Imagine spending a Sunday afternoon concocting a recipe for strawberries stuffed with cheesecake as a treat for your slimming club, then posting it online and waking up Monday morning to find it has gone viral overnight.
This is exactly how the publishing phenomenon of 2019, Pinch of Nom, was born. Sales of the cookbook have been record-breaking: 500,000 in its first five weeks (Jamie Oliver’s 30-minute Meals took eight weeks to hit the same figure) and it’s still selling 11,000 copies a day.
The weight-loss community can’t seem to get enough of the 100 ‘home-style’ slimming recipes. The public appetite for hearty dishes, such as chicken parmigiana and Cuban beef, without the extra calories is so great Pinch of Nom has now been joined by the Pinch of Nom Food Planner (Bluebird, £9.99) – a simple food diary that includes some recipes – and a second cookbook is due out in late autumn.
The authors of Pinch of Nom – Kay Featherstone, 33, and her partner
Kate Allinson, 47 – joined a Slimming World club together three-and-a-half years ago with a target of losing a combined 30st. By making healthy tweaks to popular family dishes, they’ve already shed 12st between them (Kay has lost 7st and Kate 5st).
The pair began posting their own recipes online, but added both Slimming World Syns and Weight Watcher’s Points. From a standing start, their Pinch of Nom blog was visited 60,000 times a month within six weeks. They now have more than 1.5 million followers. Such is their success that the very club that gave the pair its blessing to use the Slimming World Syns on their Facebook page and website recipes is now asking for this information to be removed. The duo posted a statement on their Facebook page at the beginning of July, saying: ‘We found a welcome space and a few friends who we shared some recipes with [at Slimming World]. This sharing of recipes became a little bit bigger and here you find us today!
‘Slimming World recently contacted us again and asked us to remove its trademarked terms from our website. While we’ve been using them fairly and with its blessing, we completely respect its wishes, so of course we’ll comply with these requests, in the same way we always have.
‘Therefore, over the coming weeks, we’ll be removing the Syn values from our website and you’ll see a few more changes regarding the use of the name Slimming World and its trademarks, as requested. These changes are superficial, though – you’ll still get the same amazing recipes from us.’
Now a runaway success, how did Pinch of Nom come about? The name was inspired by a phrase that Sesame Street’s cookie monster used when he was devouring cookies. ‘I knew Kate’s sister Lisa hated the word “nom”, so I chose it to annoy her! It seemed to stick in people’s minds,’ says Kay.
Kay and Kate then filmed recipes on their mobile phones, teaching themselves photography and food styling as they went along. Suddenly their followers were starting to lose weight, too, and the Pinch of Nom Facebook group was growing at a rate no one could have anticipated. ‘It became apparent that there were many people out there who were dieting but had not yet reached their goal weight, who had jumped on and off the weight-loss wagon and felt neglected by the large diet companies,’ they write in their book. ‘We started to create a space where those like us, who were still on their journey, could feel just as important as those who had reached their destination.’
The non-starry couple, who met online 14 years ago, seem the antithesis of what we’ve come to expect from the celebrity chef/cookbook trend. They live with Kate’s father and two cats in Merseyside. ‘We only knew three people who would buy the book for sure,’ says Kate. ‘So it’s been a crazy couple of months, and my feet haven’t touched the ground.’
While they’re not reclusive, they’re pretty private people. ‘We have no plans to be on chat shows,’ says Kay. ‘We don’t want to be famous. It’s great that we’ve sold so many books, but it’s always been about the food and not about us. We’re really boring and ordinary, anyway… Our holidays are spent in Scotland in an Airbnb rental cottage with views of a loch, and I’m excited right now because I’m about to start a new cross stitch!
‘There are no pictures of us in the book and only one picture of each of us on the website,’ she says. ‘Somehow, we’ve amassed all these followers who like our food – it’s still sinking in, to be honest.’
Being ordinary appears to be the secret of their success – their recipes are simple and made with pared-down ingredients you’re likely to have on hand already.
‘The aim of the book was to provide simple, delicious, light recipes that don’t feel like diet food,’ says Kay. ‘If you slip off the wagon, we want you to feel it’s not so hard to get back on again.
‘You get lots of recipe books that call for ingredients you’re never going to use again. There’s nothing worse than when you need to clean out your cupboards and you’re like, “’What did I buy that for?”’ The recipes are cost-conscious, too. ‘I’m certainly aware of my budget and what’s in my cupboard from week to week, and that’s what people care about,’ says Kay.
‘Ours are the kind of recipes where everyone can achieve the end result – nobody wants to follow a recipe with 30 steps and then get one wrong. We simplify the dishes as much as we can, and we know they work.’
The pair have a team of 200 taste testers who try every recipe. ‘We know they’re going to work because they’ve been through the mill,’ says Kay. The only thing that has changed is that they decided they wanted their dining table back, so these days they write recipes and test them at their new headquarters.
Following a dream
Cooking was what brought Kay and Kate together, and they shared their passion for food by launching two restaurants on the Wirral with Kate as head chef. Sadly, things didn’t go exactly to plan.
‘Running a restaurant is really hard work, and we were putting in 120-hour weeks,’ says Kay. The opening of the second restaurant coincided with Kate’s mum being taken seriously ill and the pair had to take time out to look after her. Closing the restaurants seemed the most sensible thing to do. ‘I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that we don’t remember it,’ says Kay. ‘Losing a business is a hard thing, but it certainly spurs us on.’ It seems to have made them happier, too. ‘Cooking for people and teaching them how to cook are two very different things, and we much prefer things the way they are now.’
The stigma of being overweight
Kay believes people need to change their attitude to those who are overweight, and describes her own weight-loss journey as one of the biggest battles of her life. ‘I was bullied at school because of my weight and for being 6ft 1in tall. It wasn’t fun back then,’ she says. ‘I’ve had phrases thrown at me as an adult, too, and there have been choice words about both of us in the comment sections of online newspapers when we’ve done interviews. But if you stigmatise someone for how they look, they will just get depressed and may even get bigger than they were before. People don’t realise the challenges others may be facing. I believe attitudes need to change.’
Kay also believes that genetics can play a part in obesity (her father is overweight), and she is acutely aware of trying to lose weight herself and helping others to do the same. ‘It’s one of those battles. For people who are significantly overweight, losing it will be one of the hardest things they do – it certainly has been for me.’
Kay refuses to put a timetable on the pair’s target of losing 30st. ‘I don’t know how long it will take, and we’re not the type to say we’re going to lose a stone this year,’ she says. ‘Things have been turned on their heads the past couple of months, and I don’t want to add that pressure to the mix. We’re certainly both a lot more self-conscious about how we look now because of photos in the press, but our feet are firmly on the ground. We’re trying to lose weight for life rather than just for the moment.’
She says Pinch of Nom isn’t about telling people they have to follow a certain diet plan. ‘We started it after joining a slimming club, but we don’t make too much of it because we’re not here to dictate which diet people should follow. I believe people should be free to make whatever choice they want. They can use our recipes as part of a specific diet plan if they wish – we have a hell of a lot of calorie counters using them.’
Kay says the Pinch of Nom online community is supportive and has a we’re-all-in-this-together attitude. ‘We try to keep it positive. Occasionally we’ll get an influx of trolls, but we block them as soon as we can,’ she says. ‘We’ve all got each other’s backs. We live in a time when there is so much negativity and people are pulling each other down, but we have this community and we just want to raise everybody up,’ she says.
Eating together again
‘We’re all about creating recipes that anyone can enjoy. You can cook these meals and other people wouldn’t necessarily know that you’re trying to lose weight,’ says Kay. Inevitably, when a book is as successful as Pinch of Nom, there will be those who are gunning for it. Many criticise the inclusion of recipes such as meatball pizza and sticky toffee pudding in a book that says its recipes are ‘slimming’. But, Kay says, it’s about crediting the reader with common sense. ‘My response is that you wouldn’t eat the whole thing and you wouldn’t eat some of these dishes every day. The recipes have been made healthier by swapping out higher-calorie ingredients – they’re lower in calories, fat and sugar.’
The cookbook contains everyday light dishes, weekly indulgences and recipes for special occasions. Key ingredients include low-fat dairy, low-calorie spray oil, sweetener, gluten-free breads, oats, pulses and beans, protein, lemons and limes, eggs, herbs and spices, frozen veg and tins of tomatoes.
Kay and Kate are already busy writing the new recipe book, and the other event on the horizon is a possible wedding. ‘It’s something we’ve talked about, but we don’t like big events. It will happen sometime, but right now we have a whole load of stuff going on.’ To the undisputed approval of dieters everywhere, they certainly do.