Of cook­ing

Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Interview -

Blog­ger-turned cook­book au­thor Ella Ris­bridger found more than mere plea­sure in pre­par­ing food. Strug­gling with anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and heart­break­ing be­reave­ment, cook­ing turned out to be her sal­va­tion, writes Katy McGuin­ness

Most ‘cook­books’ writ­ten by 26-yearolds are not like Ella Ris­bridger’s Mid­night Chicken. But then most 26-year-olds are not like Ella Ris­bridger, who says that she was “born very old”. Ella has also had con­sid­er­ably more life ex­pe­ri­ence than most of her con­tem­po­raries. The ti­tle recipe, for in­stance (which is ab­so­lutely de­li­cious and I rec­om­mend highly), came about after Ella spent hours ly­ing on her kitchen floor crip­pled with anx­i­ety, won­der­ing if she would ever be able to get up, be­fore be­ing coaxed up­right by her boyfriend.

“I still love the recipe for Mid­night Chicken,” she says. “My best friend Caro­line [O’Donoghue, Ir­ish au­thor and jour­nal­ist] once asked me if I was wor­ried that I had peaked too early. ‘You will never do a chicken recipe as good as this,’ she said. ‘It’s the best chicken I’ve ever had.’ I can’t be­lieve it was me that came up with it.”

Most of us came to know Ella through her beau­ti­fully writ­ten blog, Eat­ing with My Fingers, or on Twit­ter, where she chron­i­cled her life through food in the Tiny Flat in Lon­don with John Un­der­wood, aka the Tall Man, whom she met on Twit­ter soon after she ar­rived in Lon­don to study com­par­a­tive lit­er­a­ture at uni­ver­sity at the age of 18.

John, a few years older than Ella, was di­ag­nosed with lym­phoma in 2015, and dur­ing the course of his ill­ness the cou­ple raised more than €130,000 for the An­thony Nolan Foun­da­tion, which main­tains a regis­ter of po­ten­tial trans­plant donors to match with those di­ag­nosed with blood can­cers. John died last year, just as she was fi­nal­is­ing the book.

Ella is far too smart to go along with trite apho­risms, but she’d prob­a­bly agree that learn­ing to cook — and writ­ing about learn­ing to cook — saved her life. She’s a sur­vivor of men­tal health prob­lems and a sui­cide at­tempt, all of which she writes about in Mid­night Chicken. The clue is in the book’s sub­ti­tle: (& Other Recipes Worth Liv­ing For).

A con­di­tion of this in­ter­view is that, even though there is quite a lot about John in the book, we are not al­lowed to talk about him. Fair enough. Hav­ing shared so much on­line in the past, it now feels pru­dent to be more cir­cum­spect. “I’ve been on the in­ter­net for years,” she says. “My first web­site was when I was nine, and my friend’s dad helped us to code it. There was a chick that jumped across the top of the page be­cause it was dur­ing the Easter hol­i­days. We wrote lit­tle ar­ti­cles about what was go­ing on at school. There was one called How to Build a Den; I was very proud of it.

“These days, though, I put a blog post up only very oc­ca­sion­ally. I just don’t have the time. I’ve got to make a liv­ing, for one thing, and I’m more care­ful than I used to be about what I put up.”

She is still a pro­lific tweeter, though. Sharp, funny, kind and ex­u­ber­ant. “Twit­ter is only lit­tle blogs,” she says. “And I’m in­ca­pable of writ­ing one tweet when 30 will do. But these days I just have so many more peo­ple watch­ing what I do. When I had a hun­dred fol­low­ers, I wanted to be friends with all of them. I made ‘in real life’ friends on Twit­ter; I met John on Twit­ter. Every friend I have in Lon­don has been from a con­nec­tion that started off on Twit­ter, or their friends or friends’ friends.”

While many cook­books from au­thors in their 20s fo­cus on plant-based di­ets and ‘clean’ eat­ing, Ella’s recipes are ro­bust and demo­cratic, with no hint of di­etary is­sues. “I don’t think they are joy­less per se,” she says diplo­mat­i­cally.

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