Food writer Ed Smith doesn’t want ‘cravings’ to be a dirty word
When meal planning or deciding what to have for dinner, how often do you stop and actually think: what do I want to eat?
For many of us, listening to our body’s cravings is pretty low down the list – after more practical considerations, like what you have in the fridge and what will be healthiest/quickest/easiest to rustle up.
Food writer Ed Smith wants to change this, and it’s at the core of his new cookbook – Crave: Recipes Arranged By Flavour, To Suit Your Mood And Appetite. The book does what it says on the tin with six sections organised into separate flavour profiles: fresh and fragrant, tart and sour, chilli and heat, spiced and curried, rich and savoury, and finally, cheesy and creamy.
Smith wants us to start “cooking to your intuition”, he explains. It’s about putting “desire” back on the menu. “I started thinking, ‘What do I want to eat?’, and I found that what I wanted to eat was sometimes driven by mood, sometimes driven by weather, or sometimes driven by nothing at all. But every time, I could probably focus on one flavour – like today I really want something hot, or I want something savoury – there’s always a reason behind it.”
Smith admits he “doesn’t have the perfect answer” but this is, for him, “the most robust and logical way of thinking about it”.
Trying to identify what we’re craving might seem unusual to some, as ‘cravings’ tend to evoke ‘illicit’ images of chocolate, biscuits and sugary snacks, right?
Not necessarily. “So often, when people talk about comfort food, the media depicts it as sitting on the sofa eating a bucket of ice cream,” says Smith. “That’s kind of true – sometimes you do seek solace in sweet, creamy things. But actually, more often than not, that’s a slight under-representation of what comfort food can be.
“Comfort food, food that takes you to a happy place, is very often your childhood – which for some people can be beans on toast, roast chicken, chicken soup. But for other people, spicy food is the food of their native heritage that they were used to eating. So comfort food is different things to different people.”
That’s why Smith shaped the book around all different types of flavours, giving people the power to choose what’s right for them. “I’m not going to prescribe you the recipe because of your mood. It’s not for me to tell you what is comforting. But what I’ve tried to do is offer the reader a solution, or ways to find what will comfort them,” he explains.
“Sometimes we look for food you can sink into, but more often than not, the food that’s going to make you happiest if full of fresh and fragrant things, things that make you feel good,” Smith suggests. “So you will bounce back quicker for having sprightly food, lighter food – dare I say it, healthier food.”
If Crave sounds like it was written by a hyper-organised person, it was – before switching careers and diving into the world of food (he’s already published two previous cookbooks: The Borough Market Cookbook and On The Side), Smith was a lawyer.
“I do think I have quite an analytical and ordered mind,” he muses. “That’s reflected in the use of bullet points, and the whole thematic approach. The extra directories and indexing are probably related to my lawyer background – I know a lot of my lawyer friends always comment on that as their favourite part of my books. The analytical and structuring bits are probably doing too many witness statements and regulatory reviews.” Transferable skills no one saw coming – certainly “no one in law school”, Smith quips.
“I think I realised about five years into law that whatever you want to do in life, if you want to succeed, you’re going to be working hard and for a long time. I started writing a food blog as a creative outlet – a reason to cook something every week and a reason to go to new restaurants. That made me realise that working hard – maybe I wanted to do that in an industry I was really deeply interested in.”
He took himself off to catering college and started writing recipes, many of which are inspired by his original love: going to restaurants and trying new cuisines. This global outlook is reflected in Crave, but Smith doesn’t claim he’s an expert in food from countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka.
“I’m not an authority in them, and I don’t want people to think I am,” he says frankly – which is why he has a directory in the back of Crave signposting you to other cookbooks where you can learn more.
“Last year in particular was an awakening in food media and modern life of understanding heritage and the story of food,” Smith says. “There’s always more than just a dish, there’s a reason that things came about, and I think it’s good to reflect on that and to point people in the right direction.”
Ultimately, he just wants Crave to be a “framework for thinking about food”.
Crave: Recipes Arranged By flavour, To Suit Your Mood And Appetite by Ed Smith is published by Quadrille on May 27, priced £25. Photography by Sam A Harris.