years back. I was there to write a story for the charity World Vision, who help women find trades and become self-sufficient. We went to visit a lady on the outskirts of Addis who was making money by producing injera[footnote]The vast bubbly pancakes that are a staple of Ethiopian cuisine[/footnote]. She invited us into her home where she cooked a feast. Onto injera she piled various meat stews, vegetable and lentil dishes, blistered chillies. She gestured to me as she moved around her tiny makeshift kitchen, inviting me to stir the pot, wafting the cooking steam towards my nose. Cooks always find a way to communicate in these situations. The rich minced meat stew, the fragrant lentils, yellow with turmeric, the spiced butter and the berbere – a rust red Ethiopian chilli and spice mix that is so fundamental to the cuisine (every cook should seek it out)… That’s where I learned about the tradition of gursha, which is where you tear a piece of injera with your right hand, scoop some food and feed it to your neighbour. They then return the favour. After the meal our host made coffee, hunched over the roasting beans, smoke spiralling up to the ceiling, a patchwork of corrugated iron and fabric. I can almost smell it now.


Helen in Ethiopia

What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

It’s actually a book that I bought in a supermarket sale for a couple of quid called Indian by Das Sreedharan. The pages are crinkled and stuck together.

What’s the worst supposedly-good thing you ever ate?

I wrote a whole post on my blog about this: things you’re supposed to like as a Food Person but actually find quite disgusting. Something I didn’t go into in that post is how much I hate eating brains. I just do not understand the appeal. They’re creamy and wobbly and totally freakin’ gross.

No restaurant is perfect but which one, for you, comes closest, and why?

This is an impossible question. I like different restaurants for different occasions. I’m going to cop out and say any seaside place that serves crab with bread, mayonnaise and crisp, cold white wine. I’m obsessed with crab. Obsessed.

A photo posted by Helen Graves (@foodstories) on

Describe your perfect breakfast.

I went to Gleneagles a couple of years back and I found out that a lot of people go there for their honeymoon. They do this thing where you can have the most incredible, leisurely, extravagant breakfast that starts with fruit (the kind you can’t usually be bothered with in the morning), moving onto eggs, then steaks (not joking) a truckload of smoked salmon and then pastries. The best bit though, the really important bit, is that it’s washed down with a bucket load of champagne. I mean, fair play. I want that. I want all of that, in my pyjamas and slippers, no make-up on, hair unwashed. I’m still in bed, come to think of it. Then I would like someone else to take it all away and wash up while I binge-watch Netflix before falling asleep. Look, I don’t get much time off, ok?

Pippin is made to sing this haunting tune in the background while Denethor sucks and slurps on these tomatoes, their seeds spraying everywhere, juice running down his chin. It’s gross and powerful and brilliant

What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

This is a bit weird because it’s not a scene that makes you think, wow, I need to eat that, and it definitely doesn’t make you feel fuzzy inside. It’s that scene in The Return of The King (from The Lord of The Rings – I was a big fan as a kid) where Denethor is eating a tomato, and it’s so vulgar and poignant it makes me shiver every time. He has sent his son to certain death but he’s sitting there eating lunch. Pippin is made to sing this haunting tune in the background while Denethor sucks and slurps on these tomatoes, their seeds spraying everywhere, juice running down his chin. It’s gross and powerful and brilliant.

What was your favourite food when you were 10?

Pickled onions.

What’s your greatest talent in the kitchen?

I can listen to the sound of pasta cooking and tell you if it’s ready or not.

What’s the best thing you cooked at home recently?

Chipotle goat tacos with sour creamed corn were up there.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

At the moment there are a lot of 80’s playlists in the air at our house. 80’s cheese and 90’s hip hop. Other than that I might have half an eye on Netflix. Chef’s Table is amazing, and there’s some fun stuff on Vice Munchies.

Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

A wine glass.

What’s your biggest food aversion?

I find tripe a challenge. It was all fine and dandy until I had a piece that was really… musty.

Describe the thing that most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant.

Other customers, if I’m brutally honest. It’s almost a cliché now to say this but I can’t stand any OTT photography in restaurants. I witnessed a situation during a lunch service not so long ago where a woman was actually standing on a chair and rearranging her food in order to get a good photo. I guess it’s up to you but I find it really embarrassing.

What’s your biggest food extravagance?

I will spend almost any amount on good butter. I don’t care if it costs more than a fiver, if it’s super high quality fat then I’m in. I also spent £40 recently on a 1kg piece of Galician beef. I hope my family doesn’t read this.

Posted 25th October 2016

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