Anna Jones, the ‘new Nigella’ and a Modern Way to Eat

Thu, 18 June 2015
Anna JonesAnna Jones, photo by Issy Croker

If you’re as carnivorous as we are, vegetarian food can sometimes present a bit of a mental block. Who wants stuffed peppers when you can have a bird in a bird in a bird? That was, until we came across Anna Jones. With her beauteous cookbook, A Modern Way to Eat, Anna champions the rich, layered, textural wonders of vegetarian cooking.

“I don’t think as a country we have much of a vocabulary around vegetarian eating,” Anna tells us, as we bed down in her Homerton kitchen for the afternoon. “Britain’s cuisine has always revolved around meat and two veg. I wanted people to pick up the book, love the recipes and not even realise it was vegetarian until they’d finished it.”

After quitting her job in PR and winning a spot on Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen training course, Anna began a seven-year spell as a food stylist, recipe creative and writer on Jamie’s booming television shows, cookbooks and campaigns. Her talents took her to Downing Street, East End Schools, America’s fattest town (Huntington, West Virginia) and Australia’s coast.

Since becoming a freelance stylist and writer, Anna has worked with everyone from Yotam Ottolenghi and Antonio Carluccio to Mary Berry and Sophie Dahl. But it is her first cookbook that has caused her name to spring up all over the food world recently, and had her dubbed ‘The New Nigella’ by The Times.

At the end of the day, the drive has to be food. And it has to be the joy of feeding people. It can’t be driven by trend or fad.

“For me, the tag ‘vegetarian’ has so many negative connotations. I struggled with that a lot at first, I didn’t want the word ‘vegetarian’ anywhere near the book at first,” Anna says. “But the reality is that we all have to start eating in a way that has less impact on the planet. Most people do seem to be moving slowly towards eating less meat.”

“Vegetarian food has been pigeon-holed into brightly painted cafés and hemp trousers,” she laughs. “‘But seriously, becoming a vegetarian completely changed the way I looked at cooking. Working without meat made me consider mood, flavour, texture, and layering spices, citrus and sweet in a whole new way. It made me incredibly excited about cooking again.”

This is the message Anna is spreading, and there isn’t a shred of evangelism in sight. “I feel quite strongly about not making rules for yourself, especially around food. Serious hang-ups can come from these kinds of restrictions. I never wanted to make a stark decision to never eat meat again, I just haven’t had the urge.”

A new book, A Modern Way to Cook, is now set for release in July. It will follow on from the last with more simple, ‘life-friendly’ recipes. “It’s all still joyful cooking, but designed for the every day,” Anna explains.

In the meantime, look out for the queen of vegetarian cuisine this summer, when she will be conducting pop-up feasts and appearing on Saturday Kitchen alongside James Martin. “At the end of the day, the drive has to be food. And it has to be the joy of feeding people. It can’t be driven by trend or fad.”

She continues, “There will be a time when vegetarians can eat out with complete ease in London. There are already so many amazing places for vegetarians to try here. There’s no point in sitting at the end of the table at a steak restaurant with a bowl of chips anymore. We’ll get there.”

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