450 Years

MY CITY LIFE: ED SMITH

The City lawyer turned food writer on juggling life as a self-employed parent and finding ways to define his working day

06 April, 2021

Where in London do you live and work?

I live in Islington and, most of the time, work from home (don’t we all now?). I moved here in 2007.


What’s your earliest memory of London, or first impression of the city?

Beyond sightseeing and museums as a child, I think my first proper impression is probably from when I was a second-year student visiting the City for law firm vacation scheme interviews. London felt big, shiny, bustling, important. Back then the streets were paved with gold.


What makes London special to you?

In normal times, the variety and the opportunities to eat, drink, do, see, play just about anything, among what feels like pretty much everyone. Also, I’m immersed in London’s food culture and restaurants, and the evolution of that over the past 15 years has been remarkable.


How would you describe London in three words?

Ready to re-open.

What’s your usual morning ritual and has it changed much in the past year?

It’s aspirational stuff, you may want to take notes: be woken at a horrendously early hour by three year old; spend what feels like an eternity attempting to appease, feed and dress him; eventually do the nursery drop-off; breathe, coffee, some breakfast; glance at to-do list; waste time on Instagram; accidentally snooze; panic that nursery finishes soon. 


What do you do to keep a good work-life balance?

I’m self-employed, and I cook and write about food for a living. Sounds bliss, and often is, but it also makes it easy for work to spread across the day and week with few boundaries or breaks; I’m certain I spend more hours ‘at work’ than when I was a solicitor at one of the Magic Circle law firms. Being my own master – and being able to juggle my work around being a parent – is both a blessing and a curse. I just try to enforce downtime on myself, usually based around exercise and/or a break from my phone.


What activities, habits or rituals have you found help you to maintain good mental health through challenging times?

I have to exercise regularly, otherwise I notice a drop in mood. I try to speak openly with my wife. And – on a more serious note than my response about morning routine – something I’ve done since changing careers and becoming self-employed nearly a decade ago, is to make sure I shower and take a walk round the block every morning before starting work; and to properly wind down every night before bed. I think it’s really important to productivity and well-being to have a defined working day, particularly when the physical space doesn’t change.

I try to enforce downtime on myself, usually based around exercise and/or a break from my phone


Are there any resources that you use, and would recommend, to help keep a positive state of mind?

I can’t honestly say I regularly use any particular resource, but I find being outside helps.


What do you like to do to relax?

Cook using other people’s recipes. Catch up with friends over food cooked by other people. Visit green space. Play with my son.


What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 6 months?

Caroline Eden’s Red Sands; reportage and recipes through Central Asia, from Hinterland to Heartland – a beguiling journey across a region that feels very foreign, using food as a device to explore culture, history, individuals and humanity. It’s utterly fascinating.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Be good.


What thought always puts you in a good mood?

Anything* to do with my son (*apart from the sleep thing).


Ed Smith is a cook and food writer. A former City lawyer, Ed retrained at Westminster Kingsway catering college and gained cheffing experience at a handful of prominent restaurants before settling into pop-ups, consulting, recipe development and writing. He is the author of the acclaimed On the Side (Bloomsbury 2017), the best-selling The Borough Market Cookbook (Hodder and Stoughton 2018), and the award-winning food blog rocketandsquash.com. His next cookbook, Crave: Recipes Arranged by Flavour, to Suit Your Mood and Appetite will be published in May this year and can be pre-ordered here.

The Royal Exchange is partnering with Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest to encourage conversations about mental health, wellbeing and community spirit. For further information on Mind in the City, its support services – a range of innovative and collaborative services to support people’s mental and physical wellbeing, resilience and recovery – and how you can get involved with campaigning, fundraising or volunteering, please visit: mindchwf.org.uk

Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest is part of the national Mind network, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing difficulties, visit mind.org.uk to access information about a broad range of topics and services, designed to help you overcome the challenges of this difficult time