The essentialsEsther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

I came to Cambridge in October to start my MPhil in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies. Starting up at Cambridge has meant new continent, new country, new university, new college, new dissertation, new (fake!) accent, and new friends. But by far the scariest “new” has been new kitchen.

I loathe cooking. I always have. Coming from a Nigerian household, this hatred of cooking is almost sacrilegious. My dad is an incredible cook. He learned all the best traditional recipes from his mother growing up as the first of seven siblings. After moving to the United States, he grew infatuated with cooking American food as well – especially grilling. When I went vegetarian five years ago, he became obsessed with finding new recipes on YouTube (and now TikTok!) to make my favourite meals accessible to my new plant-based diet. My mom’s not a great cook, but she gets by. We all got by, growing up with my dad in the house.

Your average Cambridge kitchenEsther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

When I moved an eight-hour plane ride away for university, both my parents worried about my aversion to cooking. They didn’t need to. My campus, equipped with 10 dining halls, always had at least one open between 8am and 9pm – opening a bit later on weekends, but this was a welcome excuse to sleep in. While each dorm had kitchens, they were there more for show than for use: we were lazy and blamed it on being “too busy” to cook. All first-years were required to be on a meal plan and many (like me!) stayed on for healthy and affordable food each year.

“The campus is full of mini Gordon Ramseys on every corner”

Cambridge has been a different beast: the campus is full of mini Gordon Ramseys on every corner. Students here love to cook and do so often. While my college has a robust catering team and dining hall, I found that the norm – at least for graduate students – is to cook most meals. It makes life more convenient, not needing to go all the way into college (a 15 minute walk) for every meal, and not being too dependent on the cafeteria’s opening times. Of course, the exception is Corpus Christi’s widely celebrated Saturday and Sunday brunch – no one misses that. However, it seems that Cambridge students cook not just out of necessity, but for fun. When attending the Varsity Ski Trip in December, I was surprised to see so many people take advantage of the trip to cook communally with friends. “I can cook,” I said to my Varsity roommate, “you just have to tell me what to do!”

For a self-described horrible cook, approaching my Cambridge kitchen has been intimidating. I share the space with 11 other people and, as you can imagine, everyone cooks dinner at the same time. While I’m scrambling to put together a meal in my head, some of my floor-mates are making elaborate cuisines: seafood pastas, dumplings, roast chickens, and pies. Here is the short list of Anuli Ononye recipes: eggs (which barely count because most five-year-olds make them), salads (again, does that count as cooking?), veggie burgers, and tomato soup (pre-made, but reheated by yours truly). As you can guess, my last few meals have been far from glamorous.

“We’ve got to grow up some day, and step one is learning how to feed ourselves”

But, in an effort to finally “grow up” and get healthier, my primary resolution this year has been to get in the kitchen. I encourage you to do so as well. Every meal of my Michaelmas term felt like a scramble. I would struggle to get to a dining hall and if (often, when) that didn’t work I would settle for a meal in town or over Deliveroo. That was frustrating for someone who has been obsessed with eating healthy – although not of my own volition – for most of my adult life.

Cheffing it up (credit to Jake Hewison)Esther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

But I’m doing it, even with a rocky start. A friend commented the other day that she was surprised to see me in our shared kitchen! I call my mom every time I walk into Sainsbury’s for mental support: “What should I make for breakfast tomorrow? How long does it take for strawberries to go bad? Do you think an entire carton of eggs is too much for me?”


Mountain View

Where to go with a plant-based palette: Cambridge’s finest vegan cuisine

So if you’re too afraid to use your Cambridge kitchen: this is your encouragement to do it! It can’t be that hard, right? We’ve got to grow up some day, and step one is learning how to feed ourselves.