Unless you’re a committed veggie, a completely vegetarian cook book probably isn’t going to be up your street. But to disregard Anna Jones’ latest work – A Modern Way To Cook – would be a total oversight, whether you’re a bona fide foodie, excited amateur or just someone who needs to eat from time to time. And yes, meat-lovers, we’re looking at you too! That Jones has been described as “the new Nigella” is inevitably going to generate more than a little buzz about the title, but we actually think that’s underselling the London-based chef’s recipe book.
Realising that her heart really wasn’t in her well-paid desk job, Anna Jones trained at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant, rising to the top of her game and spending seven years working alongside everyone’s favourite naked chef. Her first book – A Modern Way to Eat – was published in 2014, receiving rave reviews, not to mention praise from Oliver himself. And food styling and recipe creation are two things that obviously come quite naturally to Jones – we defy you to flick through the saliva-inducing images and delicious recipes of her latest book and not feel pretty damn peckish. The true test of a good cook book? We think so. New Nigella or not, Ms Anna Jones is one very exciting food writer…
How did you come to write A Modern Way To Eat?
I have known since I was very little that I wanted to write a recipe book so I’ve been saving up my most prized recipes over the years from shoots I’ve worked on and restaurants I’ve been, to dishes I have eaten on my travels. Saying that I hope that A Modern Way to Eat is very much a snapshot of how we want to eat now. I think how we eat in the UK has changed so much in the last ten years and I have been right in the middle of the food industry watching those changes from the inside. I think we are in the most exciting place ever when it comes to food. Our cuisine has become a melting pot of all the rich cultures that make up London and the UK. There is also a raised awareness of well being and eating foods which will make us feel light bright and healthy and I wanted A Modern Way to Eat to reflect the richness of where we are now in food.
Would you describe A Modern Way To Cook as a sequel?
Food for me is a celebration: three opportunities a day to sit, share and revel in nourishing myself and others with amazing ingredients. But I’m just the same as the next person. For all of us, our lives are busier than they have ever been. We have access to so much, and the world is at our fingertips like never before. While this is brilliant in many ways, it also comes with the temptation to try and fit even more into already jam-packed lives. I was overwhelmed by the positive response to my first book, A Modern Way to Eat. The world of social media has allowed me to be directly in contact with the wonderful people who have been cooking from it, and I noticed that the stuff they’ve been getting excited about hasn’t been the fancy cakes or showy dinners but the easy weeknight recipes, which have been cooked again and again and this was my inspiration for writing the sequel A Modern Way to Cook.
The more I cook simply – easy pastas, quick hearty salads and all-in-one gratins – the more I realise that food doesn’t need to be posh, complicated or made from far-flung ingredients to do us good. It’s the quick-to-make, everyday and weeknight meals that we eat on, say, Tuesdays and Wednesdays that make a real difference in our lives. These meals are the ‘bread and butter’ of our eating week and the most important ones to focus on and that’s what A Modern Way to Cook is filled with – easy, life-friendly dinners which won’t use every pan in the cupboard or have you buying lots of weird ingredients. Its simple, easy, joyful, feel-good, flavour-first food.
What’s led you to put vegetables at the centre of your recipes?
I became vegetarian about five years ago. I had already been cooking for six years or so and I felt tired in my mind and body and a little jaded with the way I was eating and cooking. I instantly felt lighter, happier and my weight came into balance, plus I found that I was looking at food in an exciting, completely new and different way. The building blocks of meat-and-two-veg cooking that I had grown up with were suddenly not relevant.
A whole new world of cooking opened up, I was led more by my mood and the flavours and nutrients which my body was craving instead of building a meal around what proteins I had in the fridge. My journey to being vegetarian was quite subtle, it’s not easy to suddenly become vegetarian when you work in food and are surrounded by chefs who believe meat is king. I didn’t necessarily think that I’d be vegetarian forever but with every day that went past, I realised that eating in this new lighter way suited me and my body and I haven’t looked back.
How do you feel about the current trends of juice fasts, eating ‘clean’ and the 5:2 diet?
I am not really one for trends, although I do welcome that healthy eating and nourishing ourselves and cooking at home is now such a huge topic and at the forefront of most people’s minds. Personally, I think eating well has to be a lifelong commitment to understanding the very basic and important connection between what we eat and how we feel in out bodies and minds. Once I really understood that the food I eat actually turns into the flesh and bones that I walk around everyday with fads, diets and ‘clean eating’ became pretty meaningless.
I make an everyday commitment to making my mind and body feel as good as it can, sure I have a slice of cake now and again but that’s all part of being human and enjoying all facets of life. I think fads and rules around food just create neuroses around food and make us want to break the rules we have set out for ourselves. Eat fresh food, mostly plants, cooked at home – that’s what we should all be focusing on encouraging and taking the focus away from trends and fads which will be here today and gone tomorrow.
Any particular favourite recipes from A Modern Way To Cook?
There are a lot of recipes I love, I wanted everything in the book to be stand out delicious. The recipes I have been making the most are the one pot spaghetti with kale and cherry tomatoes, which cooks in one pan and is ready in fifteen minutes, its been a really big hit. The Buddha bowls are another favourite – kind of a Massaman curry with crispy tofu, brown rice and carrot pickle, it’s a bowl of flavour-packed goodness. On a sweet note the raw cookie dough bars are being made a lot in my house, they are so easy and an amazing nourishing 4pm treat.
How does it feel to be described at the new Nigella?
It is a huge compliment to be in the same sentence as Nigella, she was a food hero of mine growing up and her book How to be a Domestic Goddess was my baking bible, I must have made her brownies 100 times. Nigella was also really the only woman doing great things in food on TV at that time, all the other chefs were male, with the exception of Delia, who I love too but was from a totally different generation. I think there are a fair few differences between us, the way we cook being a major one but to be compared to a female cooking icon like Nigella is as good as it gets.
What’s next for you?
I am spending the summer at festivals and in fields cooking, teaching and running supper clubs which I am really excited about, I love getting out and cooking for people as writing books, whilst amazing can be a pretty solo affair. I have a few other projects in the pipeline too, the most important of which is our baby, which is arriving in October (I am six months pregnant!) so I’ll be spending the last half of the year learning to be a Mum. I also have lots of ideas for further books, one which I would love to write with my sister and would be all about our relationship to food. I am also writing weekly columns for the Sunday Times Magazine and Time Out as well as The Pool so I’ll be keeping busy in the kitchen coming up with ideas and new recipes for all of those.
Do you cook – or run – in heels?
I very rarely cook in heels, as days in the kitchen are long, tough at my recent book launch I was plating up canapés in a very high pair of Swedish hasbeens and a bright orange party dress.
For more information on Anna Jones, see her website. You can also find her on Facebook and follow on Instagram or Twitter. A Modern Way To Cook is published by Fourth Estate and is available to buy online here.