With the UK’s rising obesity levels in mind, encouraging consumers to swap takeaways and TV dinners for cooking from scratch is an ongoing challenge for the fresh produce industry. However, a new family cookbook, Around The World With The Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure, may well have cracked this conundrum by cleverly combining comic book-style characters with culinary delights. Rachel Anderson and her family tried it out
“I don’t like it mum…. I love it!” This was the declaration excitedly made by my seven-year-old daughter Daisy after she sampled the two chilli-infused dishes – Larry’s Mexican Spicy Street Wraps and Chef’s Australian Fusion Burgers – we’d cooked from the forthcoming family cookbook, Around The World With The Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure. After several years of witnessing Daisy burst into tears whenever she accidentally ingested a microscopic spec of fiery food, you can imagine the relief I felt – as a hot-pepper sauce addict – on seeing her tuck into these two meals.
This experience suggests that this unique cookbook could be a fun way of encouraging youngsters to enjoy types of foods, including fresh produce, that they are usually reluctant even to try. It’s particularly appealing to budding young chefs because, as they open the book they are welcomed into the colourful world of the Ingreedies – a team of cartoon characters created by illustrator Chris Dickason and including (to name but a few) Lexi The Veggie Whiz, Rita The Fruit Star, Chef The Flavour Genius, Chai The Spice Guru, and Harvie, Hugo and Hattie The Herbs.
The characters’ challenge is to: “find the most scrumptious, lip-smacking dishes the world has to offer.” Given my daughter’s positive reaction to the meals we cooked, I think this is a case of “mission accomplished.” Around The World With The Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure is the labour of love of two London-based designers, married couple Zoë Bather and Joe Sharpe. Bather explains that the couple’s aim is to: “help children understand how food and flavours work. We just want to open their eyes to what goes into the food they eat – in a way that’s fun and explanatory.”
Bather adds that the pair’s desire to create such a cookbook came from their own experiences of cooking for their family. She says: “Ingreedies was born out of: ‘How can we make everyday ingredients fun for the girls [Tia and Lottie, now both teenagers]?’” She also notes that: “As parents we noticed that there seemed to be cookery books aimed at grown-ups and lots of pink cookery books aimed at girls – but little else.” And Sharpe was getting bored in the kitchen: “I was cooking the same things all of the time,” he says. “It was difficult to pick out family-friendly recipes from our collection of cookbooks.”
Getting children excited about food
Given the fact that it looks and feels a lot like a storybook, Around The World With The Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure is a far cry from your average cookbook. It’s largely aimed at children aged between seven and 11 who will undoubtedly enjoy the entertaining and quirky illustrations, maps and food-related trivia that are used to explain the origins of, and traditions behind, some of the world’s favourite foods.
Bather says: “I think the way to get kids excited about food is through the culture that surrounds it.” Inspired by their travels and the fact that they live in London – “a part of the world where you have access to so many wonderful cuisines,” Bather and Sharpe’s cookbook includes more than a dozen recipes from countries such as Mexico, India, Thailand and China. Herbs such as coriander, vegetables such as shallots and peppers, fruits including limes, mangoes and pears, and spices such as cinnamon are therefore some of the book’s star ingredients.
Before Daisy and her younger brother Elliott, rolled up their sleeves and helped me prepare the dishes, we enjoyed soaking up some quirky facts together, such as how the Scoville scale measures the “hotness” of chillies, and how Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought chillies from South America to India and southeast Asia.
Daisy and Elliott roll up their sleeves and get busy with Rachel
Whilst the recipes require an adult to do the bulk of the cooking – particularly tricky tasks such as onion chopping – some basic chores that children can do themselves are helpfully pointed out in the book as a guide for the adults who are supervising them. My children therefore took great delight in mucking in whenever possible – enjoying, for example, onion peeling, mixing up spices, stirring stew, and shaping up “squidgy” burgers.
Bather says: “We did lots of recipe testing amongst friends – what they liked and what their children liked and didn’t like and where people would struggle to find the right ingredients. We wanted to try and keep it as accessible as possible so that you can get everything in a major supermarket.”
For this article, I also asked a couple of my friends to try out some of the recipes. Unsurprisingly, the feedback from them was positive. For instance, a friend who cooked the Chef’s Moroccan Chicken Stew says: “They [my children] said they liked how the book was fun for children to look at – bold, vibrant and colourful. They thought the Ingreedies characters were funny and liked learning about different foods from around the world.”
It’s fun to learn about food from around the world
Cooking: could we be teaching it better?
Another friend who, like me, cooked the Chef’s Australian Fusion Burgers, says: “I would thoroughly recommend the book to other parents, it is fun and particularly enjoyable if you have little ones who enjoy cooking.” She also suggests that the book could also be used during school cookery classes.
As it happens, Bather and Sharpe are keen to see their cookbook used in both schools and nurseries, particularly as they believe that the negative reaction that children often have to food is not helped by the ways in which cooking is often taught to them. Bather says: “I feel quite strongly about what we are teaching kids in schools about cooking and how we could be teaching it better.
“In our experience it’s [teaching children cookery skills] all about food hygiene, health and safety, and how to measure out ingredients. There’s nothing interesting about that. Whereas if what they were taught was: ‘Here is how you make a tomato sauce and what other ingredients would you like to put in it?’ then that would be a lot more engaging.”
Following the cookbook’s release on August 15 (2016), the couple is planning to hold a series of promotional events at restaurants and arts centres to help spread the word about their “ingredients hunters.” These include, for example, a “show and tell of raw ingredients” at an arts centre on the Isle of Wight and an event at the iconic food hall and café Source in St Nicholas Market, Bristol when children will be helping to prepare two of their recipes.
Bather and Sharpe are also keen to work with different industries, including the fresh produce industry, to develop competitions and book giveaways. With the need to boost fruit and vegetable consumption in mind, it is arguably in the fresh produce industry’s interest to support those publications that could help the next generation develop a love of cooking, global cuisine and, of course, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Around The World With The Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure
Published by Laurence King Publishing on August 15, 2016
Hardback: £12.99 from amazon.co.uk
Elliott tucks in: enjoying the Chef’s Australian Fusion Burger he made himself