Meeting Milly Millbank

by Mike Fairbrass - Sunday May 14, 2017 6:05 pm

Mike Fairbrass chats to Milly Millbank about her new cookbook, then chats to chatty man.

Milly looks like she may have experimented with every fad diet going. There’s not a scrap of unwanted fat on her petite frame. I’m at the launch of her book ‘Milly’s Real Food’ with my wife ‘the lovely’ Jayne.

After airport style security in the lobby of the sleek building next door to the Shard, we’re escorted to the automatic lift to ascend many floors. Me now with name badge and Jayne with a fluorescent green wristband, labelling her anonymously as ‘Guest’ in big letters.

We emerge onto a large grey carpeted space with cloaked podiums dotted about. Some guests stand at the three sides of glass facades taking in breathtaking panoramic views of a London drenched in setting sun.

Having carried out extensive research, I recognise Milly. She is stood in front of a table of books with her face on them so I just might have clocked her anyway. I’m wrong about her name though, it’s actually Nicola, ‘Milly’ being a nickname that stuck. I’m also wrong about her eating habits, she’s never even contemplated a fad diet – quite the opposite.

The term Clean Eating “insinuates that unless you follow a sugar-free, alcohol-free, gluten-free lifestyle that you’re eating dirty”. She’d never go for a bowl of courgetti in place of spaghetti, “as appealing to me as eating a sponge”. Don’t get her started with the “raw-avocado-matcha-quinoa brownies” either - “Just have a sodding brownie!”.

She’s a successful actress currently appearing in the TV showMount Pleasant, so I ask how her cooking fitted around acting, as film sets are well catered, but she says her foodie journey began when she was ‘between jobs’, bored and a bit depressed from not working.

Her mother gave her a good grounding in cooking and she’d amassed recipes, so feeling the urge to do something creative, she decided one day to self-build a website for them, recipes just for friends and family to try. This then grew and spread as people shared the link.

After her work picked up she was featured in a magazine and she mentioned her love of cooking. Lisa Milton, publishing director at Harper Collins, happened to see it, discovered Milly’s website and contacted her to create a cookbook. Simple. I wonder if celebrities are continually offered opportunities to venture into other things in this way; Pot Holing with Adele or Sir Ian McKellen’s DIY Top Tips.

Milly says her food is all about going back to basics; classics created from scratch with a modern twist, celebrating the best of British grub but embracing European, Mediterranean, Asian and Middle-Eastern cuisines. It’s a weighty hardback book with a hundred or so recipes, including Shepherd’s Pie, Rioja and Jerk Lamb shanks, Saffron and Prosecco baked mussels and Death by Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake, many of which are mouth-wateringly photographed by Susanna Blåvarg.

Milly is very pleasant and justifiably excited by her book, but as other’s wait to choreograph more photos with her, we move to take in the now night-time sprawl of the capital and grab some oddly tiny corporate chilled canapés from a passing server. No real food tonight we think, but then trays of Milly’s lemon mousse are brought out and we delight in its citrus sweetness.

There’s a throng surrounding the complimentary fizz as we negotiate a route in. I catch a flash of teeth a few feet away and realise that Alan Carr is having a drink and a laugh with that woman Sally who used to be in Coronation Street and a man whose face has been in loads of things but you don’t quite know his name. A celeb interview for Foodepedia is on the cards so I wait for a break in the chatty man’s chat (it takes a while) then pounce.

Introducing myself as Foodepedia’s correspondent, I request an exclusive interview. Alan happily obliges seizing on ‘peedi’ for a double meaning, but I plough on with my first question, the answer to which is no, he’s not had Milly’s food. His friend Sally Lindsay (now starring in Mount Pleasant) asked him along. He spots Jayne’s wrist band saying she looks like she has Gangrene of the wrist. I notice that he, also a guest, has not been similarly branded – one of the perks of fame.

I point Milly out to him and explain that her book’s thrust is ‘real food’. “She looks like she only had half a sausage in the last week” he says, but he too is sick of food fads, especially the ubiquitous avocado – “You even get it in your local greasy spoon now, the avocado’s PR team must be really good”, “Yes”, I say, “they’ve literally smashed it.” Cue the drainpipe laugh: “I see what you did there”.

After further chat and celebrity shoulder rubbing selfies with Alan and chums, myself and Jayne descend back to street level where we belong, presumably leaving the stars to zoom off in their stretch Limo’s to the Groucho Club or Stringfellows.

Milly’s recipes look well worth trying, but don’t bother browsing for her original website to get them all free – it’s been taken down. “Well”, said Alan, “you don’t wanna give it away for free do you love?”

@MikeFairbrass

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