Both the energy and the cooking came from the efforts of my mother, who regularly littered the kitchen table with paper to sketch plans for this or that project meant to improve the lot of our modest family. At her side I learnt how to cook and organise, later alternating (embarrassingly pretentious) dinner parties for my teenage friends, with mini business ideas and sitting in fields of long grass.
My escape into possibility was to study ancient history and archaeology amongst the flyovers and brick towers at university in Birmingham. Ill-prepared and gauche I muddled my way through, finding equal inspiration in sewing board-like maxi-skirts, knitting untidy sweaters, eating blistering hot channa dhal at Formica tables and learning to cook real curry myself.
The ingredients for my later life were mapped out there, like a dealt hand of cards. I moved with my soon-to-be husband Jamie, encouraged by a Buddhist careers advisor, to a remote part of Wales. Archaeology soon led to a fledgling knitting business, then to our first baby, then to an even more remote stone cottage in an oak wood, served only by a muddy path and an abundant variety of bird neighbours, smoke rising from the Rayburn chimney when I gave up vegetarianism and cooked my first leg of lamb.
Somehow from there we managed to get our wares into the window of a department store in Beverley Hills and onto the backs of a series of film celebrities (although in truth these single orders were pacifiers in place of ones that would really pay the bills). In this strange school we learnt about fashion, travelled the world, opened our mouths to new tastes, cooked with new ingredients, saw with new eyes, birthed a second child and new ambitions, moved house and started a second business (Toast) that at first taught us almost more than our heads could hold. I learnt about building a business and a brand and how an arrangement of letters on a page, or a texture, or the composition, or a look, or the fall of light in an image could thrill me.
Now, together with others, we pour our effort and love into that business and fill our heads and hearts with the care of it. I am lucky now to be able to concentrate solely on the creative parts of the business; developing themes for each season that others skilfully implement; leading teams that work on our photography and, together with Jamie, guiding and tweaking the way Toast looks.
Thus I can now combine my work at Toast with other projects that I love: the writing of a recipe book, Gather Cook Feast is my first solo project, combining a love of food, cooking and landscape with working with photographers and designers. My book is about food as an expression of landscape – a plate that feels like a place, if you will.
I am interested in food and this sense of place, the tingle down the spine, loving life, discovery and the reward of a job well done, science, a new world, arranging words, empty spaces, Japanese aesthetics, the wilderness, gloomy music, the profound, making a new world, cherishing the natural world, being buried on a bed of wild flower hay.
Books: The Seaton Collection, Century Hutchinson, 1989
Gather Cook Feast, Fig Tree, 2017
All website photography with kind permission of Jonathan Lovekin, Nick Seaton and TOAST
All text copyright of Jessica Seaton for Seaton Publishing Ltd.
Instagram photographs copyright of Jessica Seaton for Seaton Publishing Ltd.
A short history of me.
I was born Jessica Ruth Hampton in a small market town in rural Leicestershire, into a home filled with the scent of cooking and the energy of possibility.