The Conversation: Sam Stern, cookery writer

'My first book sold well, which I really wasn’t expecting – I thought I’d sell eight copies to my mum.'

You're 22, and yet you've just finished cook book number six – how have you managed it?

I started when I was about 14. It's been a pretty unique childhood. I grew up in a large family – three sisters and a brother – two of whom are vegetarian. One's a vegan, and my brother would only eat meat for ages. It was all about getting food on the table for them, so I got drafted in to help out.

We always had proper meals, but some of my friends – if their parents were working – had to get pizzas out of the freezer. I was like 'Well, if you want proper meals you should be able to do them yourself,' so that's where I got the idea of making cookbooks for young people. My mum happened to know a couple of agents, and they took it to a publisher and they liked it. It sold well, which I really wasn't expecting – I thought I'd sell eight copies to my mum.

The new one is for students – who mostly live on Pot Noodle, right?

As a student you have loads of free time to cook. Every Tuesday my friends and I would cook for 15 people – everyone chipped in £1.

When I was a student, we made our housemate Antonia do the cooking. I could barely use an oven.

The book doesn't assume any prior knowledge, and some of the recipes are as simple as boiling an egg or a fried-egg sandwich, which is one of my favourite things. It's like going on a cookery course without spending thousands of pounds.

In the book you say it's important to engage with your ingredients – what does that mean?

Making sure everything's as fresh as possible. You can get some things from the supermarket that are quite cheap but won't taste good. If you buy something slightly more expensive or go to a local butcher it'll taste much better. I made some burgers once when my friend had done the shopping and bought value mince – it tasted like shit. It was disgusting.

Haven't you ever slipped up and gone out and eaten a KFC?

Everything in moderation is fine, but if you're having it every day or because you are scared of cooking then it's a bit silly.

What's your top cookery tip?

The main thing is to follow the recipe. My sister is a case in point – she is a good cook when she follows the recipe but she gets distracted and what should be a lovely fluffy cake turns into a rock cake...

I see you've done some videos for Waitrose. Does that make you a colleague of Pippa Middleton?

Oh no. We're not joined at the hip.

Did you read her book?

I haven't actually, I've been busy, with my dissertation and university, and now I'm full-time into this stuff.

What was your dissertation on – I saw on Twitter you got a First for it?

It was about the conditions under which the US and Europe coordinate over security policies, with case studies in Iraq and Libya. I'd send you a copy but you'd be bored out of your mind.

Now that you're free from uni, what are you up to?

At the moment I'm setting up my new website and it's coming along nicely, and then there are ideas for book proposals. I've got some TV work in the pipeline and then maybe a cookery school and potentially a restaurant and a jazz bar. E interview by liam o'brien


Sam Stern, 22, is a cook from Yorkshire and the author of six books, the first which he wrote aged 14. His latest, Sam Stern's Cookery Course For Students in the Kitchen, is published 1 August