As food lovers and, by their own admission, most definitely not ‘skinny minnies’, the experience of attending their first slimming club left Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone feeling downcast.
For some dieters, it is the stark realisation of the journey that lies ahead after the first weigh-in that proves a shock.
But arriving back at their home on the Wirral back in 2016, Kate and Kay had bigger concerns: namely about the food their fellow dieters were putting on their plates.
There were lashings of good intentions, but a worrying reliance on expensive ‘low-cal’ ready meals; one dieter they encountered even wondered whether you could make frozen chips by putting potatoes in the freezer.
Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone (pictured above) vowed to help others after attending their first ever slimming club made them feel downcast
‘People just didn’t know how to cook or make healthy food,’ said Kay. ‘We came away feeling sad and thought how can we help?’
In today’s abstemious world of shunning dairy, ditching meat and eschewing carbs in favour of avocado, kale and coconut oil, the solution the couple alighted upon was a veritable breath of delicious, but surprisingly virtuous, fresh air.
Starting with cheesecake-stuffed strawberries (yes, really), they began to share their reassuringly normal, home-style, easy recipes for low-calorie meals on an online blog.
The strawberries were such a hit that their website crashed.
Three years on, and unless you’ve had your head under a tablecloth, you will probably be aware of the phenomenon that is Pinch Of Nom: the cookbook with a catchy name (nom, nom, nom, meaning yummy) that has not so much as a sprinkle of the millennial’s favourite avocado or trendy kale and only one small serving of coconut milk.
Pinch of Nom sold 210,506 copies in the first three days — 45,000 more than any other non-fiction work has sold in a single week since records began in 1998
Earlier this year, Pinch Of Nom (PON for short) became the UK’s fastest-selling non-fiction book, taking the culinary and literary worlds by surprise, but not the duo’s followers (1.5 million of them on Facebook alone).
It sold 210,506 copies in the first three days — 45,000 more than any other non-fiction work has sold in a single week since records began in 1998.
It made Pinch Of Nom, ‘100 slimming home-style recipes’, the ninth fastest-selling book (fiction or non) behind the likes of J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown and E.L. James.
Quite an achievement for two women who, just a few years ago, closed the restaurant they ran in Merseyside and, disillusioned with food, headed to Canada to work in technology.
In tomorrow’s Weekend magazine and in the Daily Mail next week, readers will have their chance to sample some of Kate and Kay’s delicious recipes.
But just what has made Pinch Of Nom such a success and who are the women behind the phenomenon?
Kate, 47, and Kay, 33, are a delightfully low-profile couple; they met online 14 years ago and have been together ever since.
Companies such as Lidl (pictured above) are now said to be queuing up to work with the pair
Their book, which is peppered with comments from fans (‘Bakewell tarts, OMG, these are ace,’ says one), is low on the aspirational lifestyle images we have come to expect from today’s clean-living gurus; in fact, they don’t feature at all. It’s just food: appetising, but very simply plated food.
The women are open about their own weight struggles — when Pinch Of Nom began, they spoke of having 30 st to lose between them — and happily share with their followers (they have their blog, Facebook and Instagram) the ups and occasional downs of their weight-loss journey.
So far Kate has lost 5st, and Kay 7st. They both state candidly that it’s an ‘ongoing battle’.
Kate is the trained chef of the two. She went to catering college in Birkenhead for two years before becoming head chef for a brewery chain at the age of 18, making her one of the youngest in the country, before leaving to head up her own restaurant — Cromwell’s in Irby, Merseyside — in 2000.
Kate’s concerned older sister, Lisa, had suggested she join a slimming club, so she joined Slimming World (logo above)
After meeting Kay, the two started to work together, with Kay front of house, learning her culinary skills from Kate. The restaurant was renowned for using fresh local produce — so fresh, in fact, that it came straight from the couple’s own garden.
A move to bigger premises in Wallasey followed, but they had to close because Kate needed to spend more time with her parents, who were in bad health.
The pair have also appeared on Steve Wrights show (Steve pictured above)
They have since described the effect of the closure as ‘like mourning a child’.
Kate says: ‘When we closed the restaurant we kind of fell out of love with food and went off to do something totally unrelated.’
The couple upped sticks and moved to Toronto, and then Orlando, Florida, where they both worked in the very different world of technology before returning home to the Wirral.
As it turned out, the online marketing and social media sphere Kay excelled in would be valuable when it came to running a blog.
The Pinch Of Nom story began as a method of sharing recipes with friends. The first recipes, apparently, were for decidedly non-diet-friendly Yorkshire puddings and ribs and featured lots of cakes.
‘Originally, Pinch Of Nom was intended to be a website dedicated to absolute treat meals,’ reads a post on their website.
‘We’re talking loads of butter, sugar by the wheelbarrow and more cheese than is physically possible to eat. If there is such a thing.’
But, ‘before the stodge fest’ could begin, Kate’s concerned older sister, Lisa, kick-started an about-face when she suggested that perhaps the couple should consider ‘losing some weight’.
They have been signed by publisher Bluebird, the company behind fitness and diet guru Joe Wicks (pictured above)
‘We used to have a restaurant and when you cook for people every day, you don’t want to cook for yourself, so we got into some really bad eating habits,’ said Kay.
A visit to a branch of Slimming World followed, spearheading a remarkably swift ascent into the literary record books.
The name of the blog was inspired by Lisa. ‘She hates it when people say “nom, nom, nom” when they’re enjoying food. So, the name was chosen purely to annoy her,’ says Kate.
‘She works with us now, and I don’t think she hates it as much as she used to,’ adds Kay.
Sainsbury’s (above) is another retailer which is also eyeing a deal with the duo
At first, the blog was a sideline. Kay was doing freelance consultancy work and overseeing the technical side of things while Kate was conjuring up recipes like those cheesecake-stuffed strawberries (low-fat cream cheese and digestives; the recipe is in tomorrow’s Weekend magazine) and devising ingenious ways to cook chicken using diet Cola — all in a tiny kitchen that measured only 9ft by 6ft.
As their waistlines began to shrink, their internet fan base grew. Within six months, the website was attracting more than 60,000 people a month, and little by little the Nom business started to encroach from the kitchen through the rest of their shared home.
The dining room became a studio before they invested in a unit with a bigger kitchen and a dedicated studio space.
Fans have been drawn by the refreshing normality of the food. The blog and the book both have a section on ‘fakeaways’. There’s chicken balti, doner kebab, even a cheeseburger pizza — with meatballs and actual cheese on top; and it’s only 343 calories a serving.
There’s an entire section in the book on sweet treats that include tiramisu, chocolate eclairs and sticky toffee pudding.
Nom, nom and nom.
To keep the calorie count low, the couple, who sweetly declare they ‘love each other to pieces’, have gone all old school: forget coconut oil and the like, they deploy low-calorie cooking spray, reduced-fat spread and sweetener.
‘If it swims it slims,’ is a liberally applied mantra on their website, referring to the low-calorie benefits of fish dishes, but there is no absence of meat, or indeed anything except high-calorie food.
So the Bakewell tart is made using low-calorie tortilla wraps and the Full English Breakfast (minus the black pudding, of course) is served in a wrap rather than piled high with toast.
‘Switching out a few ingredients has a massive impact on the calorie, fat or sugar content of food,’ they say.
‘It tastes just as delicious — especially when flavours are enhanced with clever spicing and seasoning.’
Readers of the book are told most of the recipes can be prepared in less than 30 minutes. Making food that tasted good was the driving force for Kate, as was being able to buy everything locally.
‘All we ever wanted to do with Pinch Of Nom is to help people create delicious, home-cooked slimming meals that don’t taste bland or boring,’ say the couple, who genuinely seem astonished by how their brand has taken off, even if it does mean them often working 100-hour weeks.
One of their unique selling points, of course, is the fact that like their fans they have their own weight struggles. Kay has spoken of bracing herself for negative comments about their weight, but their honesty is attractive.
‘We are not skinny minnies,’ is an oft-repeated phrase. ‘We’re in it, too. We’re not poster girls, not the type of people that will appear on the front of magazines,’ they told the Irish Times.
‘We are just normal people who are trying to do something which, to be honest, is one of the most difficult things people will do in their lifetime.’
On Steve Wright’s Radio 2 show, Kay said of their appeal: ‘We are normal people; we are two fat chefs. We are not dictating to people what slimming plan you should use or how much avocado or coconut oil you should eat.
‘They are recipes the whole family can enjoy, because all too often it’s one person in a family on a diet and it can feel so, so alone.
‘They are meals that can make you feel you’re not a diet, because who wants to eat two cabbage leaves and cabbage soup or whatever the newest fad is?’
A team of four now work on devising recipes, of which there are more than 500 online, and the couple have taught themselves everything from making videos to food photography.
‘Everything we’ve done, we taught ourselves,’ Kay told her local newspaper earlier this month. ‘When we started doing this [the book] last year, we thought: “We know three people who are going to buy it.”
‘But for us it’s always been about the food. None of this is about us. That’s why there are no photos of us in the book, no real photos of us on the website — it’s always been about the food.’
Aside from their massive Facebook following, there are more than 800,000 members of the private Facebook recipe group where members share advice and tips.
It’s one of the elements of the whole enterprise that gives the women the most pleasure. ‘The reason we do this is so people don’t feel like they’re on their own — that’s why we’ve got the Facebook group, so they can ask for support,’ states Kay.
‘To be able to provide a safe space where people can ask questions, without fear of being judged or laughed at [is important].’
The pair are genuinely altruistic. Every Christmas for the past eight years they have cooked Christmas lunch for a group of older people living in their area — a three-course meal along with a party bag including a turkey sandwich, mince pie, scone with butter and cream and some biscuits (home-baked, of course).
On occasion, Pinch Of Nom’s very own (shrinking) two fat ladies ask what recipes the group would like to see. There’s a select gathering of 200 members who put new recipes to the test and 20 lucky community members put the recipes in the latest book (another is in the pipeline) to the test.
Among the brands queuing up to work with the pair are Lidl, Kenwood, Sainsbury’s and Hellmann’s.
They have been signed by publisher Bluebird, the company behind fitness and diet guru Joe Wicks, and a food planner is due out in June.
Their success has, however, been tinged by sadness. Kate’s mother died in January after a long battle with ill health — just as the pair were about to launch their book.
On Twitter, where PON has a slightly smaller following (10,000), Kate and Kay describe themselves as ‘2 lady chefs on their weight-loss journey creating an epic adventure shared by many’.
The culinary world has already had two fat ladies (a partnership that was not quite as jolly as viewers might have thought) — and two hairy bikers. What next? Two camera-shy, less-than-skinny-minnies for whom it is most definitely all about the food . . .