Interview with Oliver McCabe, The Fuel Food Cookbook

fuelfood cookbook cover

Oliver McCabe General Manager of Select Stores & Fuel Food Whole Food Kitchen & Deli, Dalkey; Chef, Nutrition Advisor, TV Personality, Writer & Speaker on Health and Nutrition.

You’ve just launched your first cookbook, “The Fuel Food Cookbook”. What was your inspiration for the book?

The book is aimed at many of my customers who are trying to make healthy food for their families on a budget and don’t have time to be stressing out over complex recipe books and ingredients. I include 130 recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don’t believe in fancy, hard to get ingredients. I list 20 ingredients that are store cupboard essentials.

I concentrate less on calorie counting and more on healthy eating, which keeps people more focused on fuel from food and eating the right foods to give them enough energy throughout the day.

The book is all about food combining and I cover the 4 building blocks. You have your nutrients from protein (plant/animal), your essential fats (like avocados and eggs), dietary fibre (grains, oats, quinoa, millet) and your Low GL complex carbohydrates. I combine them in each recipe.


What did you set out to achieve with this book?

I wanted it to encompass the atmosphere and ambience of Select Stores over the last 60 years.


How does it differ from other healthy eating recipe books?

It’s the first recipe book from a health food store and it’s very strong from a “whole foods” perspective.

It’s also the first recipe book to mention all the allergens in the recipes, which is something I’m particularly proud of.

It is now an EU requirement to display all allergenic ingredients used in the production and preparation of food to alert people who have an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance to any of the 14 listed allergens. I did a FETAC Level 6 HACCP course in allergy awareness and I wondered why this was not being incorporated into cookbooks and decided to include it in mine.

Some of the most positive feedback so far has come from picky eaters and from people who are afraid of particular ingredients. One 14-year old girl told me that she had used my cookbook to cook dinner for her family for the first time because she trusted the ingredients and that really meant a lot to me.


Your background and experience is of being a shopkeeper in a health food store so being an author is a new departure for you. How did you find the whole experience of writing a cookbook?

It’s been a real labour of love for me. It’s been 2 years in the making, during which time I’ve been dealing with my own struggles around food and emotional eating and dealing with life circumstances. When we’re dealing with hard life events it can be tempting to turn to the wrong foods for comfort but the right foods can sustain us both mentally and physically.

I was only a novice as a writer so I needed to be disciplined. I got some good advice from Gordon Snell, Maeve Binchy’s husband, about scheduling and meeting deadlines. I took my time with it and it took me over 2 years in total. I set aside 1 day a week to do each recipe.

It’s very different finally having the book in your hands, rather than seeing it as type on a screen. It’s a very personal experience, almost like having a baby.


You include an introduction about nutrition and the book strikes an interesting balance between nutrition and taste. Is it really a health book and recipe book rolled into one?

I wanted the book to be very honest and give some useful information about nutrition but I also wanted to keep it simple. In the shop customers were always telling me what kind of information they needed so that gave me a great insight into what I needed to include.


You also explain the nutritional benefits of different ingredients and give hints and tips as you go along (like preserving fresh tarragon in vinegar or that chia seeds are high in omega-3, which we need to boost serotonin to keep us feeling happy), which is a really nice way of doing it, as it’s education as a “by the way”, rather than having to sit down and read a health book.

I didn’t want it to be too technical and too much about nutrition. There are plenty of other books out there, like Patrick Holford’s, that have that covered very well. I wanted to avoid the “nutri-babble” and make it easy to digest. I also wanted to give people their money’s worth and I wanted them to get good value out of it.


What kind of recipes does the book include?

It covers the full range of food groups and recipes for the 3 main meals of the day plus desserts and snacks. You’ll find recipes for smoothies and juices, breakfast, brunch, wholefood salads, soups, sauces and purees, homemade veggie burgers, dinners, snacks and desserts. I don’t believe in leaving anything out. It’s all about variety, balance and moderation.


There are some ingredients that pop up over and over in the book. What are your personal favourites?

There’s a mixture of both my own and my customers’ favourite ingredients in the book. Things like Himalayan fine rock salt, coconut oil, spelt, maple syrup and chia seeds, are ingredients I use a lot myself in my cooking.

I was conscious of not including any hard to source ingredients and most of them should be available in your local supermarket or health store. The fact that they appear in several of the recipes also means that you’ll get plenty of use out of them so they’re ingredients that are well worth having in your cupboards and they’ll be good value in the long run. 

I don’t believe in completely cutting things out of your diet – I’m more a believer in balance and everything in moderation and I don’t think you should rely too heavily on any one particular food group. I find it interesting when a particular ingredient becomes very popular just because of the latest fashionable diet and this pushes up the price of it for everyone else. At the moment there’s a debate within Paleo circles about whether quinoa is a grain or a seed so that’s become less popular, while the price of nuts has shot up.

My book really does encompass “whole food” in its recipes. I’m proud of the fact that it’s a real “health food” cookbook and that it’s stayed true to its roots. There are enough niche cookbooks out there for vegans and vegetarians so I wanted to keep mine broad and general. I also didn’t want to leave any food group out. I’m aware that people have a livelihood to protect when it comes to food so it’s important to represent the complete spectrum of good food.


You include some really nice treats too (blueberry and vanilla spelt muffins, almond butter chocolate mousse, chia overnight mouse, naughty gluten-free Moroccan orange cake). Can we really indulge ourselves while still eating healthily?

Absolutely. I’m a believer in 3 meals a day and 2 snacks and the healthy treats fall into the snacks category. Many people skip meals to lose weight but I believe that breakfast rules the roost because that’s when your digestive system is working at its best and that’s when you get the most nutrients in. If you skip breakfast, that leads to cravings and that’s when you end up eating rubbish.


The book has a forward from Patrick Holford and includes an introduction from Robert Fisk. Neven Maguire also gave you a shout out on Twitter. How does it feel to be endorsed by such big names?

I was delighted to have their support for the book. Patrick Holford was a hero of mine growing up. I got to meet him 5 years ago when he popped into the shop with his wife. We got to know each other and did some events together and we’ve been friends ever since.

Robert Fisk has been a lifelong customer of Select Stores and he wrote a lovely piece, which really captures the atmosphere of the shop in an almost cinematic way. I was very touched by that and I’m very grateful.

It was great to get support from someone like Neven. People like him because he’s honest and genuine and that’s what I’m aiming for with these recipes too.


The photography in the book is absolutely gorgeous. It includes great photos of Select Stores, images of beautiful scenery in and around Dalkey and mouthwatering food shots. Who did that?

I was very keen to include shots that show off Dalkey because it is so beautiful and I was lucky to have some great photographers on board. Rob Kerkvliet from A Fox In The Kitchen was fantastic and food stylist Orla Neligan worked wonders to give the food shots a natural and rustic look. I was amazed by how little interference was needed. I was expecting all sorts of things being sprayed on the food but there was no need.

We didn’t have to use any filters or special effects on the shots. We were lucky enough that the building next door to the shop was vacant at the time and it was filled with lots of natural light so it made for a perfect (and very convenient) location. We were able to cook the food in our own kitchen and just pass it in.


What has the reaction to the book been like so far? It was just listed in the top 5 of non-fiction hardbacks in Ireland in the Sunday Independent and it’s a bestseller in Northern Ireland so you must be pretty pleased with that.

The feedback from customers has been great so far. There are some really positive reviews on Amazon and it seems to speak to people and to resonate with people in very individual ways. Some people have been boasting about all the weight it’s helped them lose, which wasn’t really my intention but it’s a nice bonus all the same. There’s plenty of positive feedback, which is spreading by word of mouth so that’s great.

The feedback from the press, the media and the food industry has been equally great. Musgrave have taken a copy to use as a guide book for their staff and customers so that’s a really positive sign and it’s great that people will be able to get those sort of ingredients in their local supermarkets.

Farmers Journal have also been very positive about it, which is great to see. Many cookbooks are aimed at city dwellers, who can just pop out for fancy ingredients. I wanted this to be equally relevant to people who live in the country. There are many who like to paint people in the health food sector as quacks so I was delighted that the Irish Times have also got behind the book.


What kind of things are you doing to promote the book?

I’ve been really enjoying promoting the book. It’s a new thing for me and something I may never experience again so I want to really enjoy the whole experience.

I’ve been travelling to bookshops all around Ireland. I’ve just come back from Northern Ireland and I got a great welcome there and really positive feedback. Up there I’ve been promoting the book the old fashioned way by talking to people and they seem to have really taken to the book, which is great as I wouldn’t be known up there the way I am at home. It’s now a bestseller in Northern Ireland, which is a great stepping-stone to the UK market so I’m really looking forward to taking the book on tour to the UK.

My publishers, Mercier Press, have been amazing. They’re a great local Irish-based publishing company and they’ve been a great support to me throughout the whole process

I’m looking forward to getting more hands on, with some cooking demos of recipes from the book. I’m doing some cooking demos on the 29th of March at Cooks Academy in Dublin and I’ll be doing Fuel Food Feasts at Select Stores (with wine, as I love my wine) at the end of April.


Do you see another cookbook in your future? If so, what angle would you be interested in exploring next?

My publishers did tell me to keep an ear open on my book tour for ideas for my next book and, while I’m not ready just yet, not for a few years anyway, one thing that did keep coming up is the need for a good teenage cookbook.

It would be great to have a cookbook aimed at 14/15 year olds to help grow their knowledge and confidence in the kitchen. There’s no reason why teenagers couldn’t cook the family meal a few times a week. It would take the pressure off their parents and help them to become more independent at the same time.


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