The chemo-proof Christmas dinner: Chef Jim Fisher creates a specially adapted menu for cancer sufferers to enjoy their food

Chef Jim Fisher got his inspiration from his mother

Chef Jim Fisher got his inspiration from his mother

With Christmas approaching, supermarket shelves heave with delicious festive food. But for the thousands of Britons having chemotherapy for cancer treatment, the prospect of succulent roast turkey, flaky mince pies and moist, fruity Christmas cake can literally turn the stomach.

Lifesaving treatment can trigger debilitating side effects such as nausea and loss of appetite, while wrecking taste buds. Meanwhile, mouth ulcers – which occur due to the strain placed on the immune system during chemotherapy – can make it painful to eat at a time when the body most needs nutrition.

It is a problem chef Jim Fisher knows all too well, having nursed his late mother Sylvia during her battle with a rare form of cancer. Jim, 50, a former MasterChef semi-finalist who has worked with culinary greats such as Rick Stein, created a festive menu specifically for those having chemotherapy, which he shares with The Mail on Sunday today.

Jim, who now runs a cooking school in France, says: ‘Cancer treatment is so distressing but it dawned on me that there was something I could do. And that was to try to make Mum food that would help her maintain her strength and yet still be palatable.’

From an early age, Jim loved to cook with his mother. Delicious memories of Sylvia’s oxtail stew with dumplings or crunchy apple crumble are imprinted on his mind.

Cream of cauliflower soup starter which Jim helped create with help from his mother when she was undergoing Chemotherapy

Cream of cauliflower soup starter which Jim helped create with help from his mother when she was undergoing Chemotherapy

So when Sylvia was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – a type of bone- marrow cancer – in 1993 at the age of 57, it seemed a tragic irony that chemotherapy left the once enthusiastic cook with little appetite. The side effect known as oral mucositis, which causes inflammation of the surface of the inside of the mouth, was particularly unpleasant. It was difficult for Sylvia to eat, drink or even talk.

Mulled wine especially for chemo patients

And so Jim began researching foods fortheir comforting and healing properties. ‘Often, processed foods can taste metallic so I’d use fresh ingredients. I’d also back off on salt and pepper and avoid overly browning meat and over-reducing sauces because highly flavoured foods are too strong for chemo patients.

‘Itwas a matter of trial and error – if she said something was too hot or too sweet, we’d modify various well-liked recipes. With her help, I created a Christmas menu I hope will be enjoyable for everyone.’

Chemotherapycauses sickness and loss of appetite because the drugs affect the cellsof the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract, which begins in the mouth. Clinical dietician Jane Clarke, who specialises in cancer care, says: ‘Cooking for someone on chemotherapy is a challenge – but it is worth persevering, or patients can end up getting stuck on bland meal-replacement drinks.

‘Thedrugs can affect salt and sweet-sensitive taste buds – but in some cases foods may taste more bland while in others it will taste even sweeter or saltier. The key is to adapt ingredients to suit the individual.

‘Cancer patients can suffer from a dry mouth, so foods such as soups can be comforting,’ adds Clarke.

Despiteseveral rounds of chemotherapy and stem-cell replacement treatment, Sylvia died in July 1998. Jim, who lives with wife Lucy, 54, and daughter Jenny, 19, hopes his menu will be part of her legacy.

My inspiration: Sylvia Fisher was diagnosed with multiple myeloma - a type of bone marrow cancer

My inspiration: Sylvia Fisher was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – a type of bone marrow cancer

He says: ‘Food is more than about having something to eat. It takes you through the bad times. Going through chemo is rotten enough as it is, but it’s often especially bad at Christmas. I want people to feel part of it all. I hope these recipes make it a merrier and more palatable Christmas for those battling cancer.’


Cauliflower contains Vitamin K, an amino acid that is good for supporting liver function – which needs to work well due to the high intake of chemotherapy drugs. Cumin and nutmeg provide antioxidant support to protect the liver.
Avoid soy products if you have an oestrogen-related cancer such as certain breast cancers. Soy is a phytoestrogen which means it mimics the actions of oestrogen in the body.
The smell released by cauliflower during cooking can make some patients feel quite nauseous. To get round this put unshelled walnuts or a slice of bread in the cooking water with the cauliflower.
If food is tasting too sweet, then parsnips might be unpalatable – so substitute with potato, which is bland but a similar texture.
Delicious served at room temperature.
Serves six to eight
1 medium cauliflower
1 medium parsnip or potato
1 tbsp nut oil
tsp ground cumin
tsp nutmeg
750ml soy milk or almond milk
250ml soy cream or regular cream
scant pinch of salt
Break or cut the cauliflower into small florets (2cm or thereabouts). Peel the parsnip and cut into 2cm dice (remove and discard the core if woody). If parsnips taste too sweet then replace with potato
Heat the nut oil in a saucepan and add the spices. Gently fry them until their full flavour is released, then add the milk, cream and vegetables. Simmer gently for ten to fifteen minutes or until both veg are very tender.

Coconut milk is a natural, sweet alternative to milk, since some chemotherapy patients can find themselves lactose intolerant – their bodies cannot process a type of sugar found in dairy products. Vanilla provides natural sweetness without having to add sugar which can be too harsh on the taste buds.
Make sure the honey is pasteurised – other types may contain bacteria that could cause food poisoning in those with low immunity.
Serves four to six
Rice Pudding
125g pudding rice
600ml coconut milk or coconut cream
Pasteurised honey (to taste)
Seeds of 1 vanilla pod
Finely grated zest of a lime
500ml Earl Grey, camomile or other herb tea, hot & not too strong
1 cinnamon stick
Seeds of one vanilla pod
finely grated nutmeg
3 cloves
Handful of raisins or cranberries
12 dried apricots
12 dried apple slices
Small handful other mixed dried fruits
Make the tea in a saucepan over a gentle heat adding the spices early on in order that they have time to infuse. Steep the fruits in the tea, preferably overnight, but in any case for a couple of hours.
Drain the fruits and boil the tea until slightly syrupy and reduced by about half. Pour back over the fruits and allow to cool to room temperature.
Into a roomy saucepan add the pudding rice and half the coconut milk and bring to a very gentle simmer. Add honey to taste and the vanilla seeds and stir often, never allowing the rice to ‘catch’ on the base of the pan.
Now add the rest of the coconut milk a little at a time until the rice is softly cooked through and exactly how you like it. Adjust with a little more coconut milk or water if the consistency is a little thick for your liking.
Stir in the lime zest and pour into serving bowls. Drizzle with a little extra honey if desired.

See more of Jim’s recipes at www. /chemorecipes

Specially made: A coconut rice pudding as part of a three-course Christmas Dinner

Specially made: A coconut rice pudding as part of a three-course Christmas Dinner