There’s always something special about a grandparent’s cooking, but I am especially fortunate to have Ruthie Rogers, Michelin-starred owner of the River Cafe in London, as my grandma. I remember opening the refrigerator during visits to her house when I was eight or nine years old to find it full of bresaola, mozzarella di bufala, Datterini tomatoes, borlotti beans, and braised cavolo nero. There’s nothing to eat!, I would think to myself, crinkling my nose.
The truth is, back then the only thing I would eat was plain pasta with butter and salt. Yes, although Ruthie was poised to cook me the best of Italian meals with exceptional ingredients, the only thing that I would allow my grandmother to cook for me was De Cecco star pasta with butter and salt (hold the 30-year-aged Parmigiano Reggiano, please). Embarrassing as it may be, I didn’t really start to appreciate food until recently.
Now that I’m 14 years old, I have started to enjoy cooking on my own. A perfect time, then, for the arrival of my grandmother’s newest cookbook, The River Cafe Look Book, which is designed for children of all ages. Its main premise is that food is not enjoyed only on the palate but by having all of one’s senses engaged. Cooking is driven by curiosity and wonderment. Eating is a creative act.
The book begins with a selection of photographs of dishes juxtaposed with photos of objects, patterns, or landscapes, taken by Matthew Donaldson. Looking at the photos is engaging: How are they related or different? Why are they paired? And, finally, I want to eat that! The recipes are located in the second half of the book, printed on vibrant, colored paper, a nod to my rainbow-loving grandfather, the architect Richard Rogers, who died last year.
It is extremely easy to navigate, and the experience was almost like opening presents on Christmas morning—I didn’t know what was coming next, but I couldn’t wait to find out. I decided to try out the cookbook by cooking the risotto with basil and tomato and the Tuscan roasted potatoes. The instructions were simple and easy to follow, and I was incredibly pleased with the result. This is a book of comforting and approachable Italian staples—rigatoni with pork ragu, pappa al pomodoro, smashed potatoes with green beans, zucchini trifolati, slow-cooked peas, sea bass over potatoes, spatchcock chicken in milk—perfect for those new to cooking and those simply wanting recipes that are easy and will not disappoint. These recipes bring the River Cafe into every person’s kitchen and are loved by all, no matter their age or experience.
Through my grandma’s love of food and her restaurant I have learned the value of good food, and this book reflects all the hard work that my grandmother and her team of chefs have put into every River Cafe dish. I still love pasta with butter, but now I take the cheese.
Ruby Rogers is a high-school student living in London