A cook with a difference
Anna Jones initially qualified as an economist, but then changed direction to become a successful cook, food writer and blogger. Her cookbook ‘a modern way to eat’ is a bestseller. Our interview in Wimbledon is all about her passion for healthy eating.
Anna Jones is easy going. “Perhaps a little hippie-like”, she laughs. Even when busy at the stove, she still chats enthusiastically about what she loves the most: cooking. She is naturally extremely experienced as she has written well over a thousand recipes. With her books published in seven countries and a highly successful weekly column in the Guardian, she is somewhat regarded as the voice of modern vegetarian cuisine. But this wasn’t the road she started out on at all. The Brit studied economics in Southampton and worked in the business sector. At some point, she read an article on how to find your true calling. And a simple test: ‘Where do you flick to first when opening a newspaper?’ To the food section. A flash of inspiration! She attended her first cookery course.
“I’d actually always been passionate about cooking. As a child, others played out on the playground whereas I was one of those strange children who didn’t want to go outside. I preferred staying in the kitchen baking biscuits and cakes.”
At twelve, she cooked dinner for her family for the first time. Her mother loved food but as a working mum and feminist, she didn’t see preparing an evening meal each day as her primary task. Despite that, she still supported Anna’s passion from an early age with a twinkle in her eye: “If you can cook well, everyone will love you.” Anna laughs as she tells us about it. “My parents both like eating, but cooking isn’t their thing. The stove is my domain.” As a self-taught cook, Anna applied to Jamie Oliver with her university degree but little hope of success. And was actually taken on. She ended up working for his TV show for seven years. “It was great training for me: we had three kitchens and tried loads of different products, spices and dishes every day. It raised my awareness of healthy, high-quality products.” The Brit loves simple, fresh food, especially vegetables. In her time with Jamie, she became a vegetarian. After a four-week trial period, she noticed the positive effect on her body. And so she stuck with it. Today, her husband and their young son are vegetarians too. “We’re a V-family.”
“THE HIGHLIGHT FOR ME WAS GETTING TO TALK TO MICHELLE OBAMA, AS SHE SEES FOOD AND HEALTH AS IMPORTANT TOPICS.” - Anna Jones
Jamie Oliver had an enormous influence on Anna’s professional development. “He cooks what people love. And I try to do the same as I don’t want my books to gather dust on shelves. I want people to flick through them and find traces of enjoyable evenings of cooking on their pages.” She still has several anecdotes from her time with the British celebrity chef. How she went to Clarence House and cooked for Prince Charles, a passionate supporter of the organic movement. Or how she cooked for members of the G20 summit. “Even Jamie was slightly nervous that evening in Downing Street. The historic house has a really small kitchen and we had to be very careful on the narrow stairs and in the tight corridors. The highlight for me was getting to talk to Michelle Obama, as she sees food and, above all, health as important topics”. Eventually, Anna took the plunge and wrote her own cookbook. When this came out in the UK, she was given a column in the Guardian. Today, she is also a successful blogger.
She creates her posts in collaboration with a photographer and stylist in a studio near London. “My blog is read by people of all ages. They look for ideas and experiment. However, I think there’s a disparity between the flood of cookbooks and TV shows and what people actually cook at home. There are people with 200 cookbooks who always make the same seven recipes. It’s easy and I can totally understand it as I have a four-year-old son. I often have to make things quickly too.” But for Anna, even quick food still has to be healthy. Her guiding principle is to focus on vegetables even if she’s short on time. And to add non-perishable food of excellent quality. What’s more: organisation is key. “The lists of ingredients in my cookbooks follow a simple principle: you don’t just buy harissa or miso paste for a single dish. I provide multiple recipes with these ingredients, so they can be used time and again rather than just lying around pointlessly until they go out of date.”
You can constantly feel the respect that Anna Jones has for food. That’s as important to her as the fun factor when eating and being sociable while in the kitchen. She likes to cook with her friend Melissa Helmsley, who has already worked and healthy meals. “It was at Melissa’s that I first saw a BORA product – and absolutely loved it. I’d already spent time in so many kitchens that I thought I’d seen it all.” And so, she started out meticulously inspecting the extractor: where does the steam go, how does it work and how do you clean it? “I found it really exciting. I like things to be clean. Hoods are often ineffective and look really bulky. And the fact that all the parts can go in the dishwasher is a dream come true. When I saw BORA, I instantly knew I wanted one in my kitchen!”
After all, even vegetarian recipes often create a lot of cooking vapours, which should ideally be discreetly extracted. In addition, Anna and her husband do a lot of cooking in their free time, often with friends at weekends. The kitchen soon gets busy. “I love it. Everyone asks each other how they are doing things. We learn from one another and become a food family for an evening”. Her private life and job go hand in hand. Her latest cookbook ‘One’ is coming out in April. Then what? “My son has just started school so I’m going to focus on him more for a few months”. And naturally spend time cooking with him. She can’t do that any differently.
Text: KLAUDIA MEINERT