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The Way We Eat

The Way We Eat: Helen and Phillip Rhys, Costume Designer and Actor-Director in Los Angeles

updated Sep 6, 2019
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Names: Helen and Phillip Rhys
Location: Los Angeles, CA
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 3 (us and our son, who is in third grade).
Avoidances: No restrictions — we love eating lots of everything. We call ourselves “open opportunity eaters.”

Helen and Phillip Rhys are a dynamic duo. Both used to call Britain home, but it wasn’t until Phil picked Helen up at the airport (as a favor to a mutual friend), halfway across the world in Burbank, CA, that they met for the first time. The rest, as they say, is history. In the years that have passed, Helen and Phillip have since planted roots in Los Angeles, where they bought a cozy house, grew their show-biz careers (Helen is a commercial costume designer and Phil is an actor and director), and started a family. Here’s how they feed themselves along the way.

Credit: Leela Cyd/Kitchn

What does a typical day look like for you?

Helen: We wake up around 7 a.m. on school days, and coffee is the first thing that goes on for the adults in the house. It’s our reward for getting out of bed.

Phil: Go Get Em Tiger does this coffee subscription, so we get ground coffee delivered every two weeks which has been life-changing. We have a grinder, but this took one step out of our process.

Helen: It’s ridiculous but I love it. I am a bit more haphazard in what I eat. I want something I can throw in my mouth.

Phil: You do have toast! I make myself a smoothie/protein shake every single morning. I need to have a health boost, throw everything all in one thing. I think of it like my immune system surge. Mornings are always a bit of a scramble. We pack our son’s lunch most days and we seem to have loads of time, then suddenly we are late (even though school is only eight minutes away).

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Okay, that’s the morning. I’m already exhausted for you and the day hasn’t even started yet.

Helen: We’re both freelance. I work on commercials and a lot of that is prep, prep, prep, then fit, shoot, wrap. On shoot days, I usually keep a stash of protein bars in my car so I can grab something if I need it.

Phil: I also keep Clif bars in my bag. On set, sometimes the food (craft services) can be a bit heavy, sugary — all that stuff. I bring a bar and have it at my chair in case, so I’m ready. Being worried about what I’m going to eat for lunch sounds picky and fanciful, but I am picky when it comes to work stuff. You’re working long hours in front of a camera, and you can’t work like that on a full stomach.

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It seems like with lots of flexibility comes unpredictability. What’s the hardest part about freelancing?

Helen: It’s sometimes feast or famine, work-wise. Pardon the food pun. We either have no work or both have work that takes us away from being able to cook dinner or do shopping. In a way, I guess it’s wonderful that sometimes we have loads of time to say Let’s try cooking this new, complicated dish. But then other times, we’re scrambling to pull something out of the freezer! So that’s definitely the biggest challenge: Having time to think about the life logistics of everything.

What do you always have in your freezer for those times?

Helen: We keep lots of kid food in there. Trader Joe’s has this frozen mac and cheese, and our son would eat that for every meal if he was allowed. They also have a flatbread with Gruyère and ham, which is just really delicious.

Phil: And their frozen potstickers are so good. We sound like an ad for Trader Joe’s right now.

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I mean, Trader Joe’s is the best. So tell me: How do you tag team mealtimes?

Helen: It depends on who’s where! When we do our big weekly grocery shop, we kind of haphazardly buy stuff for the week and use those ingredients to make it work. We don’t typically have a strategic plan for the week. We buy stuff we both know we can figure out. So whichever one of us is around, we take on dinner duty.

Phil: Our son gets sucked into it as well! In the summer, he and I did some fun food projects like making ravioli from scratch. We created the dough, rolled it out, made a mushroom filling. We followed instructions on Gordon Ramsay’s Master Class website.

Start ’em young! You’re into baking too, right?

Phil: Oh yes. My grandmother, who was French, taught me how to make clafoutis. Now we make it all the time. You can have it for breakfast or dessert — so good. I clafoutis-ed out; I peaked too soon!

  • Biggest challenge in eating? We’re both freelance and our schedules can change at the drop of a hat, so the biggest challenge is really time. We always keep the freezer stocked with easy kid meals in case we need to feed our son first and worry about ourselves after.
  • Percentage of meals you cook at home every week? 90%. Despite all the delivery services available, most food just doesn’t travel well and we’d rather go eat in an actual restaurant or cook and eat at home.
  • 5 things on your grocery list every week? Butter, half-and-half, coffee, cheese, frozen berries (for smoothies).
  • Where do you shop, primarily? Trader Joe’s and we get our fruit, veg, eggs, and milk delivered from Farm Fresh To You.
  • What’s the last food thing you splurged on? Our kitchen renovation! And a few extra Heath Ceramics plates and bowls.
  • Top 3 default dinners? Penne pasta with smoked salmon, garden peas, and crème fraîche. Phil makes a mean vegetable omelette. Roast chicken with any sorts of vegetables (roasted or steamed).
  • Favorite tea? Twinings English Breakfast or Nettle.
  • Best underrated snack? Cliff bar.
  • Favorite thing to eat while watching TV? Dessert.
  • Default kid snack? Popcorn.
  • Best tip anyone ever taught you in cooking? Keep it fresh and simple.
  • Favorite kitchen tool? Nonstick pan.
  • Best cookie of all time? Our Friend Laura Krafft’s chocolate chip cookie.
  • Cookbook you actually cook out of? Ottolenghi Simple.
  • Who does the dishes in your home? For the first time in our lives, we are excited to say the dishwasher!
Credit: Leela Cyd/Kitchn

Given your hectic schedules, it’s pretty impressive that you cook 90 percent of your meals at home.

Helen: Food tastes better when you make it! I didn’t grow up in the kitchen, but I’ve taught myself how to cook through trial and error. It’s really nice when we can control what we’re making and all sit down together. I also don’t know how people can afford to eat out all the time. It’s crazy expensive, and can be so wasteful!

Phil: I also don’t want to raise a son to think it’s normal to be eating out in restaurants all the time. That’s not the kind of kid I want to raise.

Credit: Leela Cyd/Kitchn

You recently renovated your kitchen. Are you enjoying the aftermath?

Helen: It revolutionized how we live in our house. People often say that the kitchen is the heart of the home, but ours was so small that we could only invite over bachelors and divorcees because we could only fit one guest at our table!

Phil: We have friends now!

Helen: We used to invite ourselves over to everyone else’s houses, because they had space — and AC. Now we have both of those things too, so it’s been really fun inviting friends over and returning the favor of hosting.

Credit: Leela Cyd/Kitchn

What’s your entertaining vibe?

Phil: No one leaves before midnight. There is always a dance party and a SoundCloud DJ that comes out of no where at 2 a.m. [Laughs.]

Helen: It’s fun! We have loads of friends from all over the place and all different parts of our lives who now have the opportunity to meet when they hadn’t before.

Phil: We’ve figured out the ideal number for entertaining, and that’s 6 — including us. That way you’re going to have real conversations and not stress out and have a good time.

Credit: Leela Cyd/Kitchn

Thanks so much for chatting, Helen and Phil! Check out Helen’s website and keep up with Phil’s acting and directing career on Instagram.

*If Phil looks familiar to all of you millennials out there, yes, he is in fact Proto Zoa from Zenon. You’re welcome.

Editor: Ariel Knutson
Editorial Advisor: Leela Cyd

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.