We have long been fans of the beautifully functional TOAST clothing brand so it was a pleasure to interview the co-founder Jessica Seaton. As well as her life in fashion we were keen to hear more about her debut cookbook, the exquisite ‘Gather Cook Feast’ and what inspires her.
Jessica, your book Gather Cook Feast is the most beautiful combination of landscape and the food that is synonymous with it. It is not just a recipe book but a poem to the natural world and feels like something you were compelled to produce. So we would love to know if you have another book planned?
I would dearly love to do another - i'm working on ideas at the moment!
Congratulations on TOAST reaching their 20th anniversary and the well deserved success of the brand. How involved are you still day to day?
I'm still involved but we have a brilliant team that look after all the day to day areas of the business so I can just concentrate on tweaking and guiding the look of TOAST and supporting the team
How have you balanced working motherhood?
I was so lucky to work from home when the children were small. We had a separate studio but Rachel and Nick always knew I was around although they would say it was hard to drag me in from work. I am a bit of a workaholic always doing something.
Will your West Wales surroundings continue to shape future projects?
I recently read Patience Gray say "London feels like it puts a lid on you" and it resonated with me. My mind expands in nature and my intellect expands in London. Both are wonderful, getting the balance right is harder. But, at heart I am a wilderness person, so yes, I think the land will shape future projects.
Which walk do you take or place do you go when you need to think and dream?
My best thoughts come from not actually thinking about a problem, but putting it aside and then listening for what comes up from the subconscious. Walking helps too. When I need to dream ideas I go to influences and inspiration. I love trawling bookshops and delving into the London Library. Reading is a huge source of inspiration. I love following a trail to something exciting and interesting, jotting down ideas, scribbling on paper. Twyla Tharp, the US choreographer, called this messy process ‘scratching’.
What is your favourite view?
I thought about this hard but I really don’t have a favourite. I love the whole world and can see beauty in a warehouse wall in warm slanting light as much as I can appreciate a gorgeous moody seascape. I reckon so many years of working with photography mean that the quality of light is the main thing for me, and tonality… a beautiful combination of colour.
Can you give us a favourite example from your book of a plate the feels like a place?
Oh so many! Do I really have to choose? Can I have two, or three? It’s like choosing between your children. A rather quirky one is the recipe for Toasted Hay Mashed Potatoes - a warm taste of late summer hayfield and comforting spuds rolled into one delicious mouthful. Second, I’m torn between the Juniper Roast Venison with Pine Jelly for aromatic heath flavours with rich game and the Clam and Seaweed Chowder, which is salt spray and umami mixed.
Is there anything you wouldn’t eat?
I’ll try anything once.
Do you have a favourite restaurant/café?
St John’s bar in the city of London where we eat Welsh rarebit & green salad or Wrights Independent Food in Llanarthne near where we live in west Wales – we always pop in to eat on our way home and catch up on local chat. It’s beautiful to come out afterwards and smell the breeze and the scent of wood smoke hanging in the air.
What would your last meal be?
Who are your favourite food producers?
I love the dedication of cheese makers. I am intrigued by the immense difference made to the complexity and quality of taste in a cheese when the farming is subtle and attentive. At the moment I am watching Hafod cheese from Holden’s Farm Dairy, whose attention to an organic crop rotation and soil improvement on their farm is making their cheddar cheese spectacular.
Where is the best place for a campfire beach party or country picnic?
Pen Bryn beach on the West Wales coast in winter, Barafundle Bay in South Pembrokeshire in summer. Or on a grassy track in a hidden wooded valley near our house, where we have often gathered to play kick the can and cook over a fire.
Describe a weekend off.
Slow mornings, Saturday newspaper (a real one), some time in the garden, walks, cooking supper, then a box set.
What is your family favourite Sunday lunch, to convince everyone to stay around the table for hours?
Good company with delicious wine is the glue that keeps people chatting around the table for hours. So I’d opt to make a family favourite that works for a brilliant red wine. This would be a roast leg of Welsh spring lamb studded with garlic and rosemary and alongside a softly bubbling bowl of flageolet beans. The beans cook for hours in the oven, with four or five garlic cloves tucked between, the whole melting together under an insulating jacket of peppery olive oil. Something green alongside – wilted kale or spinach. Then pudding would be something lighter and fruity – baked orange slices and rhubarb, poached pears or plums with spice, or roast quince with pistachios, depending on season.