The maestro of Mexican food plates up a few of the things she loves most in the world.

Thomasina Miers – Tommi to those who know her and many who do not – is one of this country’s most talented, best-loved and most infectiously enthusiastic chefs. Her story, like all the very best ones, began in earnest with a fateful meeting. In her case, that encounter happened to take place on a catwalk – and though her modelling days were not living up to expectations, an introduction to fellow Burberry model and one half of the The Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright, most certainly did.

Aside from being dressed in Burberry (Tommi in a bikini; Clarissa in a trench coat), they quickly discovered that had much in common. Clarissa had swapped a career in law for a successful one in cookery, while Tommi had tried all manner of paths – journalism, VAT consultancy, advertising, modelling – and was on the look-out for something that might just stick. As she told the Daily Mail, ‘Clarissa made it seem so simple. In a tone that was almost scolding, she said: ‘Well, if you like cooking, why aren’t you cooking?’ I’m sure she thought I was quite ridiculous, but that was my light-bulb moment.

‘Suddenly the horizon expanded before me. If Clarissa Dickson Wright had given up a stellar legal career to do what she loved, then – bing! – it was perfectly fine to follow your heart. I could do it, too.’

That was 2002 and Tommi hasn’t looked back since. She followed Clarissa’s advice and enrolled at the Ballymaloe Cookery School; made sourdough which she sold at farmers’ markets; and formatively travelled to Mexico, where she ran a cocktail bar for a stint and fell in love with the country’s flavourful street food. When she finally came back home, she applied to Masterchef on the off-chance – and went on to win it. And the rest is history.

She followed up her triumph with a stint at Petersham Nurseries under Skye Gyngell before opening the much-loved Mexican market-inspired Wahaca, which has since gone on to become a national hit.

Tommi is a regular face on TV cookery shows and she writes a weekly column in the Guardian’s Feast, much of it focusing on food sustainability. She has also penned six books; the latest, Meat-Free Mexican, came out this month and, according to the great Diana Henry, is packed with ‘vegetable recipes to blow your mind and thrill your tastebuds’, while Skye Gyngell eulogises, ‘Tommi has a real knack for creating happy making food. I want to eat everything in this book.’

As do we. Happily, the book is on sale now, thus enabling that longing. Meanwhile, for those who prefer the eating to the cooking, do try Wahaca’s new summer menu, which is equally full of Mexican street food classics.

Here Tommi cooks up the things that really rock her world.

Favourite place in all the world?

I really am in love with Oaxaca. It has the most incredible food, a jaw-dropping coastline and the mezcal is delicious. I love the way you go and sit down in the markets and are brought feasts from all the different stallholders. It was such a huge inspiration for Wahaca. I also love Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe, but that is another story…

Dream holiday?

Many years ago, we nearly went walking in the Himalayas with chefs following us and, in the evenings, cooking the most delicious food over fire. Something came up and the holiday fell through. I still think about it… and about exploring Japan, a country I have still not been to but I am completely fascinated by.

Most coveted item right now?

We are just putting new beds into our garden so I guess it would be a whole prep station and outside kitchen with a Green Egg sunken in for entertaining outside through the summer and well into the autumn. And a made-to-measure suit from Anna Mason who makes the most ludicrously feminine, grown-up clothes.

Proudest professional moment to date?

Going to Buckingham Palace and being presented with an OBE by Prince William in front of my family was pretty high up there. It was the most amazing day and we had the most spoiling and delicious lunch at the Ritz afterwards. It felt like we were in a dream!

Your dream future project?

I love the idea of finding a beautiful spot in the countryside and setting up a cookery school. I would probably make lots of chilli sauces and pastes in a kitchen on the land and invite wonderful chefs from around the world to come and do demos. I would be inspired by Ballymaloe, the most amazing cooking school, and Stone Barns, an incredible food centre in the US whose focus is on soil and good farming. I would work with amazing, regenerative farmers and great food producers and we would talk the gospel of good food. Separately, we would help Chefs in Schools fulfil its vision of being in 1000 schools and proving that you can feed great food to everyone on a budget.

Who has been your most inspiring mentor, professionally or personally?

Prue Leith has been wonderful and supportive and given me endless brilliant advice over the years with humour and a twinkle in her eye. Clarissa Dickson Wright was the one who made me go to cooking school in the first place, age 26, which really turned my life around. I have a few others in the background who are extremely kind and generous, which is something I want to repay for future generations.

Where would you live if you could live anywhere?

On a beautiful farm with amazing food growing all around me in a stunning kitchen garden, plus woodland, a stream and masses of nature. There would be hills to walk in and a community of people around who loved food.

What book is on your nightstand/ kindle right now?

I am reading Stanley Tucci’s book Taste, Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss and Entangled Life all at the same time!

Best film you’ve seen recently?

I just saw The Lost Daughter. I saw Jessie Buckley in Cabaret and was mesmerised by her face, by her performance, by her humanity. She was equally brilliant in The Lost Daughter– I am a big fan. I also finally saw Queen and Slim the other day, which was visually sumptuous but also devastating, and I adored Liquorice Pizza.

Best binge-watched TV show?

Sex Education was exceedingly fun over lockdown. Whoever wrote that script must have had such fun writing those lines – they are pure genius. We also loved Ozark.

Top podcast of the moment?

I am obsessed with podcasts! I am switching between Feel Better, Live More; How to Fail; Farmerama; Slo Mo; Table Manners; the Slow Newscast; Changes; Happy Place and The Doctor’s Kitchen for a mix of culture, media, environment, mental health, farming and current affairs. I love them!

Your hero?

I have a massive girl crush on Alice Levine just because she is so effortlessly cool, but I also love the guys behind Wild Farmed because of how they are trying to fix the planet and environment through better food.

If you were an animal, what would you be?

An elephant. Just because I love elephants. They are dudes. They love hanging out and getting drunk on ripe fruit and cooling down. I wouldn’t fancy my chances though – maybe an elephant with a renewed focus on banned hunting!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A model, a stockbroker and a racing driver. I also entertained the idea of being a bank robber – I thought that would be such fun….

Worst job you’ve ever done?

VAT consultancy. By far.

Favourite dish to cook?

I am cooking a lot of Mexican at the moment. My new book became a slight obsession and I learnt still more about chillies and salsas and came up with new ideas how to cook seasonally with accents of heat and character from Mexico. And there is a molten chocolate and ancho cake in the book with tequila that is unreal – I am making it a lot.

Favourite café/ restaurant?

I went to Café Cecilia the other day and totally loved it – it is a wonderful, wonderful restaurant. And Brunswick House is one of my favourite restaurants in London.

What tune always makes you want to dance?

Anything poppy and from the 70s/80s. Culture Club, Bronski Beat, The Cure, Michael Jackson, Massive Attack, Stevie Wonder.

Favourite website or app?

I do like the Calm app. I also have a soft spot for gazing at fashion online. And Olio is genius for giving away food when I cook too much of it.

Most useful thing on your desk?

My laptop! Followed by my fountain pen. I love writing letters with a fountain pen.

Which five people, dead or alive, would you find most interesting to be stuck in a lift with?

Julia Child portrait by ©Lynn Gilbert, 1978
Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sybille Bedford, David Bowie, Julia Childs, Virginia Woolf and Stormzy!

Favourite building?

Bellas Artes Museum in Mexico City for its Art Deco style.

Favourite Instagrammer or tweeter?

I have far, far too many to mention here…

Your screensaver?

My children I am afraid. I do love my children so.

What would your biography be called?

Sounds Like Fun!

What would be your epitaph?

Despite a life-long attempt to do less, she died happy doing more.

By Nancy Alsop
May 2022

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Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.