Cooking Superstar

Guac and Roll

Cook up a vegan feast with Ava from Guac and Roll

Ava Szajna-Hopgood
Vegan blogger

When did you first get in to cooking and do you remember the first recipe you tried?

I was never that bothered about cooking until I moved away from home. My parents are both great cooks so they would happily spend hours cooking dinners or puddings, and because it was always so tasty I never had the impetus to rock the boat! So it wasn't until I had to cook for myself that I realised I had a lot to learn. My Mum taught me how to make a roux sauce in my early teens, and that was still all I knew at 18. But once I turned vegan I realised I'd have to do a lot more cooking for myself, which is when I started being really fascinated by what I could sustain myself with.

What's your kitchen like and how do you keep organized when cooking?

I've lived in tiny London flats for a long time, so I've learnt to be very tidy and always clear up as I go, mainly because I probably need that dirty pan RIGHT NOW!
This year I finally moved into a bigger place, and actually started crying when I saw how big my new kitchen would be- and it's not even that big by normal standards! But there's enough room for everyone to sit at a table while someone cooks, and for all my cookbooks to be within arm's reach, so it works for me!

What tips would you give to someone wanting to become a better cook?

- Learn the rules before you break them! Every single time I've tried to do something a bit too outlandish and it's gone wrong, it's been because I didn't have a good enough understanding of what I was trying to create, and it's not like I'm doing haute cuisine! If you want to make homemade cannelloni, start by making your own pasta, and you'll build up an intuition of what works, when it needs more of something or is just perfect. Then you can start tackling the tricky stuff.

- Your parents and grandparents know a ton about making food go further so ask them for every scrap of advice you can. Food keeps getting cheaper, giving the impression that it can get wasted or thrown away, but I've found the people around me from older generations know so much more about making ingredients go the extra mile- even if they don't think it! The knowledge you absorb from being around your family in the kitchen is invaluable, so pick up as much as you can!

- If you start with the best ingredients you can afford, you can keep things simple, and your food will be all the better for it. The best borlotti beans with the best olive oil can be an amazing start to a simple, filling salad.

- If you're struggling to pronounce more than a few ingredients on a packet, you're probably not dealing with food- steer as far away from that stuff as possible and focus on using ingredients in their simplest form. This way you get to choose what you put in your food, and you'll be in control of what you're eating.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and what would you cook for them?

WOAH. Okay, I would invite Patti Smith, Decca Mitford, Isabella Blow, Hedy Lamarr, Maxine Peake and Lauren Laverne. I would cook homemade vegan sausages and mash with red onion and rosemary gravy, because it would be on bonfire night, and I'd follow that with vegan sticky toffee pudding. It's all got to be food I can prepare beforehand because I'm not missing a minute of conversation with this lot! Patti and Lauren would need to bring the soundtrack for the evening, I'd put Isabella on cocktail duty and Decca and Hedy would lead the conversation while Maxine helps me in the kitchen.

Do you do any other crafts and what are your hobbies?

One of the things I love most about setting up Guac is how many skills it is teaching me on the side. From sourcing, styling and art directing a recipe to photographing it and choosing the final images to go up on Guac. Obviously I'm just at beginner level but it's so rewarding to see how you can improve at something like photography in just a few years.
Aside from Guac, I write short stories and collect records other people would be too embarrassed to own.

Which cooking blogs do you love to read?

Rachel Eats- an all-time favourite- when her first cookbook comes out it will definitely be one of my new fave cookbooks too!

Hipster Food- from the makers of Chickpea Magazine

Happy Olks

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Ava Szajna-Hopgood
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What's your favorite...

TV Show
The West Wing
The Velvet Underground
Igby Goes Down
Cook Book
Anything by the River Cafe
South Indian, Northern Italian and Korean street food
All the ones that make you feel better: ginger, coriander, garlic and chillies
Kitchen Gadget
My food blender! <3