While others see cooking as a means to an end, Ella Risbridger views it as a process that enlivens, comforts, and encourages her

By Pam O’Brien
March 12, 2020
Gavin Day

It all started with a chicken. Several years ago, Ella Risbridger was lying on the floor of her London apartment, so depressed that she didn’t think she could get up. Then she spotted a chicken in a grocery bag, waiting to be cooked. Risbridger ended up making the chicken and eating it at midnight. And so began the journey she credits with saving her life.

In 2019, she released her first cookbook, Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For) (Buy It, $18, amazon.com). “Coming up with the recipes in this book helped me fall back in love with the world,” she says.

In the process, the 27-year-old took on a new understanding of—and appreciation for—creating a good meal. “For me, cooking means home and safety,” she says. “It’s about the people I have loved. Writing about eating is writing about living.” Here, the author talks about its therapeutic power and her secret tips in the kitchen. (Related: How Teaching Myself to Cook Changed My Relationship with Food)

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You say you need to cook. Why?

“I get stressed if I don’t. I text my flatmate and say, ‘Give me two words.’ And she’ll text back ‘Italian’ and ‘peppers,’ and I’ll think of a dinner that has those things in it. It’s like being able to give her a present.” (You can also make cooking a little more exciting with these hacks.)

Emotional eating: good or bad?

“If you’re doing it right, eating is always emotional. You should think, What do I really want to eat? Frequently, I want a head of broccoli. I parboil it and then stir-fry it with anchovies and garlic, and it ’s the most delicious thing. Turkish eggs are my favorite breakfast.”

What does cooking do for you?

“As someone who’s anxious, I’m looking for certainty. With cooking, there are immutable, physical laws. You can be creative within those boundaries. Cooking gives me confidence that’s very difficult to find in other areas of my life.”

What’s your favorite ingredient?

“Butter. It’s the heart of baking. And it gives this lovely richness to so many savory things. I once heard a food writer describe his wife as more butter than toast. I aspire to that.” (ICYMI, butter shouldn't be enemy No. 1. in the kitchen)

The best tip you’ve learned?

“Put a teaspoon of miso in chocolate chip cookies. It adds saltiness and depth. My cookies were quite good before, but now they’re incredible.”

Source: Shape Magazine, March 2020 issue
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