Getting To Know Anna Jones: Chef, Best-Selling Author And The Voice Of Modern Vegetarian Cooking
Following on from our latest Book Club, we couldn’t wait to catch up with the award-winning cook and author Anna Jones about the release of her new book One: Pot, Pan, Planet and more. With a cooking career that already spans over a decade, Anna is no stranger when it comes to experimenting with new ingredients and adding to her ever-growing list of vegetarian recipes, all while releasing a string of bestsellers one after the other. Yet, in One, she describes her new book as “a change of pace” and a guide that blends uncomplicated recipes that turn their focus to green, sustainable cooking, “which is one of the most impactful ways (and easiest) ways we can make a change”.
We discussed everything from how to reduce our carbon footprint and embrace vegetarian food to the music she cooks along to and why we should celebrate small victories when it comes to changing our diet.
So tell me, when did you first realise your love for cooking?
At a young age. My mum bought me lots of cookbooks and ingredients whilst growing up, so I evolved into this slightly weird twelve-year-old who always wanted to make dinner for the family. I couldn’t get enough of being able to show love by making people food to eat though, as well as the appreciation you get when bringing something to the table.
“I couldn’t get enough of being able to show love by making people food to eat, as well as the appreciation you get when bringing something to the table.”
'One: Pot, Pan, Planet' feels like a step-change from your previous cookbooks – what inspired you to write it?
This book is a definite change of pace for me. In previous books, I was trying to persuade people that vegetarian foods could be as connecting and vibrant as other types of food. When I became vegetarian about 12 years ago, it didn’t have the best reputation and people saw it as a mundane way to eat. Yet the food I was cooking at home didn’t feel like that – it felt exciting and creative – so I wanted to convey that. With this book, there’s been a shift because we are facing an enormous climate crisis. One of the most impactful (and easiest) ways we can make a change is in our kitchens. I wanted to share the food I eat at home, which is both sustainable and delicious.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the inspiration behind the title?
When I started writing I wanted it to offer easy recipes because it’s the simple dishes that people connect with. That’s why I chose the format of one-pot and tray selections.
I focused on energy usage too, which is a part of sustainability that is often overlooked whilst cooking. Many recipes require you to turn on the oven, the hob, the grill, and the food processor – that’s a lot of energy. If you can reduce that, simplify the cooking process and save money, then it’s a win all around. It’s not the sexiest of topics but it’s so important.
What inspires your recipes and has this changed over time?
Going out to try other chef’s food inspires me but during the last year, we weren’t able to do that. I filled the gap by making other people’s recipes at home, whereas normally I cook from my head. Travel inspires me and I often go back to South India and Mexico, even if it’s just in my imagination to revisit the flavours. There’s also a humble inspiration to my recipes – sometimes it’s about just needing to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes.
“There’s also a humble inspiration to my recipes - sometimes it’s about just needing to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes.”
What music have you been cooking along to lately?
I’ve been loving an album by a band called Tomaga. It’s quite experimental but I enjoy music without words when I’m cooking, especially when I’m developing recipes. It creates an atmosphere and a feeling of calm. It was written by a friend of mine who passed away last year too, so it’s special to have that connection with him.
“I enjoy listening to music without words when I’m cooking, especially when I'm developing recipes. It creates an atmosphere and a feeling of calm.”
How can those who are looking to start cooking in a more sustainable way begin their journey?
Keep it simple. Try to buy less packaged food and avoid produce that is flown in from the other side of the world, as well as eating as much seasonal, vegetarian food as possible. If you’re doing those things you’re on the right track. You don’t need to be constantly reading science reports, overloading yourself with information, or overcomplicating things.
You mentioned you went vegetarian about 12 years ago. What swayed your decision?
I spent about seven years working with Jamie Oliver on lots of projects, from helping him develop recipes to food styling. Food always got me excited but I’d been cooking so much, I started to feel jaded. I needed to simplify my diet and reset my tastebuds for a few weeks, so I decided to give up meat, fish, and dairy. That was 12 years ago and I haven’t looked back… I felt really good in my body and in the kitchen – my creativity opened up in a totally different way.
“I felt really good in my body and in the kitchen - my creativity opened up in a totally different way.”
What advice would you give for those considering going vegetarian?
I would say just start small. Think about a couple of favourite dishes that you loved as a meat eater and recreate vegetarian options – whether that’s a spaghetti bolognese, a chilli, or a lasagne. Build up a repertoire of five or six recipes that you and your family love and expand from there.
I was listening to a podcast* recently featuring two members of The Good Food Institute. They were discussing how although flexitarians may not feel like they’re responsible for driving as much change as dedicated vegans, but these gradual shifts are vital for the development of alternative proteins and are actually making a real difference...
Absolutely, they’re doing an enormous amount of good. I’m vegetarian now and mostly vegan – we very occasionally have cheese or eggs at home. That’s what suits me and my family and you need to make a call on what works for you. The more meals a week you can eat without meat and fish, or dairy and eggs, the better – building up is really positive. It can be so tempting to try and make drastic shifts overnight but for some people that just doesn’t work. I would encourage us to see every vegetarian meal as a triumph and to celebrate ourselves in those moments.
“I would encourage us to see every vegetarian meal as a triumph and to celebrate ourselves in those moments”
Tofu is a great source of protein for veggies but a lot of people (including myself) can never get it quite right... What are your tips for cooking tofu and making it delicious?
I love tofu but I agree, lots of people are nervous about cooking it and there are so many variations. It can be confusing. There’s a particular type I love made by Miso Tasty. I would say start with a firm tofu and I’d recommend marinating it with a little garlic, ginger, chilli, a splash of soy and something sweet like honey. That will immediately elevate your cooking.
I always fry the tofu first and get it really brown in the pan, then I take it out to cook all my vegetables and noodles. Add the tofu back at the end, because cooking tofu with watery vegetables stops it from getting crispy. There’s a recipe in the book that cooks tofu in a xo sauce, which has every flavour profile going on – that’s my favourite right now.
Favourite restaurants in London and further afield?
A humble little cafe called Towpath, which is just on the canal in Hackney and it has some of the best food in London. I love Rochelle Canteen too and lunch on the lawn there in the summer is unrivalled. Trullo is a favourite too for knockout pasta.
Outside of London… I’m heading to Cornwall next week and can’t wait to eat at a restaurant run by a female chef called Emily Scott, at Watergate Bay Hotel. Some friends also have a fantastic cafe up on Anglesey, North Wales, called Tide.
Your go-to dish for hosting this summer?
I lean towards spicy, colourful food when I’m hosting. There’s a recipe in ‘One’ for arepas, which are halfway between a Venuzeulan corn cake and a taco. They’re easy to make and a great vehicle for lots of different flavours. The variation in the book has black beans, fried plantain and pickled pink onions, alongside a really delicious salad. I love sociable dishes, where everyone’s reaching over the table and passing bowls around whilst eating. That’s also what we ate for breakfast the morning after my wedding with friends and family, so it’s a special dish for me.
“I love sociable dishes, where everyone’s reaching over the table and passing bowls around whilst eating.”
And lastly… What’s next for Anna Jones?
There’s lots of different things coming up, which is great. I’ve got an online cooking course I’ve been working on with Create Academy, which was a great opportunity to condense everything I’ve learnt over the last 20 years of cooking. I’m excited to share my recipes with people in a new way.