Student cooking gets a bad rep. Perhaps it’s somewhat justified; we’ve all seen Facebook photos of rotting meals left in the kitchen by a flatmate, heard horror stories of kitchens burned to the ground, and been guilty of eating pesto pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Still, I have lots of friends who love to cook and lots more who want to get into it. It can seem daunting (Ramsay’s ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ doesn’t help!), but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to use a sous vide or buy only the finest and most expensive ingredients to get into cooking (see my recipes at the end!).

My family and I have been comparatively lucky in how the pandemic affected us. Still, though, Corona caused ‘unprecedented’ times in more ways than one. My Instagram feed was filled with homemade sourdough starters – I didn’t even know sourdough needed a ‘starter’ before Corona hit! In this way, cooking became a silver lining of lockdown for me. I had time to try out new meals and recipes (a particular favourite of mine being homemade vegan spinach and mushroom ravioli). And it was lovely to have a family dinner together most evenings, catching up on the (mostly empty) day and hearing their opinions on my newest experiment.

Cooking is an important life-skill, but as a hobby, it also offers something unique to a fast-paced environment like Cambridge.

Lockdown allowed me to make the time for cooking and actual meals, and I want to carry this over into university life now that term is starting again. Cooking is an important life skill, but as a hobby, it also offers something unique to a fast-paced environment like Cambridge. It forces you to slow down and concentrate fully on the task at hand, like meditation. Get distracted, and you’ll ruin your food! Setting aside the time in the evening to cook gives you something to look forward to after a day of lectures, reading, or work. It’s also a great way to get together with friends; an opportunity to catch up while you buy and cook the ingredients, then enjoy your handiwork together. Everyone has to eat – so why not make it fun?

One particular perk of cooking at university is that you can share your recipes with friends. Perhaps your family has a secret ingredient that they add to Bolognese which really takes it to another level. Someone else’s dad might have a special way of cooking roast potatoes, and another person’s sister might know how to cook Vermicelli without them all sticking together in a gloopy mess (help, please!). Being at university with a whole host of people from different backgrounds and nationalities could even give you the chance to try your hand at cooking and tasting a new cuisine. Given the sheer number of people you can meet, there are so many opportunities to explore new foods which you wouldn’t otherwise have tried.


Mountain View

Tastes that transport...

With most formals and college events suspended, you have more time (and probably more motivation) to make cooking and mealtimes an ‘event’. I’m living in a house with 5 other people this year and, with this in mind, we’re going to be recreating Come Dine with Me in pairs. Just like in the show, we’ll be cooking 3-course meals for the rest of the house and then grading one another in secret - although, rather than waiting for our taxis, we’ll be writing our scores down on pieces of paper and putting them in a box. Given the time that this will take, we’ll probably do one pair per term, so it’ll be a slow burner. Part of the challenge is planning recipes which will be cooked in a kitchen with limited space and unreliable oven temperatures. It’s something to look ahead to, especially in week 5, to squash those blues…

Everyone has to eat – so why not make it fun?

A final note: I’m vegan and I’m passionate about showing people that it doesn’t have to be boring or leave you hungry. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s a cheap way to eat, which is important on a student budget! It’s also accessible for people with other dietary requirements, so if you’re cooking at university with people who eat Halal or are lactose intolerant, then a vegan meal is fine for everyone to eat. I have a few delicious staple dishes that are quick and easy to make. These include sweet potato and carrot soup, red lentil coconut dahl and one-pot creamy mushroom pasta. Don’t worry – they don’t use weird, unheard-of ingredients (what is banana blossom?) so you can get everything you need from Sainsbury’s. Cook them in batch and freeze them, so you’ll have lots of leftovers. Share them with your mates! Let’s give cooking at university a better name.