Tired of #cleaneating? It's time to get back on the sensible track, says the unapologetic chef
Gizzi Erskine is not impressed.
"When the whole clean eating thing first popped up, I got it. It was what I've always thought: eat natural, unprocessed food. But then it started to get bound up with eliminating whole food groups – gluten-free, dairy-free – and I got irritated. Things might be promoted by someone with their own specific health issues, but then they get picked up by so many people. It's not good."
It's this superfood-everything, purely plant-based, zero-pudding message that the Camden body piercer turned chef is here to smash. Her new book, Gizzi's Healthy Appetite (Mitchell Beazley, £25), is a delectable voyage of charred, spiced meats, wholesome grains spiked with herby oils, seasonal veg cooked to coax out its natural deliciousness and, yes, some decadent desserts.
"I'm all about being healthy – I always work with a nutritionist on my books," she says. "But criminalising so many foods that are not inherently bad for us? No. I don't like that."
In the age of goji-berry-this and all-raw-that, Gizzi's argument is the culinary equivalent of being doused by a hosepipe on a heavy summer's day.
Eating well is important, of course, she says. But it's the exquisite meld of sharp, sweet, crunchy, creamy, sour and umami that comes first with her food. And that's it.
So ingredients clouded with halos and price tags to match are out ("I tried things with chia seeds, I really did. But I couldn't make them delicious, so I gave up."), and seasonal British veg, fermented, probiotic-rich dishes (such as kimchi) and sensible portion sizes are in. The big idea? Food that excites the mind while nourishing the body.
And she wants to make eating this way easy. "Consume lots of colour from all sorts of fruit and veg, don't eat massive portions and give your body chocolate if that's what it's begging for – just be sure it's decent-quality stuff," is her basic, and pleasingly simple, philosophy.
For a quick midweek meal, she's all about making up a gorgeously rich tomato sauce to serve with spelt spaghetti or a pasta made from quality wheat, topped with sardines for an Omega 3 boost.
Another favourite is a char-grilled cauliflower steak dished up with curried hummus, crispy shallots and a chilli and coriander dressing.
The store cupboard is key to all of this, she says. "Soy sauce, pomegranate molasses, miso paste, chilli sauces, fresh lemons, garlic, ginger... get a load of these bits in and you'll always be able to cook something."
And so what's next up for the beehive-bedecked food star? She's excited for her upcoming talk on how to make a career out of food at the London Southbank Centre's Cookbook Confidential food and drink festival.
"It's so important to be original," she says on the theme. "There's only one Nigella, there's only one Jamie: you have to do your own thing. Do what you do better than anyone else, work hard, get trained up, find your forte and go at it with everything you've got."
It's pretty rousing stuff.
So, in a nutshell. Embrace the foods that taste gorgeous and makes you feel good. Don't get hung up on labels, and instead eat a rainbow of fresh produce. Finally, don't begrudge yourself the odd indulgence, when it's what you really want.
And, really, who can argue with that?