At BeautyEQ we love to stalk inspirational women on Instagram and that’s exactly how we came across the uber-talented food stylist Fiona Hugues. Editor Trudi Brewer visits her country home to steal some style secrets and discover the most delicious way to celebrate Easter.
There’s an enviable grace and poise to food stylist Fiona Hugues. It helps that she is just over six feet tall, beautiful and hilariously funny, and also an incredible food stylist and serious cook. Our meeting at the mother-of-three’s Whitford country home made me want to brush up on my culinary skills, commit to keeping chickens (I’ve been toying the idea for years) and recreate a little bit of her effortless style. Here she talks us through her Insta-worthy lifestyle and shares a recipe for a delicious Easter cake.
What is a typical working day for you?
First I sort the animals, feed the kids breakfast and organise school stuff, while drinking a crucial first espresso and checking emails. Then I run my youngest to school and check my PO Box in Whitford before heading into Auckland for meetings or back home to prep, write or cook for food styling shoots.
How did you become a food stylist?
I’m an art school dropout. After three years at Elam I decided that, although I loved it, being a sculptor wasn’t what I wanted to be at that time in my life. I enrolled in a polytech visual merchandising course and soon landed my first job merchandising for a fashion brand that had 13 stores. Styling wasn’t a career then, so visual merchandising and display building was my entry into the world of making things look beautiful. From there I landed jobs designing stores, buying fashion ranges and creating events. Food is naturally part of the entertaining process and I was asked for my recipes, then a magazine got hold of some images from a party I had created, printed the shots and the rest is history.
What do you love most about your career?
The variation. I wear lots of creative hats and like to make sure I’m aware of what’s going on from magazines to Instagram. I’m learning all the time so I can work across all platforms from styling events, creating recipes and cooking for commercials, to designing spaces or products, and creating sets for beautiful editorials. One day I am styling food, the other art directing, no day is the same.
Hugues at work in her office, and props cupboard that is filled with vintage cooking utensils and baking tins.
What advice do you give other women juggling a young family and career?
Go with your gut instinct, if it doesn’t feel right don’t do it. The first few years of your children’s lives are crucial and can’t be replaced. I was passionate about being present to take care of my kids, so we made sacrifices and my career took a back seat for a good decade while I raised my children. I kept my hand in by doing the odd event and design job here and there, including painting canvases for interior clients, but my family came first.
What’s your career high to date?
Thanks to a super-stylish mother, I was raised on magazines like Vogue, World of Interiors and Vanity Fair, so creating work worthy of a magazine cover has always given me a buzz. Recently I cooked and styled the food on the cover of Cuisine magazine and in that same issue I also photographed the food I created, so I’m pretty chuffed about that.
Hugues sourdough bread, she prefers to cooks with seasonal, homegrown food, including her own home harvested honey
Why did you decide to live in the country?
I’ve owned horses since I was nine and brought one to Auckland with me when I moved out of home in the Waikato. I was always driving out to grazing places to ride and feed my horse after work and on the weekends to get some fresh air. When I started dating my now husband Fred, he would come too. He is French, from Paris, and loves the land as much as I do, so after our first daughter was born it made sense to look for our second home outside the city. She got her first pony for her third birthday and a small zoo of rescued animals has followed!
What do you love most about it?
The air. The space. The light at the beginning and end of each day.
What are the challenges of country life?
The traffic into the city is terrible. If I’m doing a commercial shoot, I have to leave extra early to avoid rush hour, so it can be a real juggle to organise the family. If it’s a wet day, the motorway inevitably slows, so I have to be mindful of leaving the city in plenty of time so I’m there to collect the kids from school.
Hugues main living room which looks out onto the valley towards hills, her grandmothers antique urn and the art and collectables she has gathered over the years
How would you describe your home?
I’d say French vintage country, with maximum tat! It’s my job to be a maximalist (hoarder) plus I need a space to fill my soul with the story and essence of the people who live in it.
What are your most treasured possessions?
Aside from my family and animals, I’d say my grandmother’s big antique bronze urn, which stands in the foyer full of seasonal produce – at the moment it’s full of dried hydrangeas and fennel seeds. Also a leather case full of little notes and letters from my husband and drawings from our kids.
What’s your favourite room in your home?
The main living area, which looks out onto the valley towards hills. There’s a big window with a long bench seat and we always fight to lie there when it's sunny. When the fire’s roaring, it’s a nice place to sit around the coffee table, drinking wine and eating cheese with friends as the sun sets on the day.
Best interior style tip?
Fill your home with fresh flowers, botanicals and pot plants (at last count, I have about 32 plants in the house). Plants cleanse the air and soften the lines of a home. If fresh flowers are hard to get, branches and foliage from the garden are just as good.
Does your family have any Easter traditions?
It’s always been Fred’s job to get up before the kids on Easter Sunday and hide chocolate eggs in the garden. The kids wait, then when they get the go-ahead, they scramble around in the dew and divvy up their baskets of loot.
What do you love to cook and eat over Easter?
I usually do my first slow cook of the winter season, either beef cheeks or lamb, and we invite friends over to eat it followed by French cheeses with autumn honeycomb harvested from our own hives.
Hugues and some of her animals on the farm in Whitford, which is a constant source of inspiration and lots of hard work to maintain
I’m what I call a vinegar slut and hanker after sour things. I make sure there is always a sour element to my side dishes or salads with either a sherry vinegar, shallot-based dressing or a wine vinegar, mustard and crème fraîche vinaigrette. Sometimes just fresh lemon juice is enough when my Meyer lemons are juicy and fat.
Entertaining this Easter? Try Hugues Easter Pineapple Lump cake with chocolate cream cheese icing
Hugues Easter Pineapple Lump cake with chocolate cream cheese icing.
Hugues Easter Pineapple Lump cake with chocolate cream cheese icing.
3 cups flour
2 cups golden caster sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3 large free-range eggs, beaten
1½ cups vegetable oil
1½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup crushed pineapple and juice
1½ cups ripe banana, mashed
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
125g cream cheese
65g butter, softened
3 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
250g icing sugar
Pineapple Lumps and chocolate eggs to decorate
Preheat oven to 175°C on fan bake. Grease and line a 25 cm springform tin. Combine dry ingredients, then add eggs and oil. Mix with a wooden spoon until only just combined. Add vanilla, pineapple, bananas and chopped chocolate. Stir gently until incorporated. Pour cake batter into tin and bake for one hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Set cake aside to cool in tin. In a stand mixer, blend the cream cheese, butter, cocoa powder and vanilla until combined. With the motor running, gradually add the icing sugar until smooth, thick and creamy. Layer the icing thickly over over the top of the cake and decorate with chopped pineapple lumps, chocolate eggs and meadow flowers.
Hugues with her daughter Maude, son Vincent and Franklin the giant Flemish rabbit in the garden under the apple trees.
Beauty and Fashion
How would you describe your personal style?
Good jeans and a white shirt is my staple outfit. I’m not a fan of loud prints or super bright colours, although scarlet red gets a look in here and there. I also love vintage fashion, so I’d say my style is kind of French chic with a country cowgirl slant.
Who are your favourite local and international fashion designers?
Locally, I love Maggie Marilyn, Shjark and Måhsa. Internationally, I live in Victoria Beckham pants – she does leg lengths that make it to the floor on me, which I love. I’m also a fan of Burberry for the plaid heritage behind the brand (I’m of Scottish descent, so any excuse to bust out some tartan), Ralph Lauren because he gets the cowgirl slant and I adore his interiors, Vivienne Westwood because she’s so connected to culture, and Tom Ford because he’s the doyenne of cool. RIP https://www.karl.com/nz, I loved him too.
What’s your must-have fashion buy this winter?
A good sweater. I was given an olive green ribbed, funnel neck by Victoria Beckham that matches my eyes and I’m dying to wear it once it gets cold enough.
You have such a fantastic figure, how do you keep in shape?
Ha, thanks! After squeezing out and breastfeeding three kids, I’m pleased my body shape hasn’t changed dramatically and I can still wear some of the vintage pieces I found 20 years ago. I don’t do anything to purposely keep in shape – gyms aren’t my thing – I’m just busy and naturally hate sitting around. Hauling my kit to events and jobs, chainsawing a stack of firewood, and doing jobs around our property keep me fit.
What are you never without when it comes to beauty?
There’s nothing like a good cut, colour, and blow wave from a stylist you trust to lift your look – I’ve been going to the same hairdresser for 11 years, Janic Swart of Hair Boutique in Mairangi Bay, I have followed her all over Auckland.
What’s your skincare routine?
I always double cleanse. I use micellar water and I exfoliate regularly. I use Snowberry moisturisers and a serum or rosehip oil. If I’m outside I’m never without sunscreen or a cap. Sleeping on a silk pillowcase is also great for protecting your hair and ageing skin. I bought silk pillowcases for both my mum and sister last Christmas.
Hugues beauty products, and her iced lemon water
What’s your favourite fragrance?
I’m not a ‘girly girl’, so I only wear men’s perfume. In summer it’s the cool, cucumber-scented Bulgari AQVA Marine. In winter the smoky, sultry Révolution by Trudon, which I buy from WORLD.
What would we find in your beauty bag?
La Biosthetique’s Botanique Pure Nature shampoo and conditioner and Volumising Lotion, which I buy from Hair Boutique. Also, my friend Emma has just launched Aleph Beauty, a range of multi-function vegan makeup, which is fabulous and fast, and Bobbi Brown lip gloss.
What’s your best beauty tip?
Drink lots of water – as I age, I find if I don’t drink lots of water my face quickly dehydrates and looks drab – but most importantly, be kind and generous. Making people happy through small kindnesses, like always taking something with you when you visit people and complimenting strangers, does wonders for the soul.