When I was a child, I used to sit for hours on a stool, watching my mother and grandmother cook in their respective kitchens. At grandma’s house, family meals were always a grand occasion. Big roast dinners, served around a massive shiny dining table in the ‘dining room’, a formal room saved for special occasions. She had a ‘dumb waiter’, which would be wheeled to the table filled with many different vegetables, including my favourite, roast potatoes. It was the 80’s/early 90’s and so some of gran’s common dishes included an egg mousse ‘ring’, trifles, courgette bake with a crispy topping and various trifles.
It was round these dinner tables I started developing a dislike for meat. I hated the carving of whatever poor unfortunate bird had been brought to the table. If I was persuaded to have any, it was under strict instruction that it should include no ‘black bits’ or gristle…
So, aged 10, growing up surrounded by lots of animals – pets and other local farmed animals – I declared one day after conversing with a field of cows and sheep – that I didn’t want to eat them anymore.
Adam the Lamb at Farm Animal Sanctuary, Evesham
In those early days, school dinners for me mainly consisted of plain cooked pasta and not much else. At home, mum made a lovely macaroni cheese, topped with sliced tomatoes quite often and I can remember her using her garlic press (which I now have and use daily), creating lots of different things for dinner for a short period of time.
When I left home at 17, I didn’t really know how to cook anything. I could boil pasta and make cheese toasties and put together a reasonable few days worth of food in a shopping basket.
I was at university in Cornwall and when my dad came to visit me, we began the ritual (which we still observe to this day, every two weeks) of going out for dinner. After eating a mushroom stroganoff in a pub one day, I decided I’d try to make one for myself. And so the experimenting in the kitchen began.
In the three years that followed, various housemates were happy subjects to my cooking. I’d been given my first food processor and learned what tahini was, which was a good start.
The most pleasure was always found in cooking for several people. Somewhere in the third year, the Sunday roast began, where I tried out things like rolling par-boiled potatoes in flour so they go mega crispy when roasted – like I can remember my mum doing.
At 21 I graduated and got my first job on a newspaper and acquired my own flat and kitchen for the first time. The kitchen itself was no more than about two meters square and you had to lean over the end of the single, tiny worktop, to reach the sink. But I loved it.
My vegetarian cooking before I joined Viva! in 2008, was very dairy and egg centred. I used cheese with most things, continuing to make lots of pasta dishes, before moving on to mastering massive quiches one summer.
Then I met Juliet Gellatley and everything changed. I’d never really thought before about whether there was anything wrong in eating eggs and drinking milk/eating cheese. I didn’t think it hurt the chickens or the dairy cows. But Viva! changed that and very soon I became vegan and have never looked back.
One of the biggest cooking influences on my vegan journey has been my friend and colleague, Jane Easton. Over the last four years or so, Jane has taught me everything I know about vegan cooking techniques and we continue to work closely together at Viva! and on the Vegetarian Recipe Club, which now contains the largest collection of tried and tested professional vegan recipes anywhere on the internet.
So here we are today. I’m still in a small kitchen (at home), where I spend most of my life trying to cram ingredients and equipment into three cupboards, whilst cooking up ‘lots of nice things’.
I’m going to post a few of my favourite recipes, written/photographed for the Vegetarian Recipe Club and gradually start adding new dishes as I make them in my own time.