tue 07/12/2021

Ruby Tandoh: Cook As You Are review - truly a trailblazer | reviews, news & interviews

Ruby Tandoh: Cook As You Are review - truly a trailblazer

Ruby Tandoh: Cook As You Are review - truly a trailblazer

Accessibility and compassion are the beating heart of this brilliant cookbook

Ever since her appearance on The Great British Bake Off in 2013, Ruby Tandoh has been a breath of fresh air to the food industry.

Unafraid to use her voice and stand up not only for herself but for the marginalised communities she is a part of, she writes at the intersection of politics and food and has been unapologetic about calling out elitism in the industry. Her latest book, Cook As You Are, is a brilliant example of her ideologies and principles put into practice. In it, she has built the foundations for a future where cookbooks guide people towards the joy of eating, while being mindful of all the obstacles that get in the way of daily cooking and consumption.

The book’s premise is neatly summarised in its opening sentence: “No two people cook alike”. It’s a fact to which anyone who has spent time in a kitchen will attest, and yet cookbooks are, by and large, targeted at people whose kitchen set-up is identical to the chef themselves: “No matter what some may claim, a cookbook can never be an objective thing”. Readers are expected to have a ready supply of fresh herbs, a gleaming set of sharp knives, counterspace aplenty, and most importantly, be physically and mentally able people who can spare hours of their day cooking. In recognising this isn’t the case, Tandoh breaks the mould – something she’s done for her whole career, but which she does most impactfully with this book.

"You might be a master of microwave cooking… Maybe you cook with curiosity… Or perhaps you cook in a fugue state, just getting some easy nutrition in before your shift starts. Some cooks move with their appetite; others work methodically through the basics. There are cooks in gleaming kitchens and those toiling over a two-ring portable stove. Some of you will hardly cook at all…That’s fine too."

Within sentences of starting Cook As You Are, I felt welcomed and supported. The compassion that Tandoh extends to the readers and users of her recipes instantly shines through. There is no judgement about the way I cook or what utensils I use, and the commitment to accessibility set down in the introduction continues in the recipes themselves.

Cook As You Are coverThere are no photographs (unless you have acquired the “Easy Read” version; more on this later), but Sinae Park’s delightful illustrations do more than enough, while making sure that no one feels excluded from the process of cooking from this book. The insidious nature of ableism and racism mean that we rarely notice the two white hands perfectly chopping vegetables on the pages of our cookbooks. Tandoh has questioned this and purposefully removed that barrier:

"My hope is that you’ll start to judge your success by whether the food tastes, smells and looks good to you – not by whether it matches up with a photo of a meal staged by a food stylist for a cookbook photoshoot"

The book contains a welcome section called “Making This Book Work For You”, which introduces us to the “Variations and Substitutions” component of each recipe. Although not an unusual concept, this book delves deeper into the reasons why a home-cook would want or need to make substitutions, from allergies and dietary restrictions, to finance and time budgeting. The chapter “More Food, Less Work” expands on this idea with a whole slew of recipes for anyone with limited mobility or whose resources for cooking are limited: recipes that require less chopping, slicing or general preparation; recipes that can be prepared from a seated position. For those of us who are neurodivergent, Tandoh has also included sensory cues for making sure that a dish is fully cooked.

With the introduction of any unusual ingredients, Tandoh includes a note not only on where you can buy the ingredient (down to the supermarket aisle), but also on a variety of alternatives. There’s even the added reassurance that if you do splurge on a new ingredient, you can refer to Tandoh’s list of the other recipes in which it’s used to finish off the tub or jar. It is these details that make the whole book so special: widely accessible in the truest sense.

Tandoh’s commitment to accessibility means she has even made a special edition of the book: an “Easy Read” version for those who find reading difficult, which is spiral-bound and does include photographs. A selection of copies were given away for free to food-related charities.

Tandoh’s awareness of the world in which we move and her commitment to making every aspect of her work more accessible and transparent is uniquely her own and crucial to the development of food culture. She acknowledges the origins of her recipes, dispelling the common myth of the omniscient chef, shares resources for further reading, and each step in her instructions is methodical and detailed – a far cry from the sparse instructions on Bake Off's technical challenges where the bakers are tested and then judged on their intuition.

I wholeheartedly hope that Cook As You Are signifies the future of cookbooks: a future where everyone feels welcome and is encouraged to give cooking a go, where we are invited to enjoy each step of the process, and where the community involved in creating a delicious recipe is acknowledged and credited. Ruby Tandoh truly is a trailblazer in many ways. I for one cannot wait to see what she does next.

@hunter5_1

I wholeheartedly hope this is the future of cookbooks

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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