Sophie Mackinnon, London-based Recipe Developer & Stylist

Sophie Mackinnon has spent the last 15 years in London, 10 of which have been spent working as a recipe developer and food stylist across books, TV and magazines. This career has seen her working in the Food Team with Jamie Oliver in London to traveling Europe; from shoots at a Tuscan vineyard to developing recipe books in Stockholm.

We caught up with Sophie to learn more about her work in the food industry, and hear how she’s spending a winter Christmas in London—and what she’s cooking!

Food styling and recipe development is quite a unique job, can you share with us how you found yourself in these roles?

I actually started my career in fashion before transitioning to food. I have always loved cooking, hosting and creating a mood and atmosphere however I presumed the only jobs available in food were as a chef or in catering roles, neither of which appealed. I have always been a very visual person and at the time fashion felt like a natural fit. Meeting Jamie Oliver and discovering his Food Team changed everything for me. It brought together so many of my interests and I was lucky enough to join his team soon after.

What's your favorite part of working in the food industry?

I love working in an industry that is constantly evolving and is creative and practical in equal measure.

What’s your most memorable photoshoot, and why?

Shooting at Petrolo, a beautiful vineyard in Tuscany was definitely a highlight and a real pinch me moment. I have lots of delicious memories from Italy, one that comes to mind is hand rolling hundreds of orecchiette on my bed in my hotel bedroom the night before a demonstration. A modern day nonna!

Can you tell us about a recipe or project of yours that you are most proud of?

Co-writing Green Kitchen, Quick & Slow with David Freinkel Vindahl and Luise was a dreamy project to work on and something I am very proud of. Living in Stockholm whilst working on it was the cherry on the top of the cake!

It’s almost Christmas, often a time to come together and share meals with friends and family. What's your go-to meal to make when hosting during the festive season?

Although I love warming, hearty winter food, the traditional Christmas dishes that we have here in the UK are not my thing. I know many people will disagree with me but I find roasts bland and boring! We have turkey in my house as I live with traditionalists but I get creative with the sides. I usually make a bitter leaf salad, with roasted grapes, figs, walnuts and either ricotta or stilton. Slow cooked pumpkin with brown butter & sage and the most delicious Ottolenghi recipe of roasted mushrooms, chestnuts, shallots and herbs. I'm a big Ottolenghi fan, his recipes are always vibrant, fresh and slightly surprising.

Have you got any tips or tricks on how to style food at home? (ie garnishing/plating/colour selection)

I always like to use plain coloured medium sized matte plates which let the food sing and aren't too distracting. I prefer to serve dishes on big shallow bowls or platters and place them in the middle of the table family style. For me, seasonal, robust, considered and uncomplicated food tastes and looks the best. I will always dress and season the dish in a bowl before transferring it to the serving dish and garnish with roughly chopped herbs, often lemon or lime wedges, something crunchy (nuts, seeds or toasted breadcrumbs) and always a lot of olive oil! Think about the colours, textures and keeping things simple(ish), I think the Coco Chanel philosophy of taking one thing off also applies to food!

In New Zealand, no Christmas dinner is without a pavlova. We would love to know if there is a famously British dish that always features on a classic Christmas spread?

I have never heard of Christmas Pavlova before - I like the sound of it! Mince pies have to feature, it's pretty much illegal to go through December without eating them. It's not British but Panetone is a breakfast (or anytime) favorite in our house and seriously crispy roast potatoes are a must - it's the only time of year I cook them in goose fat and it does make all the difference.

Freshly baked bread and coffee brewing are some of the food scents we love - do you have a favorite foodie smell, perhaps one that evokes a memory?

I know it can be divisive but I love the smell of fennel and aniseed. I also love the smell of bacon. Who doesn't love the smell of bacon? I actually rarely eat it but the smell gets me everytime. Nothing says it's the weekend more than the smell of bacon.

Quick-fire Q’s

A daily ritual you can’t live without?

Coffee from Climpsons & Sons (a coffee shop close to where I live in Hackney). It's an expensive habit but one that I stand by. It gives me so much pleasure!

Favourite dish and where would you like to eat it?

Gosh, this is hard. Perhaps Papa Al Pomodoro, a traditional Italian tomato bread soup or maybe Ribollita. They are very simple, comforting dishes which rely on very good basics. Both would have to be eaten in Tuscany.

What’s your favourite space in your home?

My kitchen in summertime. It opens up into a courtyard and I love nothing more than pottering around, cooking or simply drinking wine and enjoying the breeze through the open doors.

Your most-loved Ashley & Co. scent?

At the moment I am particularly loving the Yulepine scented candle. I spend a lot of time in the mountains in Switzerland and the smell takes me there!

Thank you to Sophie for letting us take a step into your East London home and have insight into the life of a Recipe Developer and Stylist. To learn more about her work, pop over to her website or Instagram.

Thank you to the talented Ella Miller who is a London-based photographer, you can see more of her work here.