What a secondary school teacher really eats

Everyone’s got a food story to tell… Welcome back to Fridge Raid, the delicious. interview series where people from all walks of life answer our nosiest food questions. Each week, we ask real people to reveal the quirky realities of how they really eat – and the food experiences that shaped them.

This week, London secondary school teacher and coffee lover Helena Goodrich shares how her job affects what she has for dinner, why Pizza Express is actually a vegetarian’s godsend – and why food waste is her worst nightmare…

What a secondary school teacher really eats

Pick ‘n’ mix

What would you typically find in your fridge?
Lots of pickles and salty foods such as kimchi, gherkins, capers, olives and preserved lemons. I have a salty tooth more than a sweet tooth. When I have time, I like making my own pickles. There’s also a lot of sauces – sriracha, mustard, gochujang and even a few from Nando’s – I don’t discriminate.

What’s your go-to speedy dinner?
Some variation on a chickpea stew. I always have onions, celery, carrots, tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and spices, so can throw this together pretty quickly. Or Koka instant curry noodles with a fried egg, spring onions, sesame oil and some frozen peas.

What’s your favourite type of egg?
Scrambled eggs made using an obscene amount of butter. Or a soft-boiled egg, if you can nail keeping the yolk a little bit runny.

Are you a get-every-bean-out-of-the-tin type of person or does that not bother you?
Definitely. I’m obsessive about avoiding food waste of any kind. It’s not healthy, but I can’t reason with myself. The worst for me is when you can’t scrape all the sauce out of the blender. The stuff of nightmares!

"I'm obsessive about avoiding food waste of any kind... The worst for me is when you can't scrape all the sauce out of the blender. The stuff of nightmares!"

What’s your most-loved utensil in your kitchen?
A really good spatula for scraping – to avoid food waste! I also have a collection of useful mini utensils that I love – mainly for salad dressings and sauces. I have a mini whisk and a mini ladle that I got from a friend’s vintage stall.

What do you serve friends when you want to impress?
I like to use cooking for friends as an excuse to try something new. I used to work as a pastry chef and love any excuse to make pastry, so probably either a savoury or sweet galette.

Helena’s top hosting tip: impress with a galette


Would you rather wash up or dry?
My dad refused to get a dishwasher because he said that doing the dishes was quality family chat time. I’m not sure I agree. I’d rather dry, unless I don’t trust the person doing the dishes to wash all the grease off properly… My partner is mad efficient at washing dishes, which lets me off the hook. I’d rather wipe down the surfaces and sweep.

What’s your hot drink of choice? How many do you average a day?
I’ve always been a coffee drinker but have had to cut back because I’ve got quite bad insomnia. I usually just have one big filter coffee that I make at home in the morning, then a breakfast tea in the afternoon. The coffee in the staff room is notoriously bad so I avoid it if I can help it.

I worked as a barista for years, including in Melbourne (a city that loves its coffee), so I can be quite obsessive about good coffee. We have a weekly subscription delivery so we get to try lots of different ones, which is fun. I recently got back from Vietnam and loved the sweet coffees there. We currently have some instant coconut coffee sachets we brought back which are banging. I don’t want to know what’s in them because I’m sure they’re really bad for you. A good range of hot drinks really improves the quality of my day.

What’s your favourite restaurant for a special occasion – and what should we order?
Ombra in Bethnal Green. The menu is seasonal so it changes a lot, but it’s always delicious. They make their own pasta and focaccia. Esters for a special brunch. The owners are old friends and are really creative and talented chefs. You know you’ll get to eat something different and delicious.

The main meal

When did you learn to cook?
My mum broke her wrist when I was 16 so I started doing lots of cooking then, which I loved. Some friends got me an Italian cookery course for my birthday. I then invited friends round for a dinner party and made fresh pasta and honeycomb ice cream. After university, I worked in various cafés, first as a barista, then in the kitchen. I worked at Claire Ptak’s Violet bakery where I learned lots, savoury as well as sweet. Now I just cook for friends and family. It’s nice to make food at your own pace. I loved working in cafés and restaurants, but it can be really stressful!

How does your job affect how you eat?
I have quite limited time in the evenings. Sometimes I get ambitious – for example, I decided to make cannelloni from scratch on a weeknight – and it’s way too much. Usually I try to cook things that can last over a couple of evenings or are quite quick. I get a bit obsessive about meal planning and do a weekly Ocado shop. There’s nothing worse after a long day at work than standing in the supermarket and trying to decide what to cook – it used to drive me mad.

What’s your take on the lunches offered at your school?
My school’s lunches are only £1 for staff, which is amazing. I tend to go to the salad bar – the hot lunches can be hit and miss. Big respect to the school kitchen, though. They do a lot with a really limited budget.

What’s the most unusual thing to ever happen in the lunch hall?
The lunch hall has sliding doors. Sometimes a pigeon wanders in and gets stuck, which causes chaos. Otherwise it’s pretty sedate. School Christmas dinner is my favourite. It’s like a factory assembly line trying to get everyone served.

What attitudes towards food did you grow up with?
After growing up on a farm, my mum has always been keen on good ingredients. We would often go to a local farm shop – which was easier growing up in the countryside. Suffolk – the county I grew up in – is famous for having good food. There are now lots of producers there like Fen Farm Dairy (famous for baron bigod cheese) and Pump Street Bakery. The food market and festival at Snape Maltings are great too. I grew up going to events like this, which really shaped my love and understanding of food and valuing good ingredients. Children growing up in cities don’t get these experiences and families often don’t have the time, money or knowledge to have this relationship with food. I think schools could do more to educate young people about food and nutrition. But often there isn’t the budget for it.

Do you have any strong food preferences or restrictions? How do they affect you?
I don’t eat meat and didn’t eat fish for a while. I haven’t since I was a child. My parents never ate much meat so it wasn’t really a problem. That said, being vegetarian in the nineties was hard. I remember families used to find cooking for me stressful and the vegetarian options at restaurants were often bad. Typically a very sticky mushroom risotto.

My bite-sized week

What was the best thing you ate this week?
It’s actually been a great food week. I made black bean enchiladas and a spinach paneer curry. They both turned out really good!

What was the most mundane meal you ate?
My partner and I had a quick Pizza Express before the theatre. Many people would judge this I’m sure, but it was quick and actually pretty good. I’ve eaten the Padana (red onions, goat’s cheese and spinach) for years and I actually think it’s great. Lots of newer pizza restaurants don’t have good veggie toppings. There’s often just one vegetable – mushroom or aubergine – and it’s pretty boring.

Where did you shop for food – and what did you buy?
I got a white tin loaf from Casey’s bakery near my house in Clapton. It’s a nice change from sourdough.

What did you do to relax?
I’m not very good at relaxing. I find sitting still hard and I always make too many plans on the weekend. I’m trying to be better at watching TV and films without getting distracted by my phone. I watched Weekend – the Andrew Haigh film – with my partner, which was lovely. We also saw musician Adrianne Lenker at the Barbican which was the most beautiful and soul-soothing gig. We had seats, which was pure luxury.

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