Why I was afraid of the kitchen

By Michael Leventhal, October 3, 2013
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Student and gourmet are words with little to connect them. Most students reputedly exist on a diet of baked beans and take-aways.

James Eder who, with brother Michael, co-founded website www.studentbeans.com was no exception.
The brothers grew up in a home where both parents loved to cook.

“My favourite meals include the classic Friday night — chicken soup, roasted chicken, roasted vegetables and potatoes and apple crumble. Food is a great part of being Jewish, celebrating all the festivals with meals being a big focus for many of them and an opportunity to be around the table together,” says James.

But when he went to university his culinary experience was a rude awakening.
“Leaving home and being away from our mum’s cooking was a real challenge for my brother Michael and I during our student years. I ate a lot and I mean a lot of pasta and cheese,” he laughs. “It was almost like I was afraid of the kitchen and in hindsight that was partly to do with a lack of confidence,” he divulges.

So the brothers were sure there would be demand for a cookery book aimed at students. Their website, which offers discounted goods and services from local companies for the student population, invited students to share their culinary experiences.

Tales flooded in including those of baked potatoes being detonated in student halls of residence microwaves causing the whole building to be evacuated, electric grills being welded to kitchen surfaces and kettles exploding as a result of a novice cook attempting to boil noodles in them.

James eventually learned to cook a few years ago with friend, and food blogger, Rachel Davies.

“I learned the basics from scratch and was soon able to cook soup, a Friday night dinner, homemade pasta and salads. The satisfaction of being able to cook and host a dinner is so rewarding,” he says.

He was inspired to work with Rachel to produce a downloadable ebook around cooking. “We’d already done some fun recipes on Studentbeans, but this ebook was downloaded more than 30,000 times.”
James and his team realised that food was definitely an area of interest to their members.

So he explored the possibility of publishing a book and began working with recipe technician Rob Allison who acted as food editor for the project.

“Combining our expert knowledge of the student lifestyle with Rob’s expertise led us to secure a fantastic two-book deal with Orion books,” he says.

James Eder is proud of the new Studentbeans cookbook

James Eder is proud of the new Studentbeans cookbook

The end result is a (albeit non-kosher) student friendly cookbook packed with basic and not so basic recipes, illustrated throughout with colourful photographs. The book kicks off with an extremely helpful section entitled Cooking Basics.

As Studentbeans PR and marketing manager Olivia Newman explains: “You are often stuck in a student house without great equipment so we wanted to put together a system every student can use — to take the complexity out of it.”

So the book provides an extensive breakdown of estimated measures of what quantity of foods including rice, sugar, lentils, frozen peas and pasta the average mug or pint glass can hold. Every student will have both or at least one of those.

The book’s intro also explains to the budding Jamie or Nigella what they will need in their kitchen tool kit, the basics of elementary food hygiene and notes on how to prep a range of vegetables.

There is a potted guide to basic techniques like slicing and dicing, a glance at nutrition and the low down on how to cook staples like rice, pasta and potatoes.

“We are so proud of the book,” says James. “I only wish that there had been something like the Ultimate Student Cookbook around when we were at uni — a simple-to-follow cookbook with properly designed recipes for wholesome and great-tasting food.”

So if you are dispatching a bird from your nest this autumn, this might be worth tucking in their bag.

Recipes from The Ultimate Student Cookbook, Orion Books, £14.99

Last updated: 11:44am, October 3 2013