Anna Jones has been a trailblazer in celebrating modern vegetarianism with mouth-watering recipes that pack more punch and nutrition than any meat and two veg. Her sumptuously designed and beautifully written recipe books were my go-to reference point when I went vegan earlier this year. If you are tempted to change your diet to be more veggie-based, be it in response to climate change or cholesterol, you’ll soon be thumbing down the pages of her books and trying recipes from her weekly Guardian column.
Which bit of your job do you like the best?
I love the whole process really it depends on the day you ask me which bit I prefer, some days I feel totally inspired eat come up with ideas and others I feel more insular and it’s a good day to sit down and write. I do think at different times of the month (in my cycle) I am better at different things so I try and make sure that I work to my strengths on that day as much as possible. It doesn’t always work that way.
What prompted you to be vegetarian?
After a few years as a chef and then working as a food writer and stylist I became a little jaded with food as I was cooking, tasting and generally surrounding myself with it. I know it sounds a bit of a spoilt thing to say and I know how lucky I am to be in the position that I have food on the table but I realised my body wasn’t feeling the way I knew it could. As an experiment I decided to move to a vegetable centred way of eating for 6 weeks, giving up meat, fish and all but a little dairy. That was 10 years ago and I haven’t looked back. Whether or not you are vegetarian I think most people want to eat more simple, seasonal, vegetable-led I think we are all beginning to realize that eating lots of meat may not be the best for our bodies or the planet. It’s happening slowly but surely.
What about dairy?
I am reducing the dairy and eggs I eat as well. I only eat dairy or eggs if it is organic and comes from a reliable source. That includes things made with diary like biscuits and cakes.
Where’s home and what do you love about it?
I live in Hackney, East London with my husband and son. Hackney is such an amazing place to live, with a huge variety of cuisines on offer around every corner.
We live in a Victorian semi-detached house with clean white, simple interiors, and have a mixture of mid-century furniture and simple antiques that I’ve picked up on my prop-sourcing trips to Ardingly. The kitchen centres around a huge wooden dining table – I think it’s an old door – that I’ve managed to sit 14 people around.
You started out working with Jamie Oliver. What’s your favourite memory of working with him?
There are so many good memories, I worked for him for seven jam-packed years and I travelled the world helping him with his cooking shows, recipe writing. There was one particular shoot on an native American reserveration in Arizona that I will always remember. We slept, cooked and ate with a family who lived in one of the most remote parts of the reservation, the landscape was epic, they made the best tortillas and tamales I have ever tasted and I had to pinch myself. Those shoots are always crazy, such long days and seriously hard work trying to set up a mobile kitchen at every stop – everyone goes a bit mad, so there are lots of laughs.
Where do you find your inspiration for new recipes?
Writing and devising recipes is something I have been doing for the last 10 years for my own cookbooks and for other famous chefs so it’s part of my make-up now. I find inspiration everywhere I go, be it in an amazing restaurant. Just last night I had a meal which in three courses gave me ideas for five or six recipes. I think more than anything though I am inspired by food itself, by the amazingness of the sherbety spritz you get when you zest a lemon or the first strawberries of the year showing up in the garden.
What’s the next big food trend? Surely avocado on toast has had its day…?
Avocado toast has certainly had its day; avocados are mostly flown in so I eat them these days only once in a while and stick to British or at least European fruit and veg. I think as we’re becoming increasingly conscious of our effect on the planet sustainability in the kitchen is going to be the new thing. From the produce we buy to the energy we use in cooking. I often find myself thinking, what else can I put in the oven whilst that tray of roast potatoes cooks or that sourdough is baking?
What’s your favourite date restaurant in London?
Spring Restaurant in London is doing some of the best and most original simple British cooking at the moment – they are always generous to vegetarians and their dining room is both calm and so beautiful.
What’s the key ingredient to a successful picnic (apart from the weather)?
Picnic food is tricky. You have to choose food that improves as it sits – nothing that needs to be super-cold, and save the ice for the drinks. My picnics are almost always a happy pairing of some good shopping (good bread for tearing, some cheese, a nice jar of chutney, fruit or 99s from the ice cream van for pudding) and a couple of homemade things that improve with travel and are easily shared like my greens and feta pie.
What book is by your bedside?
There’s always a whole stack as I never manage to read as much as I’d like to with a toddler in tow. At the moment in the stack are an old favourite Tamar Adler’s The Everlasting Meal, Period Power by Maisie Hill, The book you Wish your Parents had Read by Philippa Perry and The Mother of All Jobs by Christine Armstrong.
Favourite flavour of ice cream?
Stracciatella or Mint choc chip: dead heat.
What’s your favourite spice?
I find ‘favourite’ questions so difficult but coriander seeds are probably my most-used spice. The flavour goes so beautifully with lemon, which is another essential in my kitchen – I use it to season hummus and occasionally even to flavour vodka. I keep my coriander in seed form as it retains its flavour better whole. When adding the seeds to a recipe, I always toast them to bring out more of the flavour, before grinding them in a pestle and mortar.
Where would you like to go for an early summer break?
Anglesey, the knock-out Welsh island where my husband John is from is one of our favourite places for a break. Endless beaches, plenty of surf and incredible views around every corner and its still a bit of a secret so the beaches are quiet.
Best life advice?
I think these days we can take life too seriously and forget that we are a little pin prick in the expanse of time and space – kind of a scary thought but it always manages to help me put things in perspective. I imagine myself in the enormity of our world and then our solar system and it seems to do the trick. Also to ask for help. I’ve not been good at that for much of my life but becoming a Mum has made me rethink being able to.
Favourite place to shop in London?
I live just off Chatsworth Road and I love to support my local shops @londonboroughofjam @botanyshope5 @eat17stores @triangle_store_hackney
We love your Instagram @we_are_food and have learnt so much from it. Who are the people you like to follow on social media?
I am a huge Instagram fan and I find endless inspiration for recipes and interiors – interiors are my new obsession as we are just doing up our house.
@alisonroman – a brilliant NYC chef
@jvn – from queereye for his gymnastics
@mynewroots for great food and good vibes
@26grains for food from their amazing cafe
What’s your perfect week?
My perfect week would be on the beach in Cornwall with my boys. I’d eat nice food and play on the beaches, surf and swim. We’d do lots of beach cooking and have picnics. I’d have no phone and emails and just be with my family and friends.
Anna Jones is the author of four books: A Modern Way to Eat, A Modern Way to Cook, The Modern Cook’s Year and her latest The Modern Cook’s Year: More than 250 vibrant vegetarian recipes to see you through the seasons was published on 26 March 2019.