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Lawyer turned foodie: Interview with Ed Smith

Ed Smith is a London-based food writer and blogger. After spending the initial period of his career as a lawyer, Ed left the corporate industry in search of a new life in the culinary world. Since this inspired move, Ed has retrained as a chef and acted as a food consultant for the likes of Raymond Blanc. He is now a regular contributor to UK newspaper and is also publishing his first cookbook “On The Side”. In addition to this, Ed maintains a well-detailed blog, Rocket&Squash, where he documents his favourite restaurants in London and worldwide, and shares a few of his own recipes. Ed took the time to speak to us about his journey from corporate to cuisine.

Can you give us a quick background about yourself?

Ed Smith: I’m from Worcestershire, specifically, the Vale of Evesham, which is a relatively agricultural region north of Oxfordshire, and just to the east of south Wales, famed for plums, pears and the world’s best asparagus. After a history degree at the University of Durham, I spent two years in Oxford doing a law conversion course and law school, before starting work as a solicitor in London at Freshfields Bruckhaus Derringer, a large global law firm. I worked there for five years, leaving in 2012 to retrain as a chef, n search of a career in food.

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IN THE PHOTO: Ed SmithPHOTO CREDIT: Ed Smith

From lawyer to food writer and training as a chef along the way, what were the main reasons behind this switch from corporate to cuisine?

E.S.: There was a bit of push and a bit of pull. Over the final two years of my time at Freshfields I started a website — www.rocketandsquash.com — covering recipes, restaurants, and general food-related things I found interesting.

2010-2012 was peak food blog time in London and it was (and is) relatively well known and read. But I had set out with no ambition other than providing myself with a reason/handcuff for making sure that I cooked something new and also booked-in to a good restaurant every weekend.

I had found myself submerged by 60-80 hour working weeks and wasn’t making plans to do the things that I enjoyed, and the blog helped to change that.

Somewhat accidentally, it also helped me realise that I’d rather the subject matter of my work was something I was really interested in.

The tipping point came when I found myself getting home from work after midnight, then sitting down to write about a restaurant or a recipe for a couple of hours, despite needing to be back at work the next morning for another 12-14 hour day of witness statements and regulatory reviews. It dawned on me that not only did I no longer strive to be at the top of my chosen vocation (which was a strange thing for me), but maybe there was also another world I’d prefer to work in.

When did you decide to create your blog, Rocket & Squash, and how do you use it to influence and interact with your audience?

E.S. : I started it in 2010 after a few months of pondering whether I had anything to add. Initially, I was anonymous — it was a personal project and I naively worried that colleagues or friends would stumble across it. But now it’s pretty much my CV and a calling card for professional writing.

One regular feature (though I’ve recently taken a three-month break as we’ve just had a baby) is something called Supplemental, wherein each Monday I publish a digest all of the recipes in the papers over the previous weekend. I try to do that with humour and a reasonably light touch, as well as respect and admiration, of course. And it’s proven to be a very well read and enjoyed feature by my longstanding and new blog readers, and the relevant food writers and editors, too.

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IN THE PHOTO: Rocket&Squash websitePHOTO CREDIT: Rocket&Squash

In terms of influence and interaction with the audience, the conversation moved from blogs to microblogs a long time ago. Instagram is the thing now. That said, I tend to see my ‘platform’ as being the sum of my blog, Twitter, Instagram and also an email newsletter attached to my website. Different people interact or are engaged with different aspects of that. Across them, I just try to be consistently ‘good’and to generally point to quality and positive experiences across the food world.

How have your travels around the world benefited your writing, and also the scope of your blog?

E.S.: I think it’s important to travel frequently. Different cultures, landscapes and cuisines always spark creative thought and travel inspires my cooking too. I remember returning from Tel Aviv at the end of last year wanting to put everything I cooked on a puddle of tahini.

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IN THE PHOTO: Rocket&Squash websitePHOTO CREDIT: Rocket&Squash

You have published written work with a whole host of newspapers and magazines; how did these opportunities initially materialise?

E.S.: After leaving catering college I pitched features and ideas to all of the editors whose email addresses I could get. Most of those emails were probably completely off the mark and indeed I didn’t get many responses, let alone positive ones. But a variety of online magazines were receptive (largely because of my blog having some notoriety), and gradually I started to make inroads with other publications. Over time I have had increasingly good and regular commissions from newspapers and magazines. I suspect it’s just a case of become better known (awards for my blog and general longevity help), face to face networking, and getting better at knowing what and how to pitch.

I don’t think I’ve got traction in a particular textbook way (if there is one) and I worry that next week it’ll all come to an end (though I think that’s a concern of every self-employed writer, no matter how well-established).

Was developing your first cookbook “On The Side” a natural progression for you and can you explain the inspiration for creating the recipes within it?

E.S.: For sure it was an ambition of mine to write a cookbook, though I realise now it is part of the overall picture, not the end game!

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IN THE PHOTO: Rocket&Squash websitePHOTO CREDIT: Rocket&Squash

After a few years of trying a variety of things in food, I realised what I enjoyed most was creating recipes, writing about food and documenting good people, so I made a conscious effort to progress in the recipe and writing arena. I don’t have a restaurant nor am I introducing British people to a new cuisine, though, so arguably I don’t have a particularly inspiring culinary background. That meant and means that I needed to come up with a concept that would really, really appeal and be useful to home cooks, as well as being something I could get behind. Side dishes fitted the bill perfectly.

At first glance, it’s not a sexy topic, but greens, carbs, pulses and so on have the potential to be the best part of a meal, and even the inspiration for it. Yet they’re neglected by food writers (“serve with greens and rice”) and left as an afterthought by home cooks. There are only one or two other books on the same theme around, which is unusual for such a saturated market.

I’ve tried to create a genuine resource, a set of recipes that are interesting but not difficult, and which can be both the trigger for a brilliant meal or something to fit in with whatever you’ve already chosen to cook.

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IN THE PHOTO: Ed SmithPHOTO CREDIT: Ed Smith

Do you have any significant ambitions for the next few years? Writing more books, travelling overseas or venturing into more commercial opportunities?

E.S.: All of the above! I’m writing another book at the moment (details to come at a later date) and am angling towards more broadcasting and multimedia work. But it’s a tricky career path to make sustainable, so am always thinking of how I might branch into more long-term commercial projects or businesses. I had intended to write a business plan whilst at catering college, but never really got round to it and the plan just became ‘say yes’. Maybe it’s time to go into more detail.

Finally, what is your favourite meal to cook yourself?

E.S.: It depends on the time of year, the people, what’s to hand and so on… but simple things using good ingredients usually amount to the best meals. You can’t really beat something like a whole baked bream or grilled turbot with a shaved fennel, lemon and tarragon salad*, for example.

* recipe in On the Side 😉


EDITOR’S NOTE: THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE BY IMPAKTER.COM COLUMNISTS ARE THEIR OWN, NOT THOSE OF IMPAKTER.COM. 
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