Life & Culture

Queen of the kitchen serving up treats for a new generation

Interview: Annabel Karmel


After a quarter of a century as a successful cooking expert, the author of 42 books and as the new Private Business Woman of the Year, Annabel Karmel could be forgiven for resting on her laurels.

Fat chance - so to speak. As well as writing her 43rd book, about finger-food and weaning babies, the champion of healthy eating has launched her eponymous company into the digital sphere.

Her new app, Annabel's Essential Guide To Feeding Your Baby & Toddler, has risen to be the third-most downloaded food and drink app in Britain since launching in July, despite bucking the trend of free content with its £3.99 price tag.

With a new website launched last week, the children's food expert is expecting to increase the 450,000 people currently flooding to view her recipes, advice and do-it-yourself videos every month.

"We've never really done that, expanded our digital side," she says.

I always want to reinvent myself and be on trend

Speaking to the JC after picking up the annual Private Business Woman of the Year award, she confirmed what is clear from these developments: the food queen is not ready to relinquish her crown.

"I feel just as passionate as I did 25 years ago. The quality of food is very important to me - I taste the food every week and if it's not right, I call the manufacturer.

"I'm very chuffed to win the award. It was a huge honour, especially because it's only for women."

There was no chance of cooking becoming stale for her, she said.

"Food is..." she pauses, trying to find the words to sum up a lifelong passion.

"There is an endless supply of different recipes, and trends change too. Spiralising is fashionable now, and kale and chia seeds too. I'm always developing recipes.

"I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, because I always want to reinvent myself and move along with the times. I try to be on trend with every one of my books."

One of her primary motivations comes from competing with herself. The first of her kitchen bibles, The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner, published in 1991, has sold an astounding four million copies.

"My most successful book was the first one I wrote," she said, laughing. "I do feel so proud, though. It's been the best-selling parenting book for 25 years.

"That's because it was the first book to take children's food seriously. Every other book for children had bland food. It's gone through the generations now."

She wrote the bestseller for women, she says, "to convince them that there is no better time than just after you have had children to start a business from home".

The book also came out of tragic circumstances, after her first child died from a viral infection at just two months old. "She was healthy when she was born. It threw my whole life upside down. I gave birth to another child, a son, and he wouldn't eat.

"So I made original recipes, and started handing them out to people at a group for new parents. They wanted more and more, and eventually they said I should just write a book.

"I thought it would be a great way to give back and honour her memory."

Ms Karmel says she was brought up "quite religious, so traditions and family are very important to me, and the kitchen is the heart of the family.

"My work is for everybody, but in my original book I had chicken soup, lokshen and gefilte fish - my mother's recipes."

Ms Karmel is now looking to the future and is adapting her work for the social media generation.

"I've become a big Instagrammer," she said, and posts mouth-watering dishes every day.

The latest offerings capture Ms Karmel's playful, healthy style, featuring a "haunted pizza" for Halloween, a salmon and broccoli puree with carrots cut into the shape of fish, and a tuna-and-egg snake-shaped bagel.

Business has been boosted further by a partnership with Disney which has led to snacks such as Mickey Mouse-branded mini biscotti. But Ms Karmel's main target is the frozen sector, which she will tackle with high-quality £2 offerings.

"Frozen food is very good quality, because all the goodness is locked in, but it tends to just be chicken nuggets and pizza," she explained.

"We've launched dishes for toddlers like a tomato and mascarpone pasta with hidden veggies. These are homemade meals for parents who don't have time to cook but still want their children to eat well."

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