Anna Hansen, 44, is owner and chef at Modern Pantry. She talks weaning, learning to love food, and why brunch – eaten together with her 15-month-old, Sonja, 10-year-old Molly, and partner Peter – is the best meal of the day. 

Brunch is one of those meals that’s supposed to be lazy – you don’t need to be lazy about the cooking but the whole experience should be something that is never rushed. It’s designed to be taken in your own time and enjoyed.

There are a few components to the perfect brunch. My ideal would always start with a lovely fresh seasonal fruit salad, with plain yoghurt and a few toasted seeds on top. Then, either gluten-free pancakes – as my step-daughter Molly is gluten-free – served with loads of different toppings: banana or the classic lemon and sugar, or bacon and maple syrup. We also do a delicious coconut version – recipe below.

Normally in our house, Molly will do the pancakes, or we’ll make them together. We do a lot of talking, drawing, colouring in, and playing while we’re cooking and eating. Since Sonya arrived on the scene 15 months ago there’s not much time for sitting around reading the papers anymore.

Our other favourite is scrambled eggs with chorizo and toast, and hopefully a few roast tomatoes or mushrooms. I like to keep it simple, it keeps everybody happy that way and the chorizo is my little indulgence that we always have, and which everyone loves. I’m quite funny with my breakfast, I always have toast on my plate but I don’t have the eggs on it, and then I eat my toast with manuka honey afterwards.

We recently moved from North London to South London so we’re in discovery mode at the moment. We’ve found there is a farmer’s market every other week, and then I often get stuff from work as we’ve got really great suppliers. We also go up to Brixton market for veggies, and also to Collette, in the market there, which is a great wine shop. Not that I drink wine for breakfast…

A lot of children seem to be able to get through life without experiencing what food is

When I’m cooking for Sonja I’m the same as everyone, I get a bit like ‘Oh God, I’m steaming broccoli and peas again’, because ultimately when you find things that bubby likes it’s easy to go with that. Then everyone now and then I go crazy and make risotto and meatballs and tomato sauce and freeze them. Sonja loves that. But it’s quite tough, there’s always so much to do and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping it simple either, as long as she’s eating happily and she’s bonny I’m not going to worry about it.

When I was growing up my grandmother and mother made proper custard and bread, we were cooked for every night of the week. At school I learnt basic cooking from primary age. I always understood the food thing; a lot of children now seem to be able to get through life without experiencing what food is. My grandparents had a vegetable patch and we had chickens. When I was 16 I worked in the deli and catering industry, that’s when I thought ‘I love this’. Then I carried on with school.

When I was 22 and moved to London I ended up working for Margot and Fergus Henderson as a dishwasher at their first restaurant, The French House Dining Room in Soho. I got really involved in the food side: the butchery, fish making bread and ice-cream. When their chef left they offered to train me.

One of the many nice things about having Sonja in my life is that I’ve calmed down my working hours now so that I don’t work evenings any more, generally, and I don’t work on weekends. Next year we’re opening another restaurant – The Modern Pantry, Finsbury Square, with a tapas bar as well as a cafe. It’s a similar kind of thing – I just cook one thing, which is fusion. Part of me is so excited but part of me is dreading it, it’s so much hard work starting a restaurant. You forget after the first time around – a bit like childbirth.

The perfect (gluten free) pancakes

300g gluten-free flour
380ml milk
3 tbsp sugar
Knob of butter
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs

For coconut version:
Use coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, and cook in coconut oil. For optimum healthiness, substitute the sugar for agave syrup.

Place flour and tablespoon of baking powder in a large bowl, add eggs. Add half of the milk and whisk, gradually adding in remainder of milk until you have the right consistency for thin batter. Fry in butter and serve simply with lemon and sugar, or bacon and maple syrup.

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