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Please note: RPS House is closed for our exhibition install. We will be open again from 10am on Friday 9th August 2024.

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Food and friendship are the perfect blend for Mary McCartney

The photographer and film-maker explains why she fuses two of her great passions – portraiture and cooking – for her latest book

‘David Oyelowo and family with speedy veggie bolognese, home, Los Angeles’ by Mary McCartney

The idea just popped into my mind one day. I often collaborate with Peter Blake, taking photographs of his sitters for him to paint from.

Spending time at his art studio, I grew to love the compact kitchen Peter has there. I am, by nature, a feeder, so the next time I visited I made him something to eat and took a portrait of him to mark the occasion. Work stops, food is heated up and shared, and the talk takes on a different dimension as we lunch together. In these moments, great memories are created.

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‘Sheku Kanneh-Mason with deluxe hash brown, home, London’ by Mary McCartney

It struck me soon afterwards how much my two great loves, photography and food, have started to merge. I have hosted three series of my cooking show Mary McCartney Serves It Up! and Peter became the first of many wonderful sitters on the journey that became [the book] Feeding Creativity. I decided to take food to creative people I visited and see where the journey took me.

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‘Stanley Tucci with mushroom, polenta, cavolo nero, home, London’ by Mary McCartney

The book not only neatly combines the two disciplines I know something about, but also provides a platform to show how delicious and easy meat-free cooking can be. So, an idea was born. This wasn’t going to be a project that was ever really nailed down in terms of a schedule. I took my opportunities when they came along.

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‘David Bailey HonFRPS and Catherine Bailey with towering berry trifle, home, London’ by Mary McCartney

Artists tend to be quite spontaneous individuals and opportunities presented themselves that I needed to embrace, like having two hours to bake a cake and take it across town to Jeff Koons’s studio in New York City, cooking a tart for David Hockney with a hangover from hell or getting stuck in the mud taking a veggie burger to Emily Eavis at the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

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‘Nile Rodgers with roasted toasted salad, Abbey Road Studios, London’ by Mary McCartney

It made every journey an adventure, unpredictable and authentic. Each project put me on the spot. I had to react quickly to openings and invites, thinking of what I could make that would be delicious and appropriate for each creative. I had to think about how I would get the shot I wanted with a ticking clock and without a supporting crew, just me and my camera. In the end I realised that I thrive in chaos.

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‘Gilbert and George with PBLT sandwich, artists’ studio, London’ by Mary McCartney

My approach to food photography generally may not be as spontaneous as that of my portrait photography, but in working on this project I learnt to enjoy the process on the food side of things too. There were, of course, some challenges, such as shooting the actor Martin Freeman on the hottest day of the year and watching the ice cream melt through the (clouded up) lens. But there were many triumphs – recipes I will use forever and a long line of inspirational people who agreed to indulge me without judgement or an agenda.

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‘Woody Harrelson with smokey dogs, home, Los Angeles’ by Mary McCartney

My mother, Linda, was a pioneer for animal rights and vegetarianism, at a time when it was not fashionable and when there were very few choices. She did the hard yards, which inspired us to carry the torch forward. Meat-Free Monday (MFM) promotes the idea that having at least one plant-based day each week is an accessible and easy way to do something good for the planet, animals and our health.

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‘Francesca Hayward with banoffee cheesecake, Royal Opera House, London’ by Mary McCartney

As an ambassador for MFM, I started writing recipes more methodically. My cookbooks and cooking show were my way of sharing new inspirational recipes with anyone who was interested. For this project I have focused on creating each recipe as plant-based to show how quick, easy, delicious and accessible it can be. It’s a way of eating that I lean towards more and more. If you are someone who is looking to reduce meat consumption, you can start gradually. Once you try it, I am sure you will find you really enjoy it. I hope to entice you to fall in love with this way of eating.

Feeding Creativity is about sharing the recipes I love to create. It also debunks the myths that plant-based cooking takes longer, uses more ingredients and is more complicated. You are not missing out on anything by eating this way – you are just enjoying great-tasting food that is more environmentally conscious. The journey this project has taken me on has reminded me time and time again of the value of eating together.

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This is an edited extract from the book Feeding Creativity by Mary McCartney, published by Taschen at £40.

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