Student Story: Meet Emma Hatcher

Leiths Online student Emma Hatcher journey as a successful career in recipe development, writing, and food styling.

Student Story: Meet Emma Hatcher

Emma Hatcher is a cook, author, food stylist and former Leiths student based in Brighton. Having been diagnosed with IBS as a teenager, she began blogging, and has since gone on to carve out a successful career in recipe development, food writing, and styling for such titles as Guardian Feast, Stylist, and Ocado. She also specialises in low FODMAP recipes (see below) which she shares regularly on her Substack newsletter and website

What do you do for a living?

“I work as a food stylist and a food styling assistant and I also develop recipes, for my own audience and for brands. I also teach gluten-free bread and baking classes at the Community Kitchen near my home in Brighton. I have been freelance for about four years.”

When did your interest in food and cooking begin?

“I had a really sensitive gut growing up and was diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) when I was 14. I was told to cut out lots of different of foods. I realised that I still wanted to eat the same as everybody else so I started blogging about recipes that worked for me and one thing led to another. I always thought I’d be a writer or something similar but then food naturally all fell into place which I think is the case for a lot of people.”

What took you to Leiths?

“I did the Essential Cooking Certificate first at Leiths itself [in London]. I was living in London and working at Borough Market at the time, on the communications team, so I did the evening course, and would go there after work. It gave me the chance to learn about cooking without quitting my day job basically. It was so good, I loved it. You get to meet loads of brilliant people who are in exactly the same boat as you and you make so many good connections through it. After that I did two courses with Leiths Online, Chef Skills and an earlier version of Essential Bread and Patisserie. One of the courses coincided with Covid so it was brilliant because it gave you direction to keep improving your skills at home. I already had a good foundation but the courses gave me the chance to hone my skills and again meet more people and get feedback.”

What do you do now?

“It’s all a very sexy subject, the world of FODMAP! I was diagnosed with IBS at 14 but didn’t find out about the Low FODMAP diet for a long time. I had many unsuccessful years of cutting out different foods and being told by the doctor to try this or that. At 21, I had more tests, and they said, “Have you heard about this low FODMAP diet?” It totally changed my life within a couple of weeks. It’s an elimination diet developed by scientists at Monash University in Australia and is a diet the NHS recommends for IBS and a whole host of stomach troubles. I’m not a dietitian or a medical practitioner – I very much wanted to come at it from a viewpoint of “I know what you’re going through.” I remember when I was told about the diet, I was given two A4 pages full of ingredients that I could no longer eat. You’re told to go home and change everything, so you go home and panic, and think “where do I start?”

‘Free from’ food is so subpar compared to good, delicious food. That seasonality isn’t there. That quality of ingredients isn’t there. My big thing is proving that you can have dietary requirements and still eat really delicious food.”

For those who are unfamiliar with FODMAP, can you explain what it is?

“FODMAP is an acronym that stands for ‘Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols’ which are basically these sugars found naturally in foods. They’re found in garlic, onion, milk, and they can cause havoc in intestines of those with a sensitive gut. With the diet, ideally working with a dietitian, you restrict these foods, then reintroduce the various groups back in to work out which ones are your triggers and where your tolerance levels are. Ideally you want to introduce as many as you can because they are actually good for your gut - for example, garlic and onion being prebiotics. It’s about finding that balance between getting as much goodness back into your gut as you can whilst causing as few symptoms as possible.

The low FODMAP diet isn’t a gluten-free diet but there’s quite a lot of crossover, so I tend to eat and cook largely gluten-free recipes too.”

What does your work involve?

I work as a food stylist and food styling assistant. I create content and recipes for brands – I just developed some FODMAP-friendly recipes for Ocado which was a joy; I do sponsored content on my own channels; and have an audience that I send out a newsletter to with weekly recipes. I also teach gluten-free baking classes. I’m greedy and I like it all!

What would you say to others who would like to pursue a career like yours?

I didn’t grow up in a food household and I didn’t have friends or family that were really interested in food other than it was delicious and they liked eating it; so I think for me, Leiths offered me that grounding, that foundation level skillset that I could then go and take and apply to cooking a different way to fit my dietary requirements. There’s a lot of hustling, being a freelancer, a lot of reaching out to people, and constant pitching, but the brilliant thing about food is that we eat every day! It’s always going to be part of our lives, and there are so many different avenues you can go down, you just have to have that drive and determination to go there.”

Do you think it’s important to specialise?

“I was talking to a food editor the other day who said I should stick with my speciality but I don’t know, it’s tricky. There are so many people going into food, that if you have something that makes you stand out, then that is great but I also think it’s very good to have a bit of flexibility because you don’t know what kind of job is going to come your way. You don’t want to shut yourself off from different learning experiences.

Does your diet affect your work?

“There’s a new digestive enzyme powder that’s come out in the last couple of years called Fodzyme, that you can sprinkle on your food that helps you tolerate the FODMAPs in foods. For me it has been absolutely life changing, especially when it comes to recipe development, because it means I can eat larger amounts of high FODMAP recipes that I test and not get any issues!”

Has it made you a different cook?

“I’d like to think that having dietary requirements has made me think outside the box a bit more. You have to think about different ways of cooking. You can’t kind of have your garlic and onion as your base for every recipe; you’ve got to think ‘OK, how can I get those flavours in there?’ or ‘if we’re not going to have gluten, what can we use to replicate it?’ There’s a lot of research involved, a lot of trial and error, but that’s the whole fun of it really!”

Do you think recipes could be more inclusive?

“If you don’t need to follow a low FODMAP diet or a gluten-free diet then there is absolutely no reason to but I would really love to see more word space given to variations of recipes, including gluten-free and dairy-free alternatives. The issue is word count; you are limited to what you can fit on a page. But I see no harm in trying to make more recipes more accessible to more people.”

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