Words Jane Singer
Photography Etienne Gilfillan
With two branches of The Detox Kitchen in Soho and Fitzrovia (and 10 more planned), countless stockists, including Selfridges, carrying her ‘grab + go’ range, and a cookbook, Lily Simpson is no stranger to success. I’m curious and excited about interviewing her. Having sold my soul to finance, 13-hour+ days are the norm and the thought of coming home and cooking is usually low on my priority list. I want to hear how to create quick and healthy meals for those, like me, who are time-poor. Lily makes it sound so simple; all you need is five ingredients and a bit of seasoning. She recommends a vegetable stir-fry with chicken, seasoned with some lemon juice, salt, pepper and coriander – “simple, delicious and healthy.” Lily genuinely wants to pass on her love of eating healthily and to show us that it can be done with ease once you’ve mastered a few basics. Having tried a few recipes – like the Cajun Chicken – from her wheat, dairy and refined sugar-free book The Detox Kitchen Bible, I can honestly say that preparing quick and healthy meals already seems like less of a challenge than it used to.
But affordability is another concern for me. I point out that time isn’t the only thing many of us are short of: with living costs on the rise in London, it’s tempting to reaching for a ready meal or sugary snacks as a cheaper option. Lily reassures me that The Detox Kitchen tries “to keep recipes affordable” and doesn’t use loads of “obscure, expensive ingredients.” She recommends using “red lentils in every stew or soup, as they are inexpensive and a good thickener, as well as adding texture and flavour.” She also suggests buying cheaper cuts of meat, in particular chicken thighs instead of more expensive breasts. Lack of education about food is a factor that prevents so many people from eating healthily, and Lily’s simple tips could easily make a big difference to those on a budget.
She gives me some useful insights into the staple fridge and cupboard ingredients that make for a simple and healthy lifestyle. With a kitchen stocked with red lentils, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, noodles, smoked paprika, ground ginger, ground cumin, ground cinnamon, bay and curry leaves, it’s easy to create a base from which to start cooking. She recommends using “as much fresh food as possible. I always keep tomatoes, avocado and cucumber to hand so I can make a quick salad; and I always have a good variety of vegetables – cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, carrots, celery – so I can make a soup or stew.”
It might be tempting to dismiss Lily as just one of the many chefs, food bloggers and cookery writers who fill our inboxes, Instagram pages and kitchen counters with the latest superfoods and trends, encouraging us to be super-healthy, super-positive, super-everything. However, since starting The Detox Kitchen, Lily has maintained a strong client base by sticking with the same basic principles and steering away from fads. She believes, and rightly so, that it is the quality of the produce that keeps customers returning to her food delivery service and London delis. If you haven’t already, try one of their beetroot brownies – delicious!
She cites her parents as role models, and it’s clear that family plays a large role in Lily’s life. Her passion for food and cooking began at an early age. Learning to cook at home she “would help mum and dad cook, and later insisted on cooking on most of the family dinners.” She tells me that her father taught her to cook with love, and this is evident in her approach and the whole ethos of The Detox Kitchen. When she first began her catering company, she took a couple of courses to improve her knife skills and understand how professional kitchens work. Putting theory into practice, she also gained experience by spending some time at Michel Roux’s restaurant Roux, on Parliament Square, and continues to learn from the “talented” chefs at her Kitchens.
As a mother of one, Lily says she wishes that she had always known how amazing a woman’s body is, and adds that we should be proud of our own shape, whatever it may be. Refreshingly, she admits that she has finally started to feel comfortable in her own skin and hopes that she can teach her children to feel similarly happy in themselves. Her honesty makes me wish that every young person could meet her and listen to her advice – she would be a great role model. I ask her about George Osborne’s recent proposal to introduce a sugar tax. She thinks “it’s a really great step forward,” but adds that “there is still so much more that needs to be done… and now that the government have acknowledged this, hopefully the message will filter down.”
Lily touches on how hard we all work and how hectic life can be. Just as in her approach to food, the theme of love seeps through again as she talks about loving the simple things we have in life. She cites the area’s calmness as one of the reasons why she likes Fitzrovia. Constantly on the go herself, she tells me about a little gold tortoise pendant given to her by husband. The gift was accompanied by a note: “I hope he reminds you to slow down”. Lily assures me that it does!
Another of her other role models is Nigella Lawson, who – together with Jack Black, Audrey Hepburn, Leonardo DiCaprio and Nelson Mandela – would be one of her ideal dinner guests. What would she serve this eclectic group? The menu would include vegetable tempura with a miso dip to start, followed by a big sharing vegetable curry with cauliflower rice, homemade lime pickle and cucumber raita. Pudding would be a classic apple and rhubarb crumble. I left feeling inspired to eat better and cook more often, although it was reassuring to hear that even Lily has her little food vices – a Kit Kat and a cup of tea!