Let's Eat

Why Annabel Karmel has come out of the kitchen

The cook is going on television in the cause of improving what children eat.


For a woman who spends so much time around food in a professional capacity, surely the last thing Annabel Karmel wants to do when she gets home is cook. But no - when I arrive at her house in north-west London, there she is, putting the finishing touches to a spaghetti dish for her family's lunch.

The basement kitchen is sleek, shiny and stocked with a huge selection of condiments, from olive oil to fish sauce, and big jars of lemons and limes. It is most definitely a cook's kitchen. Her three children, each as whippet thin and glossy as their mother, come and go, having a nose in the fridge. She fusses over them and, unlike many parents of children in their twenties, is delighted to have them living at home. "I've just been working with my son, Nicholas, on my new television series" she says proudly. "He totally exceeded expectations."

She describes the programme, Annabel's Kitchen, as a "big breakthrough" and explains it was made after she was approached by a production company that had worked on The Muppets. "I've wanted to do something on TV for ages so it was very exciting."

Karmel is clearly tougher than she looks. Her interest in children's and babies' nutrition was a result of her own personal tragedy. After struggling to start a family in her early twenties, she lost her first child, Natasha, when the baby was only three months old. Karmel's world fell apart. A professional harpist, she was no longer able work. "People would come up to me asking how my baby was," she says, "and everywhere I went there were people with babies. I was told to wait before having more children but I couldn't." Fifteen months later, Nicholas was born.

"I felt vulnerable because I had lost a child. Nicholas was fussy eater who wouldn't touch jars and there were no books I could read for advice," she says. So she made her own food, which she also took to the baby group she had started. "Other mothers asked me for my recipes," she says. She decided to write them up into a book, taking advice from Great Ormond Street Hospital on nutrition. It took her two-and-a-half years but in 1991 Simon & Schuster published her Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. "Publishers didn't think there was a market in baby food but the print run sold out in three months. Four million copies have been sold in 20 countries," she laughs. "It was a long time before I did anything else, but I found I could do this and be a good mum to my children."

The book became a springboard to countless enterprises: joint ventures to produce branded cooking equipment; healthy ready-meals ("for those who will just never cook"), and snacks for the under-fours, in addition to which she advises Brakes - the contract caterers - on providing toddler menus to nurseries, catering companies and hotels. She was awarded an MBE in 2006.

She remains a woman on a mission to re-educate mothers and nourish their offspring. "It's still all about changing the way we feed children in this country," and adds: "It's still my passion to improve the quality of food for young children and babies."

She believes good nutrition starts from weaning, and is disparaging of bottled baby food. "Mums don't want to give their babies food that might be older than their child. Food kept in jars on supermarket shelves simply has less nutrients." So this month she fulfils a dream she has had since the early days when she launches a range of chilled baby purees -- "all baby food should be fresh," she insists.

As she finishes speaking, in bound her three dogs. "I love animals" she says "if I hadn't done this, I would have definitely worked with animals". Rover's loss, our children's gain.

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