Next on our culinary journey meeting Acton’s foodies is Judi Rose, cookbook author, food writer and cookery teacher on a mission to show that Jewish food is not only delicious, but can be healthy too.
Together with her cousin Dr Jackie Rose, a GP nutritionist, Judi has created a healthy eating cookbook To Life! Healthy Jewish Food inspired by Jewish cooking from around the world.
Judi’s cooking has travelled far and wide, crossing the pond when she moved to New York. There, she taught cookery classes at Bloomingdales, Williams Sonoma, and at a national chain of cooking shops called Sur La Table. Following her career at the BBC as a science and technology producer, Judi launched the Cookery Studio, a culinary space in West London for cookery classes, events, and food photography alongside her food writing and cookery.
We got in touch with Judi to find out about her inspiration, the new cookbook and Jewish food.
What inspired you?
I started cooking when I was just old enough see over the counter of my mum’s kitchen in Manchester. I was probably about three. My mum, Evelyn Rose, MBE, was a famous Jewish cookery writer who redefined Jewish food from its stodgy East European roots by introducing recipes from communities around the world. She was a pioneering TV chef, food consultant and journalist – her weekly column in the Jewish Chronicle ran for over 40 years until she passed away in 2003. We wrote a cookbook together when I was a student and another one just after I had my son Jamie.
When did you move to Acton?
I moved to Acton soon after university when I got my first job with BBC TV and bought the top floor flat of a house in Poet’s Corner. At a time, Acton was really an outpost as the transport links weren’t great. On the other hand, it was easy bike ride to Telly Centre on Wood Lane (even though cycling through Acton Park was forbidden at the time and I was occasionally yelled at by a park ranger as I struggled up from the Uxbridge Road on my way home).
Churchfield Road had loads of independent shops even then – a butcher, a chemists, a needlework shop, various junk shops (now known as vintage stores!) and a greengrocers, but not much in the way of eateries, and definitely no wine bars.
When did you launch?
When my family and I moved back to the UK in 2015, we decided to renovate and reconfigure the garden flat to create The Cookery Studio, a centre for cooking classes, food photography, and cooking-centric events from press launches to birthday parties. My sponsors include Franke UK, who supplied my wonderful 3 in 1 boiling water tap which I’d never thought I needed and would never now be without! I started coming up with ideas for cooking classes and events, as well as writing a cookbook with my cousin Jackie, who is a GP nutritionist.
From my time in the States, I learned a lot about how to create a lively, entertaining, cooking and eating experience, and from my years as producer on programmes like Tomorrow’s World, how to make sure everything runs smoothly and follow the BBC rule to “educate, inform and entertain.” Sur La Table also taught me a lot about how to take out the tedious, time-consuming prep that nobody likes to do and concentrate on learning about techniques and ingredients not just recipes.
What do you enjoy most about your classes?
I love to tailor the recipes and content to the participants, whether it’s a vegan feast, a sushi workshop, or cooking with chocolate. People tell me my classes are really fun and a bit like being in a TV show. Coronavirus has put a stop to classes for the time being, though I’ve been busy the past few weeks doing cookery demos via Zoom featuring recipes from my new book.
Tell us about your book
Jackie and I spent five years reading the latest evidence-based research on nutrition and healthy eating, and developing and adapting favourite recipes, many inspired by my mother, that were not only easy and delicious, but healthy without compromising on flavour. To Life! Healthy Jewish Food was published just a few days before lockdown began. Ironically, although the book was written before most of us had ever heard of the Coronavirus, it has turned out to be incredibly relevant.
Although diet alone can’t prevent you from catching Coronavirus, the book contains lots of advice on how to boost your immunity, reduce the risk of chronic inflammation or a cytokine storm, as well as which foods can help to prevent many of the underlying health conditions that cause complications if you do catch COVID-19 such as cancer or diabetes.
What is your favourite local spot in Acton?
One of our family’s favourite spots is the pond in Acton park. A pair of moorhens have been raising a family this summer and we try to stop by every day or so to see how they’re getting on. The old ice house used to be another favourite but these days it seems to be in need of a bit of TLC. On the other hand, a stroll down Churchfield Road is an ever-changing pleasure. And the Oaks not withstanding, having Wilko – which happens to sell the best wild bird fat balls in London – is a real bonus. We rarely eat out or get take-away because I cook so much, especially Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian, but I have to say the pizza at the Station House is really really good.
What are you most looking forward to when lockdown eases?
I’ve made several new friends through a local lockdown Whatsapp group and I’m really looking forward to a street party when things finally get back to some sort of normal. And I can’t wait to get back in the saddle with my cooking classes. Just before lockdown the daughter of friend had booked a cooking party at the Cookery Studio to celebrate her dad’s 60th birthday. We had a fabulous Israeli market-inspired menu planned and were all really looking forward to it, but of course it all had to be cancelled. I also had a cool chocolate-themed party for a 12 year old and her friends lined up that would have been so much fun. So I’ve really missed hosting, cooking and sharing great food and welcoming guests to the Studio.
How has people’s attitude to Jewish food and cooking changed over the years?
Chefs like Ottolenghi have helped popularise modern Israeli-style food, which is mostly based on the traditional cuisine of Jews from North Africa, Spain and the Middle East. Because of my mother, most Jewish in Britain were already familiar with this type of cooking, it’s a more recent discovery for the wider community. Now that it’s so easy to get hold of ingredients like tahini or pomegranate seeds, it’s becoming more mainstream like Thai or Indian cuisine.
What foodie projects are you working on at the moment and what are you most excited for in the future?
I’ve had a lot of requests for Zoom cook-along demos and sessions on healthy eating to help combat Coronavirus. I hope to get back to teaching the BTEC home cooking classes I ran last year for a group of vulnerable teenagers near Swiss Cottage, though I’m not sure when it will be possible to start up again.
I’m also working on an international edition of To Life! for the American and Australian market, and with the Jewish holidays coming up in September several magazines want to feature recipes from the book and an interview about healthy eating with a Jewish flavour.
I’m also excited about starting the research and recipe development for my next book about healthy feast for celebrations and family gatherings. And of course, I’m looking forward to welcoming friends and guests back to classes and events in The Cookery Studio when things do get back to normal. In the meantime thank goodness for Morrisons doorstep deliveries and wonderful neighbours. It may sound crazy, but I’d take Acton over Manhattan any day!