Student gourmet takes on the couch potatoes

He wrote his first book at 14. Now the youthful cook has advice for his student peers

By Alex Kasriel, August 4, 2010
Food writer and student Sam Stern recommends easy, unpretentious foods like falafel

Food writer and student Sam Stern recommends easy, unpretentious foods like falafel

Our nation boasts the whole gamut of celebrity chef personalities: the cockney one, the angry one, the luscious lady one, the mumsy one and the experimental one, to name a few.

Enter the laid-back, studenty one. Sam Stern, 19, is currently studying politics and sociology at Edinburgh University and is also author of five brightly coloured recipe books aimed at first-time cooks, full of cheerful photos of Sam happily cooking in his mum’s kitchen.

His latest, Sam Stern’s Eat Vegetarian (which followed Get Cooking; Cooking Up a Storm; Real Food, Real Fast Food and Sam Stern’s Student Cookbook) includes easy, unpretentious recipes such as omelette, falafel, risotto and cannelloni.

He has one of those trendy haircuts that goes in different directions, never changes the tone of his voice from its default chilled-out Yorkshire drone and admits to finding it strange being recognised on campus.

Rather than sitting around playing video games and eating beans on toast like many teens, Stern developed a sophisticated palate at a young age. He began cooking roast dinners for his friends and family (he has four siblings) after school before moving on to homemade pizzas, curries, burgers and vegetable tarts.

Sam Stern recommends easy, unpretentious foods like falafel

Sam Stern recommends easy, unpretentious foods like falafel

“When my friends were at home on their own they would cook a frozen pizza,” explains Sam. “I would cook a roast chicken. We’d get calls from parents saying ‘why are you cooking roasts for my son? It’s not Sunday."

“It’s to do with the way young people are brought up. With my books, I’m teaching them how to cook and eat. The chances are they’re not going to set the house on fire if I’m giving them tips.”

Stern first brought out a cookery book aged 14 in a bid to get his fussy older brother to cook proper meals for himself when he went to university. He never intended to become a personality or even sell more than a few copies, if any.

“I never expected other people to buy my books,” he says modestly. “I was thinking it would be a family thing. I’d give a copy to my brother when he was at university and perhaps he’d show his friends.

“Luckily my mum knew an agent who knew the publishing world. It was pretty much blind luck that it got published. This isn’t about me being famous or successful, it’s about getting people to eat well and enjoy cooking.”

He is currently working on his next book which will have a multicultural theme and will include recipes inspired by his paternal Jewish ancestry. Sam’s grandfather, Jack Stern, 95, belongs to the small community in Norwich.

“I’m doing my grandma’s chicken soup which is just gorgeous,” he says. “My dad has decided he doesn’t want to teach me all these recipes that his mother made so I’m going to have to work them out for myself.”

He says he has had a piece of brisket curing in his fridge for 10 days for a salt beef recipe that will be included in the book. “Butchers tend to be impressed when you ask them for unusual cuts — often they have the most flavour,” he observes of his new foray into the world of cold meats and cholent.

“I identify with Judaism through food, to be honest,” he adds. “I want to go to Israel so I can try all the food they have there like tahini and falafel.”

‘Sam Stern’s Eat Vegetarian’ is published by Walker Books at £9.99

Last updated: 3:48pm, August 10 2010