On an otherwise unassuming day in November last year, Delia Smith shocked the culinary world by declaring that the cookbook is dead and she will not be writing another. ‘Printed recipes are pointless now that we can browse the web’, she said. Delia is right about virtually everything in life, but despite competition from every quarter, the cookbook is still going strong. Last year, we spent over £90 million on food and drink books – our highest total ever. We’re still devoted to cookbooks – and, of course, cookery magazines, like your very own Good Food, which is still Britain’s best-selling food magazine. However, our search for recipes is expanding into additional platforms where video is king.
On Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and websites, mini movies are quick on the info, big on the lighting, and oozing in the results. In an industry that used to rate its heroes by the amount of stars they’d gained from Michelin, the online rating system is all about the numbers of followers on social media. The Instagram versions of these videos tend not to feature cooks or voiceovers – just the ingredients, busy hands, upbeat music and simple captions – and most of them last under a minute. (Check out what our team do on Instagram at @bbcgoodfood). That’s enough time to learn how to deep-fry ice cream which has been wrapped in cookie dough, or how to make a 12-inch-wide double hamburger which explodes a volcano of melted cheese when you cut into it.
Over on YouTube, the video chef is more dominant – but doesn’t have to be the realm of young millennials. Mastanamma Karre has some of the highest viewing figures. Her videos are longer – around 10 minutes – and demonstrate the traditional way of cooking Indian food using a pestle and mortar, her hands instead of spoons and a single pan over an open fire in front of her house. She is 106 years old. Despite her resistance to using a hairdresser, makeup or special lighting, her YouTube channel has 824,000 subscribers and she gets an average of 2 to 4 million hits per video. Her recipe for chicken cooked inside a hollowed-out watermelon was seen by over 10 million people.
And at the newer end of this spectrum is Mob Kitchen, started by a Deliveroo driver called Ben Lebus with no training – apart from his teenage years spent watching TV cooking shows – but a driving desire to show his peer group how to cook a meal for four people for under £10. A year ago, his only follower was his mum, whose kitchen he took over to make his one-minute videos. He posted them twice a week regardless, and asked anyone who viewed his recipes to tag a friend they thought would like the meal. Mob Kitchen now has over 47,000 followers on Instagram.
Ever keen to jump on a bandwagon, I went to Bermondsey to spend a morning with Ben. He’s just moved into a new studio flat, to the delight of his mum who was overjoyed to get her kitchen back, and above his hob is a locked-off camera so every video can be shot from an aerial view. What you can’t see is the student environment behind the camera: the lovely chaos surrounding the clean cooking shot, the tiny larder and the lack of anything which isn’t part of that day’s recipe. ‘If it’s not in the video, I basically don’t have it,’ he admitted.
‘Was there a need for another set of one-minute videos?’ I asked.
‘It’s really important to us not to be creating food porn,’ Ben said. ‘Those melty cheesy, mass chocolatey, deep-fried dishes which look amazing are basically clickbait – they aren’t real food. We want to make proper meals that are delicious, healthy, inexpensive and cooked from scratch – but always feed a family of four for under a tenner. That’s our bible. All you need on top is olive oil, salt and pepper. Which is pretty much all I have here.’
He’s very driven, and not just for more followers… ‘The point is, something needs to change. The average UK student arrives at college knowing how to cook four meals. Lots of young people just switch off when a real chef talks, but people love that I’m not trained. I have no knife skills, no firm cooking times, I’m all about a splash of this and a handful of that – I want to leave people feeling confident about cooking without measuring. And if I make mistakes, our followers let me know about it.’
So we spent the morning co-creating an affordable, nutritious and flavour-packed veggie wrap recipe. It’s a mixture of his most popular dish with some Freud additions – my homemade coriander flatbreads filled with his spicy veg with chickpeas, my amazing, almost-legendary green spicy sauce, and Ben’s tzatziki. It’s properly delicious, healthy, teen-friendly, messy to eat, fun to cook (though maybe not quite as much fun as I had with Ben), and will cost four people less than a tenner.
See the full recipe for Emma’s vegetarian wraps
Read other articles by Emma Freud...
Good Food contributing editor Emma Freud is a journalist and broadcaster, director of Red Nose Day and a co-presenter of Radio Four’s Loose Ends.