A Conversation with Halen Môn's Jess Lea-Wilson

To celebrate the launch of her family’s brand new recipe book, Sea Salt: A Perfectly Seasoned Cookbook, we sat down with Jess Lea-Wilson from Halen Môn to discuss all things food, sea salt, and coffee.

Jess is an independent designer, writer and marketer with a great passion for food and writing. She has worked closely with her family through Halen Môn for many years, and Sea Salt is the beautiful product of this ongoing collaboration. In its pages, you can feel as well as see the Lea-Wilsons’ love for their tiny island of Anglesey and of their craft; Halen Môn sea salt.

What was your involvement in the making of Sea Salt?

The book has been a real collaboration. I have two brothers who both work at Halen Môn in various capacities but also have other jobs. Really, all five of us, both my parents too, all contributed different recipes to it.

We worked with an amazing friend who is also a proper chef, so she helped us refine the recipes and make sure they were easy to follow and make them the very best that they could be. Her name’s Anna Shepherd. It was a real collaboration. I designed the cover, as well, so that was my extra bit.

After making salt for so long, what made your family want to make a recipe book?

I think it felt like a really natural thing for us to want to do. We’re all genuinely such food lovers—the impolite word would be greedy, I think. We certainly all love eating and, when we get together, because we all live all over the place, the first thing we do is plan what we’re going to eat. My sister-in-law always takes the mick out of us because she says we’re planning the next meal before we’ve finished the first one. Which is fair, it’s absolutely fair.

We’re the kind of people that will book a holiday to go to a specific place where they produce something amazing, or there’s an amazing food market or restaurant. We really love eating and we love cooking as well. So it felt like a natural thing to do. And we were really lucky, the publishers actually approached us to write it. So things kind of clicked. 

How long was the book in the making?

It took about 14 months from the beginning of writing it and then sending it off to print. A fair while back.

What’s your personal favourite recipe from the book?

Have you ever eaten crispy sage leaves? You deep fry them in a really light batter and then you sprinkle them with just a bit of sea salt and they are the most amazing way to start a meal. With a cocktail, a G & T, a glass of wine. They’re just absolutely delicious. I always think the beginning of a meal is the best bit, because you’re really looking forward to it. All the promise of what’s to come.

What’s your favourite, most unexpected use for salt?

One of the things that I’ve learned from my friend Anna, the chef who was really involved, is this technique of salting, sugaring and then roasting lemon in really thin slices, and it’s so unbelievably delicious. It’s kind of sweet, sour and sherbety; the salt does something to the lemon and makes it something magical.

What’s the best weird food combination you’ve ever tried?

Everyone has a different idea of ‘weird’, I suppose. I think olive oil and chocolate is a really delicious combination, or olive oil ice cream with just a little bit of salt. I suppose that’s fairly unusual. There’s also a chocolate bar made by a chocolate company called Rococo which is absolutely amazing—that’s chocolate, rosemary and sea salt, and that is top-notch.

Describe Anglesey as a taste, a smell and a feeling.

So I grew up in Anglesey and then I moved away for quite some time and have only just moved back. For me, a feeling has got to be nostalgia because I have so many childhood memories, but that’s obviously a very personal one.

Smell would be an amazing fish and chip shop right on the beach, so you’re getting all the seaweedy, salty air and the chips, absolutely 10/10.

Taste… my dad grows a lot of the vegetables that he and my mum eat and then, by extension, that I borrow/nick. So anything that he’s freshly dug is amazing. New potatoes are coming out at the moment, or he grows a lot of really delicious radishes—serve those with a lot of butter and just a little bit of smokey salt. Absolutely delicious.

What do you listen to while you’re cooking?

I am a podcast fiend, so I’ll always have one on. I listen to anything and everything. Adam Buxton, Off Menu, Reply All, Desert Island Discs, all the big hitters. I’m super into comedy and there’s one with the comedians Tom Allen and Suzi Ruffell and it’s called Like Minded Friends, and it’s basically just them wittering on, but I really enjoy it. And there’s another food one called Hoovering with a comedian called Jessica Fostekew, which I highly recommend. She has some great guests.

Describe your relationship with coffee in three words.

I do genuinely wake up and look forward to it. I think maybe “My morning highlight”.

What’s your coffee order?

Oat milk flat white.

How do you brew coffee at home?

I’ve got a V60. On the weekend I had a lot of friends stay and we used a Chemex which is a lovely thing to do, but in the week it’s much more rushed.

What are you most excited about right now?

I’ve got tickets to Glastonbury, that’s pretty exciting!

We’ve also got a lot of guest chefs coming to cook at Halen Môn over the summer. I’m just in the process of finalising them all, which is exciting. We’ll start selling tickets in the next month or two.

 

Thanks again to Jess for taking the time to chat with us! If you’d like to try your hand at making Jess’ favourite crispy fried sage leaves, or if you’d like to master the art of Sauerkraut, Sea Salt: A Perfectly Seasoned Cookbook is available to buy now.

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