Features & Stories

Behind the Cookbook: Café Cooking – From The Parlour to Cambo Gardens

With an updated edition of cult classic, The Parlour Café Cookbook, released on 4 July, ckbk spoke to author and café queen Gillian Veal and Kitchen Press’s Emily Dewhurst about Café Cooking: From The Parlour to Cambo Gardens. The book is now available in full on ckbk.

Since opening The Parlour Café in 2005, Gillian Veal become a key figure in Dundee’s café culture. In 2019, she expanded her culinary influence to Cambo House in St Andrews, where the Scottish estate's produce inspires her innovative dishes.

Emily Dewhurst founded Kitchen Press in 2011, starting with The Parlour Café Cookbook. This partnership, born from a simple idea over wine, has led to several celebrated titles, each capturing the essence of their culinary subjects. ckbk gets the lowdown.

By Ramona Andrews

Gillian Veal’s culinary journey began in December 2005 when she established The Parlour Café in Dundee, Scotland. Fresh back from London and eager to carve out a niche in her hometown, Gillian saw a significant gap in the market for fresh, seasonal food.

The café's unique charm quickly captivated the locals, creating a community hub known for its welcoming atmosphere and delicious, home-cooked meals, a popular haunt for university and art college students. Gillian’s approach to café cooking reflects her personal style of hospitality: “I love café cooking because it’s more typical of my own style of hospitality. I cook in my cafés as I would for friends in my own home.”


Gillian Veal's Turkish Baked Pie from Café Cooking.


From The Parlour Café to Cambo Gardens

In 2019, Gillian expanded her culinary footprint to Cambo House, part of the historic Cambo Estate. The estate's environment deeply resonated with her. “You can’t help being swept along by the seasons at Cambo, and the gardeners are always around to ask questions of, so it’s a place where I can learn and watch and plan creatively,” she says. The connection to the estate and its natural beauty was immediate and profound. “I fell in love with the environment, the relaxed bohemian feel of the place, the wildness of the gardens and the lovely team who maintain them.”

Cambo Estate’s Head Gardener, Katherine Taylor, along with volunteers and trainees, cultivated an edible garden that provided a direct source of inspiration for Gillian’s dishes. “This produce, walked or barrowed 20 meters and delivered to the café’s back door, provides the daily inspiration for Gillian,” writes Keri Ivins of Cambo Heritage Trust in the forward to the new edition of the book.


Summer Slaw from Café Cooking by Gillian Veal

Spinach, Turmeric and Mint from Café Cooking by Gillian Veal


Gillian’s culinary creativity flourished with access to Cambo’s seasonal produce. She reminisces about the joys and challenges of integrating fresh garden produce into her menu, such as the Chilli Con Cambo made with homegrown tomatoes and beans: “you get into a different rhythm of cooking and so you automatically start working within the seasons,” she says.

“A year in advance, gardeners would start to say to me, ‘What would you like to see growing?’ And the garden has a river running through it and I couldn't find decent watercress. So I said ‘look, you’ve got a running river, let’s see if you can grow some watercress’. And they did and it’s the most amazing watercress ever.” 

Gillian told us how having a good base recipe means the you can “switch up at any time of the year with whatever’s growing then”, for example with her slaw, tortilla or potato salad, such as using cavolo nero rather than fresh spinach.


Chilli Con Cambo from Café Cooking by Gillian Veal


The origins of Kitchen Press 

Emily Dewhurt founded Kitchen Press in 2011 with the original The Parlour Café Cookbook. It all started with the spark of an idea over a glass of wine with Gillian. Reflecting on the beginning, Gillian recalls, “I still remember the first text and it was just, ‘Hi, do you want to pop round for a wee glass of wine? Because I’ve had an idea…’” 

Emily’s connection to The Parlour Café was not just professional, but personal. “It was the only place in Dundee where there was a chef just cooking what they wanted every day with delicious food and just a really lovely café,” she says. The local charm of the café inspired her to capture its essence in a book. “If Gill’s café was in London, somebody would have said, ‘You should write a book.’ But she wasn't in London, she was in Dundee. And so was I. So it just kept nagging at me, we should do this. We should make a book. So we did and it was really great.”

The collaboration between Emily and Gillian was a creative and iterative process. Emily recalls, “It was a very free process in a way, because neither of us had done it before. I’d worked in publishing before, but I hadn’t published a cookbook. So we were just kind of making it up really. And that was so fun.” Gillian appreciated Emily’s ability to pull ideas out of her and shape them into something tangible. “Because I think Emily is a suffering genius at pulling things out of me. I find it really difficult to write and am completely dyslexic. So I kind of verbalise a lot and Emily puts it all together.”


Parma Baked Eggs (one of Emily’s favourite recipes) from Café Cooking by Gillian Veal

Granola from Café Cooking by Gillian Veal (Gillian’s brunch of choice.)


Onwards and upwards

The success of their first book led to further Kitchen Press projects. Emily says, “We did a few a series of market books in London, starting with Brixton Village in 2014, and then Greenwich Market and then Brick Lane, by which point we'd started doing hardback books.”

Titles like The Seafood Shack and Seasonal Soups followed, both available on ckbk, and each capturing the unique essence of their subjects. Emily explains their approach: “We work with chefs, we don't work with writers really. So it's about how best to work together and get the recipes and their identity out of them.”

One of the standout projects was The Seafood Shack, which featured the culinary creations of Kirsty and Fenella from the remote Scottish Highlands. Emily fondly recalls, “Meeting Kirsty and Fenella you just immediately get a real sense of the fact that what they're doing is quite different and they have a really particular sense of it, and they live in a very particular location.”


Kitchen Press’s 2020 classic The Seafood Shack, available on ckbk.


Kitchen Press published Stuart Ralston’s Catalogued Ideas and Random Thoughts in 2023 which, like their other titles, showcases the unique story and style of its chef. Each book is a testament to Emily and her team’s dedication to capturing the authentic voices and recipes of chefs, making them accessible and inspiring to readers everywhere.

The partnership between Gillian and Emily has brought to life not just cookbooks, but culinary experiences that resonate far beyond their corner of Scotland. Gillian sums up their collaboration beautifully: “People have reacted really well to it and generally feel that it's really accessible, and that it’s not just like an art project. It feels a really good balance between The Parlour, Cambo, and the people involved. To be honest, I think it captures all of that.”

Café Cooking: From The Parlour to Cambo Gardens, was published on 4 July 2024 and is available in full to ckbk Premium Members - take a 14 day free trial.

Top recipes from Café Cooking: From The Parlour to Cambo Gardens