Q&A with Annabel Karmel

Since my two little nieces were born, I’ve become so used to discussions of weaning over dinner and frozen blocks of baby puree in the freezer! My eldest niece who’s now 21 months is a fussier eater than little lila but has become COMPLETELY obsessed with the bites! I think it’s so important to feed children nutritious food and I love that there are now more and more chefs creating exciting and delicious recipes for children (and families). Annabel Karmel is a household name when it comes to child nutrition and has also built an incredible business so it was amazing to have her answer a couple of questions for me and share a delicious recipe from her Busy Mum’s Cookbook.

1) 20 years ago, what initiated your passion to head into child nutrition?

I actually started working life as a musician – I was a talented harpist. It was the tragedy of losing my first child Natasha, who was born healthy but who died at 13 weeks old from a viral infection that led me to change direction into the field of nutrition.

It wasn’t a diet related illness but I was understandably cautious when it came to feeding my second child Nicholas. Feeling vulnerable when he became very fussy I struggled to find enticing recipes to encourage him and so set about devising my own. I shared my recipes with other mums at a playgroup I was running in London every week they would ask me what other recipes I had.  After a few months all the mums said that I should write a book on feeding Babies and Toddlers as the recipes were so popular with their little ones.  My first book took me 2 years to write and it was my legacy to Natasha my first child.  This year we brought out a new 25th Anniversary Edition of the New Complete Baby and Meal Planner which is bigger and better than ever. My goal has always been to give growing families the very best start in life through my recipes and meal planners.

2) How do you find your inspiration to write new books?

There is an infinite variety of recipes that I can develop and my inspiration often comes from new trends like spiralising vegetables or looking to make snacks without sugar.  I also love to try out new foods and recipes when I eat out and travel and am always experimenting in my kitchen with new flavours.  This year I published the Busy Mum’s Cookbook many of us stick with what we know and trust but I wanted to show how easy it is to cook foods like quinoa, clams and duck and how you can make delicious recipes in just 20 minutes.

3) When you go out for dinner what kind of food do you love?

I adore Japanese food. I would love to master making sushi but I think that would take a long time and in some ways I rather like that this is one type of food that someone else prepares for me.

I discovered the ingredient Mirin, a type of rice wine used in Japanese cooking. It gives an instant sweetness to sauces and dishes and I’m forever adding it to chicken and salmon. A lot of my recipes now feature Mirin so it’s definitely an ingredient I couldn’t live without.

4) What’s your favourite sweet treat to make at home?

Oh that’s hard, choosing one is impossible. I think I would have to say frozen berries with a hot white chocolate sauce. It tastes absolutely divine! I first had it at a restaurant in London called Caprice and haven’t looked back since. It’s that good. I definitely have a weakness for chocolate though, anything with ginger or cherry liquor is my favourite.

5) What is your favourite part of your job?

I love coming back to my heartland which is to liven-up bland baby food by creating new flavour combinations. Every Tuesday you’ll find me in my kitchen conjuring up something different. My favourite thing at the moment is getting babies and children loving superfoods. I have this incredible beef puree with kale and butternut squash recipe for babies and salmon, quinoa and spinach finger food balls for toddlers. Both are delicious.

6) How did you get started in the industry?

When Nicholas was born he was so fussy. To be honest, it’s thanks to him that I’ve built my career in food. It stemmed from feeling vulnerable when he simply refused my meals. It was so disheartening when after hundreds of recipes my luck wasn’t improving. I was at the end of my tether and decided enough was enough. I began creating my own weird and wonderful flavour combinations and that’s where it all started.

I spent hours, days and weeks testing new foods. I spent equal amounts of time wiping food off walls and scrubbing puree-laden floors, but it was working. Recipe by recipe he began accepting new tastes. The battleground that was my kitchen table soon because a peace zone, with smiles replacing squeals. Fussy eating is a battle no parent wants to face but there are ways to fend-off fussy eating. Believe me, I went through it with my extremely fussy son and came out the other side.

7) What would you say to other young people who want to get into the world of business and entrepreneurship?

Self-belief is absolutely vital in order to succeed.  Confidence is just as important as competence – if not more so.

The more you believe in yourself and in your chances of succeeding, the more likely you are to do just that. Of course, we all have doubts from time to time – the danger is if those doubts spiral out of control, creating unnecessary anxiety and negative self-limiting beliefs which prevent us from doing something that we really want to do (and, deep down, know that we can do).

8) What are some of the most challenging things you have faced throughout your career and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was getting my Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner published. It was rejected by over fifteen publishing houses. Each rejection letter could have been enough for me to doubt the viability and worth of my idea but I continued to believe in my pitch. It has since gone on to sell over four million copies worldwide in 25 different languages. It’s crazy.

I also had a challenge on my hands when I launched a range of fresh baby food in Sainsbury’s. This was because there was no chiller in the baby aisle, which meant the food was situated in an area of the store that mums were not visiting. The range was eventually scrapped because although sales were good wastage was high. The outcome from this was that I went on to launch a range of successful ambient Organic Baby Purees which are now sold in Lidl and IKEA.

9) Are your children keen cooks now a well?

Yes they are. We used to cook together every Friday so they have a good amount of knowledge in the kitchen. Some of the recipes in my books are inspired by them, for example there’s Lara’s Lasagne which is such a delicious recipe, I would really recommend it.

My son Nicholas lives away from home but my daughters Lara and Scarlett still live with me at my house in London. The girls and their friends must be able to smell my cooking a mile off because they all seem to gravitate towards my kitchen table! I only sleep two children but probably feed about six every day as they all bring their friends over. I wouldn’t have it any other way though.

Annabel has cooked-up a special 25th anniversary edition of her global bestseller, the New Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner. Filled with timeless classics and brand new-recipes, visit annabelkarmel.com for more information.