Restaurateur • Chef • Author • Mother • Wife • Umami Expert • Pursuer of Deliciousness

ARCHIVE ––––––––––––––––––––––––––

March 2016 | DONT' LOOK BACK

Laura's latest book
2015 • Ryland, Peters & Small

Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by flavours and the feelings they evoke. I can recall literally 'tasting' my life long before I could even voice those tastes. Over the years, flavours and feelings have become rather more than just a fascination for me, I'm now lucky enough to pursue a career in which the two meet, somtimes in conflict, but never apart!

Don't Look Back
March 16, 2016 / London
Laura Santtini

If I was having a Bob Dylan moment, my Don’t Look Back clip of the last few years read something like this:

Started. Happy. Rewarded. Awarded. Liberated. Dicey. Angels. Investor. Earthquake. No Factory. No Stock. No Insurance. No worries. New factory. New Launch. Nobu. Excitement. Vegetarian. Umami. Tsunami. No ingredients. No Launch. Credit Crunch. De-list. Re-list. Mailing list. To-do-list. Grindstone. Nose down. Illness. Lucky Break. Foot Break. Tick Bite. Bed Rest. Restaurant. Refurb. Arm Break. Give Me A Break.

Not the synopsis for a low budget farce, these things actually happened, and somewhat remarkably I was able to cram the last two lines into 2015. Scared to move, I retreated to the bat cave, where I hung suspended somewhere between prescribed bed rest, hibernation and torpor. I cannot remember another time in my adult life where the universe gave me full permission to stop.
This unexpected and forced contemplative convalescence became as soul searching as it was healing. It is very hard to just hang around, hopping, popping pills and hoping things will get better. At first I gorged on bowls of comforting lemon chicken soup, box sets and hummus, but once the worst was over, I figured getting truly better would mean getting busy again. Depression is not your friend when on the mend. The black dog and my discombobulated hormones were making me barking mad.

I set about losing myself in ‘flow’. Positive flow comes when you do something positive that you can lose yourself in, and unlike beloved box sets which were wonderful when I was really sick, task led flow is more creative and nourishing. So between a rock and hard place I wrote a book on my favourite fifth taste, umami, which I not surprisingly entitled ‘At Home with Umami’, which I was -literally. I was so happy to learn that shortly after the book release in October, America’s NPR kindly voted the fruits of my flow as one of the top 11 cookbooks of 2015, thank you so much T. Susan Chang you made my year!
In the sprit of the Dylan disasters, this wonderful news was soon followed by the fact that my book was now out of stock on and stuck on a trailer waiting to get into the Amazon warehouse in Illinois, which was apparently bursting at the seems. We sadly did not get into the warehouse in time to meet any of the holiday demand, there is a ‘go with the flow’ joke in there somewhere but I am still not quite able to see the funny side.

Once I could stand on two feet again without crutches, I moved from the bed to the stove to see if I could cram the flavours of favourite family recipes into useful and time saving foil fresh pouches. My Taste #5 Umami Sugo sauces launched in Waitrose in October, they are handy single serve pouches packed with real Italian sauces, made with real Italian tomatoes, in Italy and at under 70 calories a shot they make the ideal topping for pasta, grains, fish, meat, veg or chicken. Hard to type, let alone believe, but no sooner than the Sugos were in the bag, I slipped over, (not on a tomato) and broke my elbow.

Fortunately for me it was my left arm, allowing me to stir, but very challenging to chop none the less. Again there is a ‘wanna hand’ joke in there, but still not laughing. The upshot was that a really useful set of slow cooker ‘simmer sauces’ was born and they are called Pot Shots, and are scheduled for launch in Waitrose after the Spring break and again coming to the US soon (touch wood ;).

It is bloody challenging getting listings for new products in what is more often than not a pay to play industry. When you are a ‘Mom & Pop’ start up ,as is my business, it is almost impossible. The only currency I have against the Heinz’s, the Unilever’s and the Schwartz’s is that I am a person and I have passion and that I spend my margin on ingredients that are technically not viable business wise. I am also quite good at flavour, and spend as much time on making my flavours look good as I do on making them taste good, even if on occasion, the budget has meant drawing the packaging myself.
Bomba XXX
There have been no sharks or dragons on my journey. Just one kind angel who remarkably still helped after the factory and all my uninsured stock disappeared into a crack in the ground. I can with hindsight honestly say that selling my home to launch a food business in the face of a global recession, was quite possibly one of the craziest things I have ever done, (aside from climbing up that ladder half asleep and breaking my arm to change the time on the clock!). What crazy person sells their home to create a range of magical (and therefore premium) scratch cooking ingredients in a world where even people have become disposable? Talk about only fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and now that the initial ‘rush’ is over, I have begun to see what the effects sustained and relentless stress has had on my health. But never mind ‘strepression’ (yes I invented that word – moving into psychology next. I mean, I still own a couch.) look at all the fun I am having!

Meanwhile back in the boardroom. Selling delicious ideas from the heart and soul in the boardroom, can be one of the most dispiriting things that can happen to a person, especially a passionate person with their skin in the game and their beliefs, hopes and dreams on the line. My only advice, whatever the business, is if you do not stack up on the spread-sheets, do the next best thing and spread the love. I know, totally insane when you look at the image below, but I have found that amongst all that grey flannel hides the odd angel, albeit margin maintained.
These are people who within the confines of corporate dare to take a chance, even if the numbers do not always immediately stack up. In umami synergy 1+1=8 and that is perhaps why I have seen over and over how in the long game, it is these risk taking angels who rise from the ranks and create their own success with the those six extra flavour points they earned for their risk adverse corporations.

I use this piece of earnest prose to sieve the angels from the suits. You have no idea, how hard it is to stand up and read an essay like this to the class. I have to be careful what I wear, as no one likes a sweaty girl in the boardroom.



I created this range firstly because I needed it. Like many parents, I am a working mother with one foot in the past, one foot in the future and continuously split in the present. Torn between the family values I desperately wish to instill, the nourishing meals I want to make, and the reality of today’s time constraints.

How could I slowly cook all the love from my Italian grandmother’s ragu, which would simmer for hours, into a quick Bolognese in minutes? How could I magic up a warming winter stew and taste the comfort without the chaos? I think I hate the mess more than the weeknight cooking, so it was not just about the cooking times, it was also about the mess factor. After all, who wants to come home from a hard day at work and not only start cooking, but worse still having to clear the kitchen and the table, rinse everything, and if you are lucky enough to have one, stacking the dishwasher. I like to keep this part to the minimum, two pans max, chopping board, knife, wooden spoon… at this point in the day all I want to do is hop in the shower and then get into bed with a cup of tea and a book or telly or i-pad or all three until I fall asleep, which usually happens in a matter of minutes.

No, I was not going to be defeated in this feat to feed those I love the old fashioned way, and get into that bed as quickly as possible, happy in my heart that I had done my part. I needed an all flavour no mess arsenal of quality scratch cooking tools that I would be proud to feed those I love with – I call it cupboard love or love in the cupboard. The ingredients would be high quality, and as clean as my conscience. The deal was if my grandmother could not or would not have used it, it was not going in. As I cooked and ground and stirred and splashed I knew that once I had this in the bag, I would never have to mess my kitchen up again on a week night. With the help of just an onion these slow flavours would be the slowest tasting fast food money could buy.

These magic potions packed with umami deliciousness would allow me to buy what I call a weekly ‘jeans and white t-shirt’ shop which I would be able to accessorise at the last minute with my slow cooking flavours. In my home this shop looks something like this: seasonal vegetables, mixed proteins in trays (skinless boneless chicken thighs, lean ground beef/mince, fish fillets, chops) basmati rice, dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, couscous, sweet potatoes, potatoes.

I am a big believer in the saying you are what you eat, therefore your family is what you feed them. I prefer to buy to the best ingredients I can afford and perhaps eat a little less meat, but when we do I make sure it is the best I am able to provide for my family. There is no doubt that quality ingredients need quality flavours for a result that is so much more than the simple parts that make it up. Fill out stews with a can of cooked beans or chickpeas and chop in chunky seasonal veg for healthful mid week meals that taste like a hug in a bowl.

Invest in your friends, family and yourself and they will thank you for it, but above all when you are cosy in that bed in years to come and they are all out and about doing the things you no longer have the desire or the energy for, you will be able to look yourself in the i-pad and know that whatever they say, you will know, cross your heart, that you did your best.

Fyi. Flannel Angels were found to be hiding in the Albertson Group, Waitrose, Whole Foods, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Selfridges and Dean & Deluca. Non flannel angels were also found in the thousands of small speciality stores around the world, they reach out daily and I am truly grateful.

Back to my horribilis annus; I have decided the only way to get over it (referring to last year) was to get rid of every trace of it. To that end (excuse the pun) I am currently on day 6 of one of Jason Vale’s (The Juice Master) brilliant juice feasts. I am supporting this with colonic hydrotherapy (google it, yes it’s not nice) and I can honestly say that my brain and my heart are slowing beginning to clear.
Once cleansed, mind, body and soul, I will move on to my ‘Delicious Maintenance’. Following my ‘New Year New You’ Flavour Diet in the Sunday Times Style Magazine, I have been asked so many times by users of my products to devise a quick, uncomplicated flavour packed plan, using affordable simple ingredients for healthful weight maintenance or weight loss. I think with the help of a top nutritionist we may just have cracked it. I am going to test it out myself as a healthful segue from my juice feast to everyday eating. I am super excited and since we know the plan is technically and flavour-wise right, what I will be testing for is the SATIS-FACTOR. If after one month I am still feeling satisfied and no longer drawn to comfort eating, I will release it on this website for free to all those who would like to try it for themselves.

This beautifully photographed programme (photos by my husband Christopher, check out his work at is all about good looking, healthful, flavour packed meals that can be prepared in less than ten minutes. Leave the flavours to us and you can keep all the flattery for yourself.

To sum things up, what I am trying to say in my blog and in my work, is that I have not have found the solution for that torn feeling between what we hope to be and what we are able to be, but I have, at a stretch found a way to make life more delicious every day.

From my heart to yours with love,