We recently met the lovely Nina at a supper club and grabbed the chance to ask her all about her alter ego – The Full Fat Chef…
What’s your name & where do ya come from?
Nina Zenovya Holmes
A question I always get asked as most people are confused by my brown skin and posh voice. Born and bred in Berkshire, now living in London. I’m half Indian, a quarter British and a quarter Ukrainian.
How long have you been cooking for/in the food business?
I’ve been cooking since my mother made me rub in the fat to the flour when making scones, probably around 4 years old. I’m still not really in the food business, but I accidentally started out about a year ago.
Tell me about your background?
Local grammar school child of mixed ethnic origin, got to Durham University, studied languages, lived in Munich and Bordeaux as part of the course. Backpacked around South East Asia for 5 months, did a ski season cooking for a chalet of 12 in Austria. Then came back to London and started working in property, moved accidentally into event planning, I now run my own company planning weddings and private events around the world. There is a lot of synergy between the two businesses and I feel lucky to be extremely passionate about both.
Earliest food memory?
Eating fresh fish aged 5 in Portugal with my parents and loving it, having maintained that I absolutely hated fish until that age.
Family life has always centred around delicious food: cooking it, talking about it; savouring it. This is owed in part to my Punjabi mother who instilled in me from a young age the importance of sitting down for a proper family meal. I think so much pleasure can be derived from cooking and from sharing a table with friends or family – it’s one of the oldest rituals that human beings have so it must be an important one.
We feel the same! What does The Full Fat Chef mean to you?
It’s a holistic and wholesome way of eating, menus should feed the soul as much as the stomach. I don’t cut corners or use low fat products, instead focus on cooking from scratch, using only the good stuff; the fruits of mother earth. It’s about embracing flavour and dedicating time to cooking, realising that it doesn’t have to take hours to create something utterly delicious and totally unprocessed. I would like to encourage other people of my age to do the same and show them that it really isn’t so difficult, and it doesn’t have to be kale!!
Food that makes you happy/angry? Kale maybe?? Ha!
My two weaknesses are definitely cheese (any sort) and chilli. I can often be found adding either ingredient when not really required, just because I love the taste. A recent trip to Bhutan made me fall more in love with the country when I realised that their national dish is in fact chilli cheese! Ready meals make me angry – I can show you so many alternatives using fresh ingredients that are cheaper, more nourishing, only use one pan and will take under 15 minutes to cook. It’s laziness.
Someone who loves cheese us much as us! Hurrah! Where does your inspiration come from?
My parents and extended family are the essence of my love for food. That coupled with my addiction to travel; seeking out new flavour combinations and ways of eating mean I’m always learning and being inspired.
Where do you think food is most exciting right now? London? Melbourne? USA? Europe?
I think London is very exciting because it’s so accepting – it will take food from all cultures and absorb it with no trouble. I do feel that the Middle East is injecting a lot of value to London – Ottolenghi has opened up a whole new world, where ‘normal’ people have started to keep spices in their cupboards. It’s so sad to see the conflict in that region – I’ve read a lot about Aleppo being a really important hub for food so I hope that despite it all, there are still underground kitchens staying true to their roots.
What’s the one thing you miss about home?
Although I cook it and must admit that even I halve the butter and salt content she uses, you really can’t beat my mother’s Indian food. Cooked from the heart every time. My father does make a mean chow mein though and of course the best Christmas lunch.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu right now?
I’ve started cooking a lot more with big joints of meat – I did the most insane beef rib ragu with fresh pasta a few months ago and it was 100% delicious.
Sounds Dreamy. What’s your favourite restaurant/street food in the UK/Europe/World?
Such a difficult question! And in London, it constantly changes. I’m a South West Londoner so some of my favourites have to be The Harwood Arms (they do dauphinoise ‘chips’. Is that a thing?!) and a little Italian on Fulham Road called Gola. If I want a splurge, Yauatcha still endures. Elsewhere, I spent some time in Bordeaux and La Tupina is exceptional; the way they cook meat is beyond measure.
Dauphinoise chips! Now that we can get on board with! Tell me about the ingredients you use?
I try to be as seasonal as possible but I always ensure that what I cook is colourful. I think we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths so it’s important to respect that.
What are some of your favourite new cooking techniques now?
I’m too old school for this although I have to say if I had enough space in the kitchen, I would be investing in a sous vide machine!
What’s the most popular dish on your current menu?
Everyone seems to go mad for my Indian food especially my slow cooked lamb. I love slow cooking meat with spices, the end result is always incredible.
How often do you change your menu?
Constantly – no menu is ever the same, each menu is individually crafted for the temperature outside, the day of the week and the guests who will arrive at the table.
How does your background influence your cooking?
I think it’s twofold: the weight that both my parents always put on family meals, from scratch (despite both of them holding down full time jobs) made a huge impact on me and also helped me to understand that however busy you are, if you are organised, you can always find the time to cook. I also owe a lot to my parents for making me travel so much from a young age, which I continue to do. It means I’ll always have some interesting spice or dried ingredient in the cupboard or I’ll pick up a new flavour combination from somewhere and add it to a dish.
Can you share a secret kitchen tip with us?
If you soak your oven trays in washing powder and hot water, even the toughest stains will disappear. It’s like magic.
Great tip! What would you say to someone who hasn’t eaten with The Full Fat Chef?
They’ve probably escaped a very long and passionate discussion about food!
Which dish is your favourite to make?
I love to forage in the fridge – I often won’t shop for the week based on meals I intend to cook, rather ingredients that take my eye. This results in me creating new dishes ad hoc, ‘ready steady cook’ style. I’ll often stumble across a new and amazing flavour combination in this way.
Can you tell us about the history of your business?
It started by accident, on a yoga retreat, when I set up my Instagram account. I haven’t done any marketing or tried to direct the business’ course, I have been asked by friends and family to start cooking and the brand has developed in this way. I believe if you do something with enough passion and dedication, you will make a success of it.
Where did the idea for The Full Fat Chef come from?
The name was actually coined by one of my good friends who used to come round and call me the full fat chef every time he ate at my table! I thought it embodied very well the ethos of my cookery and rather liked it. I want to use products which are as close to their natural state as possible – not processed / homogenised / changed into something which is perceived ‘healthier’ in today’s society. Human beings have after all survived for centuries eating food in its rawest state.
How can people try you out?
I host supper clubs in my house for friends and friends of friends, charged at £35 per head (BYOB). I also cook dinner parties or lunches for friends, the premise being that I go in and help people host; it’s not simply a question of ‘getting the caterers in’, but moreover like having a friend come in and cook for you and your friends and family whilst you are completely relaxed, so can concentrate entirely on entertaining them.
Why ‘Full Fat’?
I was only allowed to drink full fat milk or water when I was growing up, so pretty much chose milk all the time. As soon as I went to my friends’ houses and discovered they drank semi skimmed or skimmed, I realised how lucky I was. The flavour of full fat milk is so much deeper, better and more wholesome. It nourishes the soul in a way that low fat products do not. I’m so bored of the fashion for cutting vital food groups out of your diet in order to be slim. That doesn’t mean to say my food isn’t healthy – it is always packed with nutrients as well as those healthy fats.
How would you describe the brand?
I think it’s quite young and playful, embodying the spirit of the London food scene right now – international, delicious and exciting.
Can you tell us about your suppliers?
My favourite supplier has to be Marky Market (!). I was introduced to him via a former colleague who was once in the kitchen inspecting a truffle. I ordered a truffle, we met, then he offered me some free sloes; the rest is history. The man is a genius – I can order my meat and fish from him the afternoon before, he goes to his favourite suppliers at Billingsgate and Smithfield Market, then leaves an exciting food parcel outside my door when I wake up. I love supporting the little guys like him.
He sounds awesome. Thanks for chatting to us Nina, we can’t wait to have you round for dinner!
If you want to keep up to date with what’s cooking or get in touch with Nina, follow her on Instagram here.