Sorted Crew: Jamie Spafford, Ben Ebbrell and Barry Taylor.
Lifestyle editor Emma Williamson caught up with Ben Ebbrell from Sorted. They’re all about cooking quick, simple, tasty grub with your mates.
What is Sorted and what do guys do?
We run an online cooking channel aimed at novice and rookie cooks. Sorted is for anybody who thinks food is too difficult or that cooking is out of their reach – we try to knock down every barrier between those challenges and great food!
Sorted publishes a brand new recipe video every day. Who or what inspires your recipes?
A whole host of different things really. A big part of what inspires us is our audience. We get a lot of requests – somewhere in the region of 7,000 recipe requests and comments every month, and they lead us a lot. Whatever people are asking for, we will recreate and find our version of.
We’re also inspired by travel, restaurant and hotel menus, pubs, TV, magazines, just about everything. The things we want to cook are, most importantly, what our audience wants us to cook.
You’ve recently released your new book, Beginners Get … Sorted. Could you tell us a little about that?
Yeah of course! We started Sorted about four years ago now, and it literally started in a pub. We were scribbling recipes on the back of beer mats when we realised that more of us actually need that kind of information and insight.
We produced our own, self-published cook book, which was both aimed for students and written when we were students, and it sold really well. We did a few videos on YouTube, and then the year after we released our second cook book, again self-published, aimed at rookie cooks.
We then teamed up with Penguin, the publishers. They loved the work we’d done so far and wanted to help us show it off to a few more people.
We’d got to the point where we were focusing on online and video content, and using all the social media platforms, but we were a bit stuck when it came to books. We had these books, they were selling okay, but we really wanted to just get them out there to more people.
Penguin helped us to combine them into the ultimate guide, and our new cook book which we launched last month really is the ultimate guide! It’s a culmination of those first two books that we did ourselves, plus loads of other new recipes and loads of new photography.
A lot of young people, particularly those who are new to cooking, find your relaxed and unpretentious approach to food really refreshing. How important would you say that attitude is to the ethos of Sorted?
I think that our attitude could probably be summed up as fuss free. Anything that becomes too fussy, too complicated, too tricky or too out of reach simply isn’t us. Sorted’s just very honest, very transparent. We’re literally just a bunch of mates that have known each other since year seven at school, gone right the way through our teens, and now we’re working together on a daily basis.
As soon as it becomes too pretentious we’ll be the first ones to take the mickey out of each other, because that’s not what we are. Our food isn’t that kind of food; it’s what we like and what we enjoy, so it’s just very honest.
Sorted’s use of social media has obviously played a huge part in its success. How would you recommend that students who are interested in starting their own businesses use the internet?
For us it was just second nature. I think for a lot of young people coming through university right now, it would be much the same. The platforms we’ve grown up using, the platforms we have in our pockets all the time – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram – all these things that make up social media are very timely.
They’re not things that we can plan too far in advance, they’re all about what we’re doing now and why we’re doing it. They’re basically opening up your door to the public and allowing the public to see how things are ticking along for you.
Best of all they’re free, and it doesn’t cost anything to reach out to loads of people. Another bonus of social media is that it snowballs – as one person likes something, one of their friends will see what they’ve liked and so forth.
What would you say that the pros and cons are of working in a group of friends?
The pro is obviously that it never ever feels like work! It sounds a bit obvious, but it’s just us messing around in a kitchen, so it feels like we’ve never grown up in that sense.
We’re still messing around like we used to at school at the back of a science class, only now we’re doing that in a kitchen in front of some cameras whilst cooking up great food. No two days are the same, we always play off each other.
The challenges? I suppose it’s making sure that everything still stays fresh. With a topic like food, it never gets old, because there are so many food cultures and ingredients and styles around the world that we get to play off, so we never actually get bored from it.
The challenge is keeping things fresh, because we’ve been working together and known each other for so long that we see each other day in and day out, but at the same time that’s kind of what’s really cool about it.
A lot of students struggle to afford the exotic and exciting food recommended by most cookbooks. What recipes would you recommend for students on a budget?
A lot of them [our recipes] are aimed at exactly that: they’re for students, young professionals, young graduates, people who’ve got a limited budget and limited time. Time is money as well, you don’t want to spend all your time cooking when you could be spending that time working or doing other things that could be earning money.
Anything that is short on time and facilitates a limited budget is just what we aim for. One pot cooks are really good. We’ve got a number of recipes which use things like minced meat, cheaper cuts of steak, or even sausages and beans to bulk up dishes.
We’ve actually got a meal pack on our website, a student meal pack, that’s got three fantastic recipes that are all cheap and cheerful, so I’d probably recommend that as a good starting point.
For new students, the kitchen environment will be like foreign territory. What kind of food would you recommend to those who are just getting into cooking?
I think good starting points are very simple sauces that can accompany pasta, or food that you’re already familiar with. Make sure that it’s something which you already know and ensure that you know what it’s supposed to look like, just recreate something that you’re already aware of.
We’ve got a great recipe for piri-piri chicken with potato wedges, and everybody knows what Nando’s looks like so they know what they’re aiming for.
We’ve recently done some meatballs recipes too, and Swedish meatballs are the kind of thing you get in the Ikea canteen, so everyone can kind of relate to it and know what they’re aiming for.
That’s normally a good starting point if you’re a bit scared or lacking confidence: get together with a few people in the kitchen, give it a go, and at least know what you’re kind of aiming for, it does help.
Finally, what can we expect to see from Sorted in the next 12 months?
Lots and lots and lots more of the same! We’re going to be doing loads more recipes. We want to get out of the kitchen a bit more and get more hands on with our audience and producers, but we’ll never make it too pretentious. Sorted’s always about back-to-basics, fuss-free cooking.
Our new cookbook has obviously just come out, so there’s bits and pieces flying around with that, but our real home is always online so that’s where you’ll find us. There’s lots of exciting stuff happening on the website, so best just stay tuned there and check that out!