Jack Monroe’s debut cookbook, A Girl Called Jack, has only been out a week and has flown straight to the top of the book charts. She’s a dynamic, exciting new voice in food, championing budget cooking and good food for all, regardless of income. A star of the food blogging world, a political campaigner and now a Guardian food writer and cookbook author, she has been on an extraordinary journey. We were lucky enough to be able to grab ten minutes with Jack to find out more about her exciting rise to foodie superstardom, her cookery inspirations and passions and, of course, her new book.
What are your hopes for your cookery book? Is there a particular audience you’d like to reach?
Well, my hope all along for my cookery book would be that it would manifest itself, and here I am right now looking at a copy of it. And it’s the most bizarre thing, to see your name on the spine of a book and know that you wrote it! So from here, I hope that it does what I intended it to do, which is to go out into the world and teach people how to cook well for themselves; how to cook easy but delicious recipes no matter what their budget or culinary capabilities are.
I’m not a technical chef, I’m not qualified, I’m just a mum who throws together some stuff out of what’s in my cupboard, and I hope that my book goes some way towards breaking down the barriers between home cooking – what we do every day – and what people perceive recipe books to be all about.
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Do you cook from recipe books yourself? What are your favourites?
I have a lot of recipe books but I don’t cook from them at all. I don’t follow recipes, so the fact that I now write recipes is slightly ironic! I read recipe books like novels. I picked up one yesterday evening, sat down and read it from the Introduction right through to the Index and then I put it back on the shelf. And over the course of the next couple of weeks, bits of that book will come back to me. Ideas will come back to me but, because I haven’t copied them out word for word, because they not somebody else’s recipes, they will become my own. I will cook my own interpretation of them. If food excites and delights me, it sticks in my head and I try my own versions of it.
I’ve got all the Abel & Cole cookbooks, Nigel Slater, a couple of Nigella Lawson, a lot of Jamie Oliver, and just all chefs I admire who have different elements of my cooking style and have influenced my cooking style greatly.
Are you from a long line of great cooks or are you a pioneer in your family?
None of my immediate family have got careers in the food industry but my nan make the best sandwiches in the world, my mum makes the best risotto in the world, and my dad makes the best Avgolemono soup in the world! And yeah, I think food has always been quite a big part of my life. I’ve got a cousin who’s a chef out in America and a fostered brother who’s a chef so there are little other pockets of foodies scattered throughout our family, but I’m the first one with a book!
What is the Recipe in your book that says home to you?
The recipe in my book that says home to me is Avgolemono soup. I describe it as the soup of my childhood and it very much was. I remember after family Sunday roast dinners my mum or dad would take the chicken carcass, plonk it in a stock pot, take off all the leftover chicken, and then make a big vat of this soup. It’s just homemade chicken stock with scraps of that chicken, rice, lemon, and a couple of beaten eggs stirred through it before serving. My aunt Helen, who lived in Plymouth, always had a vat of Avgolemono soup waiting for us when we turned up for the summer holidays. It’s one of those things that, to me, says home and comfort. It’s the first thing I want when I’m ill. It’s just proper stodgy, carby, creamy goodness: a complete meal in a bowl. And you don’t stop at one either…
What excites you about food in Britain at the moment?
I think one of the things that excites me is a new emerging food culture which isn’t a foodie culture at all. I think people are starting to enjoy, explore, and experiment with food more. People are also becoming more aware of the importance of seasonal food, and of where their food comes from, the ethics behind it. I think food has never been more in the national consciousness than it is now. Whether that is trying to get a healthy balanced diet or trying not to heat horse meat in your ready meals, or trying out the latest super food, we’re thinking a lot more about what we’re putting in our bodies on a day to day basis. It’s important for people to be aware about food. What is marketed to us can be expensive. The Acai berries, Goji berries, all other various super foods they sell in health food shops, are always sold to us as miracle products, but actually there are great super foods like tomatoes and broccoli that are packed full of vitamins and anti-oxidants that are much much cheaper. You don’t have to spend a fortune to eat well.
Photo of Jack by Susan Bell.