A crisp clementine martini is placed in front of me, slightly salty and lip-puckeringly acidic. It’s housed in a gorgeous, Fifties-inspired glass with a sunshine-yellow stem that I immediately covet. A bowl of buttery nocellara olives quickly follows. The room smells like slow-cooked lamb with hints of dill, a sign of the lunch to come. Midwinter sun fills the room with a warm, dappled light, framing the view of North London through the windows. No – I’m not in some new, high-rise restaurant in London. I’m in Bre Graham’s kitchen.

Because, really, what better way is there to interview the industry’s hottest new cookbook author and home chef than over a plate of food she’s cooked in the comfort of her impeccably decorated flat? For our lunch, she opted for the warming and supremely wonderful stuffed cabbage leaves from page 154 of her upcoming book, Table for Two. Packed full of earthy spices like cinnamon and allspice, with a lifting acidity courtesy of an unctuous tomato sauce and an undercurrent of citrus, it’s a dish that was simply perfect for the frigid day in early December when winter had finally decided to take hold of the city.

“I was taught how to stuff cabbage leaves by a chef I was interviewing once, Aleksander Taralezhkov,” she tells me, as she dollops yoghurt and sprinkles fresh dill over the piping hot tray of food, fresh from the oven. If you’re familiar with Graham’s Instagram, or perhaps her hit newsletter Dishes to Delight, you might think of her as the perfect hostess; a home cook with a knack for impeccable, approachable plating, tablescaping and photography. She writes about food with such unique nostalgia and simple joy that it’s impossible not to be drawn into her world. ‘Maybe this week’s menu?’ she asks, before listing six recipes from various publications. ‘Maybe this week’s menu,’ you respond, adding the ingredients for at least one to your shopping list.

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Her food writing might feel instinctual now, but it wasn’t Graham’s initial career path. While food had always been woven into her life, it wasn’t until she started writing for the newsletter Women Who Cook for Me, run by photographer Sophie Davidson, that Graham began to see that there could be a job built out of her one true love: food. “I’d always cooked, it was such a big thing for me,” Graham tells me. “I’d always been the host and always had people over, and that was my role in friendship groups, family and all of that kind of stuff. And then I was at this really miserable job, and I was like, ‘I need to get out, I can’t be doing this for much longer.’ So I started writing for the newsletter.”

From there, she was commissioned to write a food column and articles before moving to the now-defunct Oh Comely as commissioning editor, working with writers like Ravneet Gill and Kate Young. After a period of time working at Natoora and Whole Good over the pandemic, Graham returned to editorial, taking up a post as lifestyle editor at Courier magazine. And yet, even while her 9-5 didn’t involve journalism, Graham was still writing, creating recipes for her newsletter and building a loyal following of readers.

It’s easy to see why her work resonates with so many people, and why it quickly found itself commissioned into what is sure to become a best-selling book. Born in Australia, Graham spent most of her childhood in Singapore, a place she cites with shaping her love of food and cooking. “Even though I’m Australian, I’ve actually only lived there for five years. I grew up in Singapore and lived there for ten years,” Graham tells me. “My mum is an amazing cook – everyone in my family is an amazing cook, so I’ve always grown up around it. So I think I’ve always felt this draw to Australian food. It’s such a food-centric country. We have amazing produce. But Singapore has the most food-centric culture I’ve ever been immersed in. It’s a national obsession there. And so to grow up where those moments in your day are marked always through food, it was almost so obvious that when I started writing it would be part of what I did.”

There is something very gendered even about the way certain cookbooks are positioned and marketed

Graham is part of a new generation of home cooks. While the cookbooks written by men tend to come from professional chefs, this sector of food writing centred in the home is so often defined by women. I ask Graham her thoughts, and how she sits within this space – and the idea of subverting the traditional idea of a ‘home cook’. “There is something very gendered even about the way certain cookbooks are positioned and marketed,” she tells me. “I was very insistent I didn’t want this book to feel gendered.”

And yet, even when the book completely holds its own and stands out in a market often awash with new publications, it can still be difficult to be taken seriously. “I’ve certainly been at dinners and events in this industry where people ask what you do, or what your book is about, and you just see certain men completely glaze over and dismiss you,” she tells me. “Because you’re a woman, you’re not a chef, you’re writing about food and love.

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“I was at this wine event and was talking to this old school writer, and I had just got the book deal. He asked what it was about, and when I said food and love he goes, ‘Like there needs to be another book on that. What are you going to say about it?’ It just completely tore me down, and made me feel so stupid.”

The joke, really, is on him. Because this book says so much – it doesn’t just speak about love in the short essays littered throughout, but in the bones of the recipes and the ways in which you can imagine each dish being lovingly crafted for someone special. And it doesn’t just touch on romantic love, but all kinds of adoration. Graham writes about an early first love through the construction of a chocolate cake, the necessity of platonic love to see you through difficult days by describing a platter of oysters and the unconditional love of a mother through rice pudding.

Graham is proving that some of the most exciting recipe development right now isn’t coming out of professional kitchens or spotless studios; it’s coming from dishes cooked over and over again in a dinky kitchen in a rented flat by a person who is, above all else, simply passionate about food. Eating those carefully wrapped parcels of lamb, I could clearly see why Graham writing about food was always going to be inherently wrapped up in love, too.

Table for Two: Recipes for the Ones You Love by Bre Graham is published by DK on 19 January 2023