An Interview With Anna Jones – The Modern Cook
Ting Dalton chats to chef and food writer Anna Jones about her new recipe book, motherhood and climate change.
Anna Jones’ laugh is infectious. If you meet the food writer and vegetarian cook, you’ll be bowled over by her genuine warmth. It’s this gregarious nature that has won Anna a legion of fans all over the world after bursting onto the food scene some 10 years ago with her best-selling cookbook A Modern Way to Eat. Using a cosmopolitan and fresh approach, Anna Jones has since transformed humble vegetables and elevated them to new heights.
Not bad for the former Epsom College student who fell in love with cooking after joining Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Foundation. After training as a chef, Anna then became Jamie’s food stylist for several years before going it alone. Now a regular on Saturday Kitchen, as well as a Guardian food columnist, Anna has seen a meteoric rise to success and a further two books A Modern Way to Cook and The Modern Cook’s Year. As a busy mum to three-year-old Dylan, surely Anna doesn’t have time to write another – does she?
“Yes I am! It’s due out next spring and doesn’t even have a title yet. But I’m currently in the process of creating lots of recipes,” she enthuses. “My work/life balance is getting better now Dylan is older and I definitely feel I am more productive. In the hours that I do work I am much more focused. So having strict boundaries really helps me.”
So what inspires her cooking? “My inspiration comes from lots of different places such as travel and other amazing chefs. But more and more these days my inspiration comes from boring humble things like trying to put dinner on the table in 30 minutes. Creating a dish that would normally take a long time to cook but making it work for my life.
“Seasonality is also a big thing for me. Cooking throughout the whole year, and how I cook in my kitchen reflects how the year changes. Obviously, the ingredients change but also the cooking techniques, too. In the winter, I want to cook with my huge casserole dish, but in summer, it’s a lot more about broths, light soups and salads and I don’t turn on the cooker for about six weeks.”
When I ask Anna if she has a particular process when creating recipes, I’m surprised by the simplicity of her methods.
“I’ll usually come up with a name of a recipe that I feel like making,” she tells me. “For instance, satay noodles. So then I think about how do I cook it, that will then inform the ingredients and vegetables, and then I’lI piece it all together. I do have a rough outline of the recipe in my head, but then I put it together and taste as I go, making sure it has rounded notes and the right flavours. Rounded in texture and in terms of nutrition. Being a vegetarian, I have to make sure all the different food groups are there.”
Will satay noodles be her dish for the summer? “I’ve mentioned them a few times, haven’t I?” she laughs. “I did some recipe testing of the dish a few weeks ago and I’ve made it six times since – on the request of my husband and friends who have tried it a couple of times. A quick satay sauce with peanut butter and raw veg, like kale, sugar snap peas. They’re so satisfying, hearty and fresh.”
I ask Anna if she’s seen a shift in the way people are now eating food and turning to embracing meat-free diets.
“I really think so. Especially with the recent Extinction Rebellion protests, and whether you’re for or against them, they definitely moved climate change issues up the agenda,” Anna muses. “And even before that when I first started talking about vegetarianism, people were making that shift because of the health benefits. But now more are aware of the effect on our environment so it’s great
news all round. Plus it’s clear that the way we eat at the moment is not sustainable.”
How does she think we can all make a difference? “It’s a case of making small changes. Some people will be happy to shift to being a full-time vegan, and there has been research to say that is the most impactful thing a person can do for the environment,” she explains. But if that isn’t for you, try taking smaller steps: “For some people, having one meal a week without meat is a big deal. We will all get there, because I think we will have to.”
As Anna and I continue to chat about her love of veggies and her recent discovery of cucamelons – melon shaped cucumbers – it’s clear she has an obsession with great produce, eating well and helping others do the same.
“In all my books I have flavour maps, which is my attempt to share with people who don’t have a cooking brain how I go through the process,” she explains. “You might have some broccoli – so what are the flavour and cooking options here, I hope I can walk people through it. I also hope that when people cook my recipes a few times, they can then use the whole thing as more of an inspiration and empower themselves as cooks!”
You can find out more about Anna Jones and her recipes at www.annajones.co.uk