30th January 2022

Ruby Tandoh’s Permission to ‘Cook As You Are’

A review of Ruby Tandoh’s ‘Cook As You Are’, Tandoh’s most politically radical yet practically reasonable book yet.
Ruby Tandoh’s Permission to ‘Cook As You Are’
Photo: Cover Design Steve Panton, Book Design Sinae Park

Ruby Tandoh’s career in food began in the politically neutral, Brexit-less environment of BBC gingham and bunting. But since leaving the Great British Bake Off tent in 2014, she has gone onto become an outspoken voice in addressing the elitism that underpins much of the food industry and its media.

Alongside a column for the Guardian, essays in the New Yorker and Vittles, Tandoh has written four books that stretch beyond our expectations of what a cookbook can be. ‘Flavour: Eat What You Love’  offered joyful recipes within reach of even the most stumbling home cook, whilst ‘Eat Up: Food, Appetite, and Eating What You Want’ interrogated the politics behind greed, glut, and pleasure. ‘Cook As You Are’, her most recent publication,  is her most politically radical yet practically reasonable book yet. In her own words, these are ‘Recipes for Real Life, Hungry Cooks and Messy Kitchens’. 

Conversations on accessibility in the kitchen must account for those more than just a restricted budget, but reach to include those with limited time, learning or physical disabilities, and dietary requirements of all kinds. A short note on ‘Making This Book Work For You’ invites a flexible reading of each of the recipes, and recognises that this ‘you’, her audience, is impossible to pin down.

For those low on time, energy, or mobility, the sections ‘feed me now’ and ‘more food, less work’ are designed with simplicity and speed in mind. One-pan jobs such as the ‘one-tin smashed potatoes’ produce a manageable pile of washing up, while tinned goods, cheap and easy to buy in bulk and store, are put at the centre of recipes such as the pearl couscous with anchovies, tomatoes and olives.

A separate ‘easy-read’ version of the cookbook offers ten adapted recipes, including staples such as a fifteen minute homemade cream of tomato soup, and wonders such as the ‘salted, malted magic ice cream’ reduced into clear, step by step instructions. It’s a great alternative for those with learning disabilities, or anyone who may struggle to digest the dense volume of text a recipe book usually entails. Whilst the physical copy for the easy-read has sold out, the text has been made available as a free PDF at https://www.rubytandoh.co.uk/books

Several original bakes are dotted throughout, such as an orange, olive oil and black pepper cake and a marbled chocolate and almond cake. Here, there is a deliberate and welcome absence of emotive language regarding ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ eating, ‘treats’ or ‘cheats’. We are instead offered a reading list that tackles fat-phobia, disordered eating, and other issues around food and body image. 

Where we may expect aspirational photographs, there are only delicate, simple illustrations by the artist Sinae Park. While some may miss flicking through polished pages, the removal of food stylists and filters keep these recipes grounded, removing one site of inevitable comparison. It is yet another attempt to look beyond ‘only one very narrow vision of what cooking looks like and who these recipes are for’.  

This is a cookbook radical in its compassionate tone, practical in its substance. We are eased into these recipes in a way that is gentle, flexible, but never patronising. In the place of a ‘tin-pot dictatorship’, Tandoh offers an alternative as soothing as her Korean soft tofu stew, as utopian as her Eden rice.

Photo: Cover Design Steve Panton, Book Design Sinae Park

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