FOR the likes of singers Florence Welch and Eliza Doolittle, actor Hugh Jackman and supermodel cum model scout, Erin O’Connor, the humdrum of Monday to Friday eating is nothing short of indulgence thanks to little packages that arrive at their London doorsteps at dawn.
While some of us mere mortals feel indulgent with weekly organic vegetable deliveries, imagine if you were an outrageously busy person juggling about 10 balls in the air, working 14-hour days yet you knew that in spite of your crazy lifestyle, you were eating like a God — and a superhealthy God at that?
Imagine if you could order breakfast, lunch and dinner — even daily snacks — all prepared to suit your likes, dislikes and dietary requirements, all fresh, all containing the vital food groups that ensure an enviable body, glossy hair, glowing skin and the energy of a 17-year-old?
That’s what the clients of West Cork-reared Jennifer Irvine wake up to every morning. There’s a knock on the door and in arrives the Pure Package delivery girl with their meals for the day in a temperature controlled bag. All the prep’ and cooking has been done for them so if it’s Thai broth for lunch, all they have to do is slip the perfectly chopped veggies in the broth and reheat them in a saucepan or microwave. Simple as.
“To be honest,” laughs Irvine, “you won’t find a fool amongst our clients. They’re highly sophisticated people who tend to be very successful, very educated and very, very busy. Yet they want to be inspired by their food. They’re passionate about their food.” They’re also very rich as it costs £30-£60 per day for delivery of the three Pure Package meals and snacks. However, now the Pure Package ethos is accessible to all as Irvine, after being pestered for years for her recipes, has published her first cookery book, The Diet for Food Lovers. “It was getting to the point where I felt so rude. People, like Patsy Kensit for one, kept on asking for particular recipes and I’d laugh and say ‘Oh, wait for the book’. But it was going on for too long, the requests, and I couldn’t keep on saying the same thing. So in the end I just had to just write it.
“As the title says, it is a diet for food lovers, for people who are happy to spend their time cooking, who love to eat and want to look good.”
And it was from this desire to eat well and look good that Irvine developed the concept of Pure Package. Hailing from a family of self-sufficient foodies, her parents are the renowned makers of Milleens cheese, Norman and Veronica Steele.
“West Cork was a very entrepreneurial place to be in the 1970s and 1980s. There were no jobs around and my parents knew we had to be skilled and inventive if we were to create something that would sell and that’s where Milleens cheese came from,” she says.
That entrepreneurial zeal and work ethic was inherited by Irvine, who by the age of eight was selling eggs and chickens to nearby restaurants. By 13, she had acquired a street trader’s licence and thought little of travelling from her Eyeries base to towns all over West Cork selling homemade T-shirts and hairbands.
After school, she studied food marketing economics at the University of Reading before working at Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Conran Group.
“I was so busy and the idea of Pure Package stemmed from me thinking how it would be heaven to have an array of diet therapists ensuring all your nutrition and dietary needs were met all day every day.”
So in 2003, she started Pure Package from her own home. But as the business grew and grew and she couldn’t fit any more refrigerators or freezers into her kitchen, she took over a premises at the New Covent Garden Market. Last year, the company prepared 7,000 meals (she has one client who has ordered breakfast, lunch and dinner from her every day for the past four years) and she now employs 29 staff. After a recent visit to her sister, Kate in California, she is seriously considering expanding to the US West Coast.
“I was always passionate about it because it was something I would have loved myself and that is why I think it has gone from strength to strength,” she says.
Irvine herself is particularly down to earth even though she may mix in gilded circles (she has a PA who is a trained make-up artist and stylist and so helps her pick out her outfits at home each morning). You can’t help but admire her passion for her work and her common sense approach to eating and food.
“A great many people eat far too much. You know that a person’s stomach is only the size of their two fists closed? The most important part of this book is the ‘rule of palm’ section so if you don’t have the time midweek to cook something from the book, you can just have your simple grilled chicken, veg and carbohydrates in the quantities I’ve described at the start of the book, you’ll still be following the diet.”
Constant calorie counting, she says, isn’t practical but knowing what proportions and types of food to eat is.
“How can you be counting up 1,500 and 1,900 calories a day unless you have computer spreadsheets? It’s just too much information. So forget the numbers. Calories were never designed for the normal person. They were for scientists. Think about the ‘rule of palm’ and also the ‘rainbow of colour’ on your plate.”
The ‘rainbow of colour’ is another central tenet of the Irvine food philosophy.
“People need to start asking ‘is my shopping trolley bright enough?’ If you are eating healthily, your shopping basket should look like a meadow of flowers. Colour is vital to eating. Think about it, kids react hugely to the colour of food and we all react positively when we see brightly coloured food. You know why? It’s because we are programmed through evolution to know that it’s good for us. “We’re like magnets for bright things. If you go into a forest and wander around, you will spot that berry to eat if you’re hungry. It’s in our DNA. If we’re walking along a country road and there are just a few blackberries on the roadside, we naturally spot them. It’s only in the past 100 years that we’ve turned that colour meter off and everything we eat has become sludge.” These days there seem to be so many food zealots. Never before has there been so much talk about food, what type of food to eat and what type to avoid — and yet never have there been so many people who are obese. “If people were to only improve their diet by 15% it would make a huge difference to their energy levels, their body, their skin,” says Irvine. “I’d love to see people choosing a poached egg over a fried egg, eating a new potato with its skin on rather than a heavily processed precooked mash potato that they took out of the freezer. It’s all important and it all adds up.”
* The Pure Package by Jennifer Irvine, published by Weidenfield & Nicholson, £20
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