Monday 18 May 2015


In her light-filled studio tucked away down a cobbled mews in an unglamorous corner of northwest London, Mary McCartney is juggling the day’s engagements and talking about her books.
On the table in front of us are the hefty volumes of Monochrome/Colour. Published last year, they gather together images taken by the photographer over the past 20-odd years. There are street scenes, still-lifes, celebrity portraits (actress Gwyneth Paltrow, musician Beth Ditto) and intimate pictures of family members. Here’s musician father Sir Paul and his wife Nancy Shevell, fuzzily caught embracing in his London garden at the reception after their 2011 wedding. There’s fashion designer sister Stella, shot in warm close-up. There’s her late mother Linda, snapped on Polaroid.

This 45-year-old is hugely successful at her “day-job", in-demand for portraiture, art photography and fashion images. But despite the example of Linda, a rock photographer in the late Sixties and early Seventies, her daughter says she picked up the camera relatively late in life. "I wasn’t very into school,” begins this energetic, warm and straight-talking mother of four boys.
Over cups of tea and slices of lemon drizzle cake, she explains that, “I was quite a late blossomer. Stella was always sketching designs in bed, obsessed with fashion. But I was, like, ’I don’t really know what to do.’ And I think it was partly because everyone in my family could take pictures, so I just presumed everyone could do that. And I grew up watching mum taking them, and it seemed quite natural to her...”
A couple of decades on, and 17 years since Linda’s death from cancer, McCartney is well regarded for sharing another of her mother’s passions. 

This spring she publishes a new book, At My Table - Vegetarian Feasts for Family and Friends.
Like her committedly anti-meat mother, her enthusiasm for a vegetarian diet is boundless. But candid to a fault, McCartney admits with feeling that completing the recipe book (her second after 2012's Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking) has been “torture". "It’s so much work. It’s writing the recipes and taking the pictures. And food photography is not spontaneous,” she laughs.
A couple of months after our studio encounter, it’s my turn to play host.
Mary McCartney turns up at my door in northeast London, toting boxes of ingredients and cookware. She’s here to make lunch, offering a four-course sampler of dishes from At My Table.
I'd been told to get in olive oil, pumpkin seeds and garlic. First, I retrieved an old bag of sunflower seeds from the back of the larder, but decided at the last moment that it wouldn't do and had to make an emergency dash to the corner shop. But did I have an electric whisk? I regretfully informed my multi-tasking photographer/chef/vegetarian campaigner guest that I did not. 

Mary McCartney's chocolate torte (© Mary McCartney)
"OK, we’ll forget the chocolate roulade,” Mary replied with can-do, no-problem efficiency. “We’ll do the baked plums with fresh basil and Amaretti crisp.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hate marzipan.
She instantly set to work in my kitchen. First onto the cooker were the ingredients for a warm mushroom salad. Shitakes, oysters and chestnuts were chopped and tumbled into a frying pan with barely a thought as McCartney breezily explained the aim of her recipe book. "I’m promoting vegetarianism, and a lot of people think it’s fussy and takes too long and you need lots of exotic ingredients,” she says.
At My Table, though, keeps it simple. "I don’t ever get the time to go to specialist shops. And I presume a lot of people don’t want to faff about with that. There’s that thing when you go to make something and go, ’Ah, I don’t have pomegranate syrup...’ So I try and make the ingredients stuff you can get at a normal grocery shop.” 

The featured recipes range from her own, new creations to nods to her mother ("the cheese soufflé in the book, Mum would always ask me to make that for her"), and to her father’s signature drink. "His margaritas are really good. They’re like a traditional margarita, but he puts in a squeeze of fresh orange juice. That way you don’t need any sugar or glucose like agave or a syrup.” Having joined Sir Paul McCartney for post-concert drinks in Tokyo (in the spirit of journalistic inquiry for a Telegraph story, honest), I can indeed vouch for the tasty and efficacious nature of “Dad’s Margarita".
Mary McCartney has been a vegetarian all her life, and along with Sir Paul and Stella, she supports the Meat Free Monday campaign. She’s also just launched a blog, P For Peckish, that offers free vegetarian recipe suggestions.
Linda, Paul and Mary in 1988 (Richard Young/ Rex Shutterstock)
Linda persuaded Paul, then their four children, on to the health and moral benefits of not eating dead animals. And what she preached at home, she practised publicly and commercially. Linda McCartney Foods is still a thriving business, and Mary regularly consults for the company on product development, packaging, photography and PR. "Mum was really passionate and would say to people, ’Stop eating that rotting flesh’," says McCartney. "I love her for that.
"And I love the Chrissie Hynde approach,” McCartney says of the musician who is militant in her disapproval of human carnivorousness. “But my style is slightly different. When someone tells me what to do, ’You must exercise, you must do this...’ - I’ll get annoyed and do the opposite. So I try to do it more positive - ’just try this...’" So she doesn’t browbeat nor guilt-trip family menu-planners, preferring an approach that’s not so much carrot-and-stick as, well, carrot-and-shitake.
Mary McCartney's tostadas deluxe (© Mary McCartney)
Today’s second course is a case in point. McCartney included a recipe for tostadas deluxe because she loves Mexican food, not least because “it’s really good for beans... This kind of thing feels really healthy, but it feels kind of indulgent as well, with the feta cheese and the corn tortilla. I don’t feel like I need to go and have a bag of crisps afterwards.”
For all the aura of radiant health that seems to emanate from McCartney, it seems she’s as prey to the perils of snacking as the rest of us.
"Sometimes if we’re doing a photoshoot and the catering on the set is too healthy, I find that I’m needing crisps and chocolate,” she admits cheerfully as she clears away the main course plates. “I presume other people are like that, so that’s how the book is designed - with treats, like my 16-year-old son’s peanut butter cookies. I know that I’m quite a foodie, but even I can’t be bothered to eat that healthily all the time.”
And so, appropriately, to pudding.
"Do you like it?” she asks after my first mouthful of hot plums.
"To be honest,” I reply, “I’m not so keen on marzipan, but this combination is fantastic.”
"You should have said!” she exclaims. “Sorry! But how does the basil go? Is it too much?" "Well, it’s distracting nicely from the marzipan in the Amaretti...”
"Hmm,” she says, thinking ahead. “Instead of Amaretti, how about shortbread? I should have tried that... But the basil, it does add a third element. It would be too sweet otherwise, it pulls you away from that crumbled biscuit/stewed fruit flavour, and it freshens it up. The first time I tried it, though, I made the mistake of cooking the basil and it went all crisp and brown. That wasn’t so nice. “
Even lifelong non-meat-eaters and semi-professional cooks mess up sometimes. And with vegetarian recipes like these - where embracing foodie virtue doesn’t mean forswearing taste, pleasure or time, nor tracking down pomegranate syrup - everyone should give it a go.
'At My Table - Vegetarian Feasts for Family and Friends' by Mary McCartney is published by Chatto & Windus priced £20. To order your copy for £16.99 plus p&p call 0844 871 1514

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