Interview | Anna Jones
We are super delighted to be chatting with Anna Jones on the blog today. We must admit we are having a total fan girl moment. Anna’s recipes are simple, nutritious and divine – Lou, caught up with Anna to learn about her beginnings in food and what ingredients she cannot live without.
PLEASE CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOU, AND HOW YOUR LOVE OF FOOD CAME ABOUT?
I’ve been in love with food from day one, growing up I was making cakes, then family dinners before I was in at secondary school. Making food my job, took a bit longer. One grey, late-for-work day, I decided to quit my office job after reading an article about following your passion by which bit of the newspaper you read first. I had always read the restaurant section first, and within days, I had a place on the training programme at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in London. After earning my stripes there, I went to chef at Le Caprice in London and also cooked in Spain and the Chianti fields of Tuscany. I then returned to the Jamie Oliver family to work as his food stylist, writer and food creative on books, TV shows and food campaigns.
Then I spent a few years working independently as a stylist and recipe developer, the big shift came when I become vegetarian and realised all the food I wanted to eat hadn’t been written about yet. So now incredibly lucky to work on my own books and columns, with the occasional day styling food for other people, and helping develop restaurant menus or events.
WHEN YOU LEFT YOUR OFFICE JOB TO PURSUE A CAREER IN FOOD, HOW WAS IT TAKING THAT INITIAL STEP? DID YOU HAVE A BACK UP PLAN? HOW DID EVERYONE REACT?
By the time I left my office job, I already had a place on Jamie’s Fifteen training scheme. I handed in my notice and left the very same day, it was all rather quick but everyone around me was so supportive. I’m not really one for a back up plan, I jump into things with both feet and don’t look back.
YOU STARTED AT FIFTEEN WITH JAMIE OLIVER, HOW DID THAT SHAPE THE WAY YOU COOK?
Jamie Oliver has undoubtedly been pivotal to my career, I adored working with him and the amazing team of women who work with him. He’s a great supporter of women in the kitchen and the wider world which I respect hugely.
I learnt an enormous amount from him – too much to distil into a paragraph. On the food side of things, he taught me to that to write engaging recipes you need to make them easy to cook, approachable and use supermarket ingredients. He also taught me that if you set your mind to something and work really hard it’ll be possible.
YOU HAVE COOKED ALL OVER THE WORLD, WITH CLIENTS, CAN YOU TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE COUNTRY TO EAT? WHERE HAS INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU COOK THE MOST?
I am influenced by so many different cuisines, cultures and styles of cooking, and I am really fortunate to have done a lot of travelling for my work. The cuisines I keep coming back to are probably Mexican, for it’s layering of flavour, Indian for the sheer variety of vegetarian food, and Italian, because I just love the ingredients and combinations.
WITH 3 BOOKS UNDER YOUR BELT ARE THERE PLANS FOR A FOURTH, IF SO COULD YOU GIVE A SNEAK PEEK ON THE ANGLE?
At the moment the plan is for it to come out Autumn 2019 but I can’t say too much else just yet. Just that it will of course be vegetarian.
LOU (OUR FOUNDER) HAS YOUR FIRST TWO BOOKS AND REGULARLY COOKS FROM IT FOR HER FAMILY (WHO ARE CLASSIC MEAT LOVERS). WAS IT INTENTIONAL TO MAKE A VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK THAT APPEALED TO THE MASSES?
Absolutely. I never wanted my books to be vegetarian first – I wanted them to be satisfying and generous first and foremost. All my friends, whether or not they are vegetarian, want to eat more simple, seasonal, vegetable-led food. As the number of vegetarians in the UK slowly creeps up, the number of people reducing the amount of meat in their diet is sky-rocketing. I think we are all beginning to realise that eating lots of meat may not be the best for our bodies or the planet.
IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE 3 INGREDIENTS YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT, WHAT WOULD THEY BE AND WHY?
Impossible to choose three, but I’ve had a go.
Lemons; They show up in almost all of my recipes and I actually use them as kind of a third seasoning. You can use the zest, which has that bit more lemon oil in it, which gives that really almost sherbet sweet flavour, and then you can use the juice, which gives that sharpness and adds another dimension to cooking. I don’t think I could really cook without lemons.
Chickpeas; are another of my most used ingredients. Satisfying but light, delicately nutty and comforting, and amazing at soaking up all the rich flavours you pair them with. They are the back bone of a good hummus, but they can do so much more – I crisp up their edges in killer veggie burgers, and stir them into stews for little pops of warming texture.
Very good olive oil; is another absolute staple – simple dressed green leaves, a rosemary olive oil cake, a drizzle on toasted sourdough with a sprinkle of za’atar. All hard to beat.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS WANTING TO GIVE UP THEIR 9-5 TO FOLLOW THEIR PASSION?
I believe that if you do what you do with passion and dedication to the best of your ability and believe anything is possible you don’t have to do a hard sell.
I have believed in gentleness and led my work with the joy of food and my love for cooking and everything else has fallen into place. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to do some of the things I have over the last 12 years working in food, it’s been down to a mixture of some very hard work and meeting some amazing people and keeping the truth of what I love at the core of everything I do.
IF YOU COULD SIT AT A TABLE WITH ONE WOMAN, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY AND WHAT WOULD YOU COOK?
It would have to be my grandmothers on both sides (sorry I really can’t choose one.) They both passed away before I really got to know them – one had twelve children and the other was a single mother so I know we’d have plenty to talk about. It would have to be a proper roast veg dinner on the table.
DO YOU EVER EXPERIENCE SELF DOUBT AND WHAT STEPS DO YOU TAKE TO OVERCOME IT?
As I’m sure most people experience, I often feel self-doubt and engage in a lot of questioning, I think it’s a symptom of modern times. There are obviously a lot of negative sides, but if I wasn’t looking at what else was going on in the food world and pushing myself forwards then I’m not sure I’d have be where I am now.
Obviously on the flip side there have been times where it has got a bit out of hand and I try to recognise that. I’ll purposefully take some time out and come off Instagram for a bit. Being a mum has changed my outlook but also put a spotlight on how much pressure I feel to be everything to everyone. That’s something I have to check in with and make sure I don’t spiral out of control.
CAN YOU TELL US YOUR MORNING ROUTINE, FROM WAKING TO OUT THE DOOR?
Every morning starts with my young son, Dylan, then I have a cup of hot water and lemon, quickly followed by a cup of Lady Grey with milk. Before Dylan, my first reaction on waking was to immediately want to fall back asleep. Mornings seem a lot brighter and more positive now he’s around. There’s no going back to sleep, so we end up sitting and playing in bed for the first hour of the day.
WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU DO FOR A SELF-CARE RITUAL?
I have a two year old so my self-care ritual at the moment is usually just being able to take ten minutes for a shower! Jokes aside, if I get more than half an hour to cook then I find preparing a considered evening meal a time to unwind and relax.
Her books are sold in seven countries and have been translated into four languages. They have been nominated for the James Beard, Fortnum & Mason, Guild of Food Writers and Andre Simon awards.
Anna writes a weekly, well-loved column for the Guardian. She believes in putting vegetables at the centre of the table and the unbridled joy of cooking and eating.
She lives in Hackney, east London with her husband and young son.
You can sign up to her newsletter, for all the latest recipes and inspiration from her kitchen, here.
Images credit – Ana Cuba.