Laoise Casey Headshot May 2024
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A Chat with: Chef and Food Content Creator Laoise Casey

Laoise Casey has an innate knack for making people hungry. Her Instagram creations on @LaoiseCooks are typically scroll-stopping, saveable and drool-worthy dishes anyone would struggle to resist. With a background like Laoise’s, from Leiths training, to cooking with the legendary Robin Gill, to the development kitchen of Marks & Spencer and now heading up food content for exciting new app Plate Up, it is no surprise that she has plenty of fantastic food stories to share.

We are delighted that Laoise will be joining our brand new line up of food writers, with her first piece, a guide to her best loved London spots, going live later this month. We had a chat with Laoise to find out more about her fabulous life in food to date.

Tell us about your journey in food so far, how and why did you end up working in the industry? 

In my former life I was a HR Manager in Dublin for Lloyds Pharmacy. I started a food blog as a hobby when I worked in HR and eventually due to a personal event, when my dad became critically ill, I realised that I had to take the plunge and follow my heart. Cooking and food is what has always brought me great comfort and joy and I didn’t want to live my life wondering what might have been. 

Short version – I relocated to London and completed a professional diploma in Leiths School Of Food & Wine. From there I threw myself into the food industry to gain as much experience as possible, working in London kitchens including Robin Gill’s flagship restaurant, The Dairy in Clapham. As I entered my first professional restaurant kitchen aged 30, I felt that I had to make up for lost time (and fast!) so I threw myself into the world of food in London. For a few years I lost myself in restaurants and thrived on the adrenalin buzz. 

At the same time, I wanted to move into recipe development, food styling and writing. I landed a number of food writing gigs including a recipe column for The Evening Standard (also The Independent). People always ask how I managed to pitch and secure that column. I used to create lunchbox ideas, I came up with the pitch to turn restaurant signature dishes into lunchbox ideas people could recreate at home. With a few edible samples of said lunchboxes in my bag, I trekked across to West London on the tube, to the Evening Standard offices for an arranged meeting with the editor, and managed to wrangle and secure the column. It turned into a weekly column that ran for 4 years. If anyone ever tells you that you can’t do something – don’t tell them they’re wrong, show them. With this column I had the opportunity to interview so many wonderful chefs in London, including fellow Irish chefs, Anna Haugh, Patrick Powell and of course Robin. 

I secured personal face to face interviews with Michel Roux Jr and the godfather of cooking, Alain Ducasse – these were both unreal pinch-me moments (published in the Independent). I became Nuno Mendes’ recipe developer for his book Lisboeta and shot the book on location with him in Lisbon. I had a full circle moment where I returned to Leiths to teach my cookery class based on The Evening Standard column. I then left the world of restaurants when I became a Development Chef for Marks & Spencer, that was like working in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. It wasn’t all plain sailing and along the way there were many personal sacrifices, but I don’t regret for a moment changing careers.

I’m now Head of Food For Plate Up. Plate Up is a recipe and grocery delivery mobile app, designed to simplify the cooking experience. With a wide range of recipes from top chefs and food experts, Plate Up empowers home cooks to create delicious meals effortlessly, to make grocery shopping smarter. 

You wear many hats and have worked in so many different roles in the food industry, how would you describe your current role?        

I feel like I am finally in my dream job era. Working as Head of Food for Plate Up feels like the culmination of my various experiences and previous career in HR. In this role I’m responsible for all food content on the Plate Up app, driving our food content strategy forward. It’s both a creative and analytical role involving in-depth research. I work closely with our product, marketing and operations teams. 

What do you love most about your career in food?     

 There are endless possibilities working in food and there is always something new to learn. Working in development and getting to create new recipes for people to cook at home brings me great joy and satisfaction. It’s a privilege to work in food and it’s something I recognise every day, even on the days when I burn toast. 

What do you think your secret to success is?                  

Realising that you can learn something from every single person that you work with, no matter who they are. Realising how little I may actually know about a subject and how much more I have to learn. The learning process is the fun bit and that’s where you grow. When I went into my first restaurants aged 30, with zero professional cooking experience, I was surrounded by chefs 10 years younger than me who could run rings around me. I soon realised how little I knew about cooking, but how great that I could now start learning it.

Describe your typical working day. 

I’ll either be having an ‘office’ day or a kitchen development day, or a mix of the two.  Development days fly by so fast, there are never enough hours in the day. I’ll have created a batch of recipes, which I’m then testing, making tweaks as I go, always trying to simply and create the best recipe for our customers. I also produce content for Plate Up so I film recipe videos, shoot still images, create cooking hack videos. In between all the wonderful creative side, there’s a whole lot of washing up to be done.

That’s the glamorous reality of recipe development. After the initial testing stage, I’ll review all the recipes, get customer feedback, re-test where needed and make any additional tweaks. The way I look at any recipe I create is that it’s going to end up as someone’s dinner and that’s got to be right. If someone takes the time to use our app, cook one of my recipes for themselves, their loved ones, family or friends, that’s a privilege for us and we need to make sure the recipes are robust and the best they can be. And of course – absolutely delicious. Food is there to be enjoyed. 

During office days I’m generally reviewing what we’re working on as a food team, creating new ideas for recipes and content for Plate Up. Planning our content strategy, looking forward at how the next 6 – 9 months (and beyond) are going to look for us. Editing recipes. Reviewing what’s working well on the app, what are our most popular recipes and how can we improve? Researching food trends – you can never know enough about food and there is always something new just around the corner, my job is to try to pre-empt this. I love looking at food trends and my role doing this in Marks & Spencer has stood me in good stead now.

What is the most difficult part of your job? 

Balancing the creative side with the more analytical side. It can be easy to get distracted and focus on the creative side – that’s the fun bit afterall, but you need the analytical side to connect the two parts and develop recipes that work for people and in a mobile app. I think having worked as a HR Manager in my past ‘life’/career that this helps to keep me focussed whilst working in a creative role.

What advice would you give to someone with aspirations to move into a career in food?                                                          

Try and get as much general experience as possible. Listen and be open. Talk to people who you admire working in food, volunteer to do work experience, stage in a restaurant, work at pop up super clubs. Read as much as possible and build up a generalist knowledge. When I started working in restaurants I tried to gain as much experience as I could. Say yes to every opportunity, you never know where it might lead and when you could meet someone again. There are so many amazing talented people working in food – get to know them and learn from them. I’ve been lucky to have been supported along the way and try now to do the same for others.

What are your career goals for 2024?

Continuing to focus on developing the food and content team for Plate Up to make it the best it can be. Continue to develop my food knowledge and am working on some exciting projects – watch this space!

Do you have a signature dish?                                                       

A dish that takes me straight back home to Ireland. Whole roast chicken (wrapped in bacon), with the fluffiest roast potatoes (with butter), tonnes of stuffing and gravy. It’s what I cook for the people I love. Food is a wonderful way to connect us.

Who or what inspires you?

I love when people you meet or work with are excited and enthusiastic by the little things. Often I find working in food there are a lot of people like this who thrive on this and for them food is also their love language. It’s how I connect with people and it brings me great comfort, especially during difficult times. 

For me, the simple pleasures, like my early morning coffee routine, the buzz I feel when I try a new ingredient, or I create a new recipe, or a customer lets us know they loved one of our recipes, these simple seemingly small acts are where I get the most satisfaction. 

Describe your food philosophy in one line.

Food is my love language. Cooking, sharing, eating together with the people I love is what brings me pure joy in life. Find the best ingredients you can and make them shine. When I cook my brain quietens and I feel like I am just properly me. 

What’s one restaurant you will never get sick of visiting?

Hugo’s in Dublin, it is just consistently good and always delivers. When I lived in Dublin I would go as often as I could. 

Favourite Irish artisan/producer/ingredient?

Ballymaloe Relish – I put it on nearly everything. I love that this product was created by a female chef, Mrytle Allen, that I now get to enjoy daily. We have such a wonderful food culture in Ireland and it makes me very proud to be an Irish chef. 

Irish chef or restaurateur you admire most?

Without a doubt, Sarah and Robin Gill, they’ve now built a mini restaurant empire in London. When I worked in their flagship restaurant The Dairy in Clapham I was completely new to cooking a professional kitchen. Robin’s food is incredible and the hospitality in all their restaurants is testament to him and Sarah. Sarah was always incredibly supportive, at The Dairy, they created an inclusive and caring kitchen team environment, where everyone was at the top of their game.

Best piece of career advice you’ve received?

Say yes to every opportunity and make the most of it – you never know where a random experience is going to lead to something else. In the kitchen – listen and run, fast. 

Favourite travel destination for food?

Lisbon. When I worked as Nuno Mendes’ recipe developer for his book Lisboeta, I was lucky enough to shoot the book on location with Nuno in Lisbon and my eyes were opened up to cooking and eating a whole new cuisine that is not just custard tarts, and full of bold, big flavours. For the book I had to learn how to cook authentic Portuguese food that Nuno grew up eating. That was a whirlwind! 

What is the best food memory you have?

A dozen fairy cakes sit, slightly shrunken, in their wrinkled paper cases. My mum picks one up and cuts out a rough circle from the golden centre, then slices it in half with the kitchen knife, its worn out white plastic handle grasped in her hand. Filling the gap with raspberry jam and lightly whipped cream, she places the cut pieces, now wings, back on top and hands it to me. “There,” my mum says, “a butterfly cake.” I devour it quickly in one bite. The taste of the still warm soft buttery cake wraps itself around me and I remember how it felt like everything was going to be OK because all that mattered at that moment was eating it. This feeling is why I cook.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?

Some of my own testing dishes, at the early stage of development. For a Halloween recipe development brief, a few years back, I had to create black bat wings using chicken wings and some questionable black dye. 

What do you cook at home when you don’t feel like cooking?

Masala baked beans (pimped up baked beans). Open a tin of beans, melt a knob of butter in a pan, add a smashed garlic clove, stir in some spices (garam masala, turmeric and cumin). Cook until fragrant, add the beans and heat through. Load onto toast, scatter with cheddar. Enjoy.

Favourite cookbook?

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. A literal flavour encyclopaedia and one I always recommend. It’s the most battered cookbook in my (vast) collection. If I’m stuck for what to cook I pick it up, leaf through and always find a new flavour combination to try or one to revisit. There are endless possibilities. 

What’s one ingredient you cannot stand? 

There really isn’t one!

Which four people (living or dead) would you like to make dinner for? 

My food heroes – Nigel Slater, Diana Henry, Julia Child and Niki Segnit. I’d be equal parts delighted to cook for them and terrified of what they would make of the food. 

Go-to drink order? 

Gin and tonic, every time. I love Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin (Sardinian citrus flavour). If we’re talking cocktails it’s got to be a Spicy Marg. 

Where’s your local?

When I lived in Blackrock in Dublin, it was the Wicked Wolf! 

Favourite cuisine to cook?

Irish. I believe we have a wonderful food culture and heritage that we honour in our food. We are a hospitable people, it feels like cooking is knitted into our very DNA and I think this is reflected in the comforting flavours used in Irish cuisine. I think Irish food is only going to get better and I am excited to see what Irish chefs continue to create and how they push the boundaries. Any little part I can play in this will be an honour. 

Favourite cuisine to eat?

Indian. Possibly because it’s very different what I grew up eating, I’m currently learning about Gujarati food, it’s opened a world of new flavours and techniques up to me. 

Hangover/takeaway order? 

Hangover – A chicken fillet roll. Chipper chips with curry sauce. Spice bag. And a rock shandy. Takeaway – I love an Indian.  Starter of chilli paneer and a samosa chaat, main would be butter chicken with a side of Dahl Makhani, fluffy pilau rice and flaky paratha. 

You are stuck on an island, you can pick one dish to eat forever without getting tired of it, what would you eat? 

Tartiflette. I feel like it covers all the key food groups, carbs, cheese, bacon, potatoes and would give me the sustenance to keep going until I found my way off the island. 

Go-to breakfast?

Creamy scrambled eggs, spiked with a pinch of smoky harissa, showers of cheddar on top. Served on piles and piles of buttery toast. I have a thing for toast.

Sweet or savoury?

Always savoury. I’d rather have 2 starters, a main and no dessert (I’d want the petit fours though). 

Follow Laoise for more delicious food content here.

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