I was lucky enough to interview Lucy Young a couple of weeks ago for Lucy has been Mary Berry’s right hand girl for over 23 years, testing recipes and writing books with her, as well as writing a few of her own including Secrets From A Country Kitchen: Over 100 Contemporary Recipes for Conventional Ovens and Agas and The Secrets of Aga Cakes.
Her latest book ‘Mary Berry and Lucy Young – At Home‘ by BBC Books, is fantastic and bursting with great ideas and as you would expect delicious cakes! Here’s how the interview went……
Baking with Lucy Young
How did you get into cooking and baking?
At 18 I went to Corden Bleu college to do training as I enjoyed cooking at home, two years later I was lucky enough to get my job with Mary Berry as her assistant.
Who inspires you most in the cooking arena?
Anyone who thinks of the person they are writing for, it is so important when writing a book to reach everyone, not be too specialized….. James Martin and Nigel Slater are wonderful
How did you come to work with Mary Berry?
I live fairly locally to Mary and my mother heard through a friend of a friend that Mary was looking for an assistant, I had completed my training and worked elsewhere for a few years and jumped at the chance when I heard …. I went for an interview at Mary’s home, that was 23 years ago and I am still working with her!
What do you do for fun/ to relax ?
At home I love gardening, my husband and I have a little Victorian house and the garden needs a lot of work so that’s the way I relax at the moment or by the sea if we get the chance to go away to Devon for the weekend, as soon as I see the sea I relax.
Where is your favorite place to go out to eat?
I love pubs, we have some great local pubs around us, which I prefer to go to than restaurants which try too hard. For tea Fortnum and Mason is divine, makes me all nostalgic and romantic !
What kitchen gadget could you not live without and why?
Set of scales, it is so important especially when baking that the measurements are accurate.
What is the last item you bought for your home?
A wood burning stove for our kitchen its next to our little sofa so cosy too. I love buying things for our home, we have renovated our house over the past year and I love the combination of old and new, I have an 18th century French mirror next to chrome modern station clock.
What’s your favorite meal?
Fresh in season asparagus or Beef Wellington followed by Lemon Meringue Pie
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Guilty food pleasure would be a fresh homemade burger and chips, because I do not cook this type of food it is a guilty treat when I go to the pub.
How long did ‘At Home’ take to write?
About a year while doing other work too, but testing and writing from start to finish is about a year.
How do you approach a new book?
When starting a book we break the book into chapters and work our way through it together. We discuss each recipe and then have a days testing together, I then type it up for us to discuss further, we test it again making tweaks here and there. When the whole book is written and we are both happy, I send it off to the publishers and then the editing, proofs and photography start… the book comes together as if by magic by the publishers. Seeing the completed book, with colour photos the jacket and design for the first time is always very exciting, however many books we have done.
How do you test the recipes
For a new book we start from scratch, so we think what can be do with a chicken breast or new cake recipe. We get inspiration from eating out, our friends and new ingredients which are available which is fun to try new ideas.
Were there any major disasters when working on the book?
Disasters not really but we did get in a muddle with a chocolate cake, different techniques mean the ingredients react differently, 5 cakes later and the chocolate cake is perfect, but at stage 3 we were a little worried it wasn’t going to be perfect ! Mary never gives up and will get up at dawn to get a recipe perfect.
What is your favorite recipe in the book?
Red pepper and fennel pissaladiere and mini banoffi pies
(Emma here- The recipe for Lucy’s Mini Banoffee pies is coming to a cake blog near you tomorrow!)
Why is it so important to weigh your ingredients carefully?
Baking is a science so if the quantities are not accurate the cake will fail.
What is your best baking advice/tip?
Keep it simple, especially if slightly nervous about cooking, do not over challenge yourself, its only food and should be fun and enjoyable and of course follow a good recipe.
What do you always have in your store cupboard?
Tomato passata, caster sugar, self raising flour and baking powder
What should the first cake a novice baker attempts be?
A simple cake with a short cooking time…… fairy cakes or a traybake
What’s next on the Lucy Young to do list?
I work with Mary Berry pretty much full time organizing her working life, she is filming the new series of the Great British Bake Off at the moment so that is keeping us both busy. We are also doing another Mary Berry book to go with a new TV series which we will film this summer, at her home. I hope to do another book too but maybe next year, this year is a bit full already ! I just love my job and am very lucky to share it with lovely people.