Chef hopes to tantalise tastebuds of cancer patients with cost-efficient recipes

A chef has created a free cookbook to help people with cancer, who often lose their sense of taste, amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Ryan Riley – who co-founded Life Kitchen, a not-for-profit cookery school for cancer patients, with Kimberley Duke – has teamed up with the charity Big C to release Essential Flavour.

The 29-year-old, who splits his time between Sunderland and London, told the PA news agency that he wanted to make the book, which contains 15 recipes, after hearing how increasing costs have affected people with cancer.

Banana crumble in a dish
The Essential Flavour cookbook includes a recipe for miso banana crumble (Craig Robertson/PA)

“I work with people living with cancer every single day, even before I started the book,” he said.

“When I’ve been speaking to people, they’ve all been telling me how necessary this is and how wonderful it is to get it so cheap because times are hard and things are going to get worse.

“I mean, I’m 29 and I run Life Kitchen and I live a relatively OK life and even I struggle and worry about what we’re going to do next and how we’re going to pay for things.

“So, if you’re not working and you’re ill, imagine how scary it is.”

Mr Riley has worked with Professor Barry Smith, from the University of London, who founded The Centre for the Study of the Senses, for around five years.

“He has taught us about how our senses work and about how we can use certain ingredients to enhance our palate,” he said.

He said ingredients such as miso enhance savouriness and he has used it in numerous dishes, including his “favourite” recipe – a sandwich which consists of breaded fried chicken with sage and onion stuffing and a miso spring onion mayonnaise.

“And I can’t believe that it costs £1.02 a portion,” he added.

Sandwich on a plate
Ryan Riley’s favourite recipe – a fried chicken sandwich with miso spring onion mayo (Craig Robertson/PA)

Other dishes in the book include a miso banana crumble, Swedish style meatballs, and spicy bean quesadillas.

He added that he wanted the recipes to feel accessible and “every step of the way, we thought ‘Can we change this? Can we adapt this to make it cheaper?'”

He also spoke about the origins of Life Kitchen, explaining that it was set up after he witnessed the impact of small cell lung cancer on his mother, Krista – especially her sense of taste – who died at the age of 47.

“It was obviously a really difficult time for us all, but the real difficulty was that she was suffering really badly from this cancer so had to have so much treatment.” he said.

“She lost her hair, her eyebrows and also her sense of taste.

“This happens to a lot of cancer patients and no=one really talks about it either. People kind of feel like it’s a less important side-effect, and in many ways it is, but of course it affects quality of life.”

Ma wearing a t-shirt and smiling at the camera
Chris Johnson has said Life Kitchen’s Essential Flavour cookbook is ‘crucial’ for people with cancer (Chris Johnson/PA)

Mr Riley added that his mother had got to a point where she tried to “make all these memories of pubs and restaurants and she was sitting there disconnected from it – because it you can’t taste and enjoy the food, then it becomes a really depressing time”.

“It really kind of stuck with me that she had this problem and it just kept occurring to me that there was probably something I could do, and Life Kitchen was born out of that a few years later.”

Chris Johnson has visited Life Kitchen on various occasions and has benefited from the recipes, particularly because his senses of smell and taste have been affected by cancer.

In 2019, he found out that he had a GIST, which is similar to a tumour, in his small bowel, that has since spread to his liver.

The 43-year-old surveyor, from Sunderland, told PA: “One thing that affects me, and affects a lot of people with cancer, is energy levels and concentration.

“I’ve tried to find things to do to keep me interested and give me something to do, and cooking has been one of them for the last couple of years.

“Having the recipes has really boosted my cooking ability.”

Two men looking at the camera
Chris Johnson (left) with Ryan Riley (front) (Chris Johnson/PA)

He added that he noticed a change in his smell and taste over the last year.

“I get nosebleeds from my medication, so I’ve constantly got a bunged-up nose,” he said.

“I’m on immunotherapy so I constantly get colds, so basically my tastebuds are shot and sometimes I just need really strong flavours.”

Life Kitchen has helped Mr Johnson, who “has always done the family cooking and been interested in food” to make recipes, which allow him to experience the pleasure of eating and different flavours.

Mr Riley introduced Mr Johnson to his miso recipes and and seemingly won him over.

“Ryan introduced me to miso paste – he uses it quite a bit – and I had not heard of it before, but I tried a dish with miso, cream, white chocolate and a load of frozen fruit and it was just absolutely sublime,” he said.

“I got to try the fried chicken recipe too and it was really good.”

Speaking about the book, Mr Johnson said it is “fantastic” but also a “crucial” resource for those with cancer.

“Being able to manage how much we spend on food and how to cook effectively and avoid waste are important,” he said.

“I’ve managed to scrape along for a couple of years working, but, looking forward, I’m going to have to find other things to do because the costs of running the house are going up.

“There isn’t the support out there for people living with cancer. Unfortunately, you have to be quite far down the line to get financial support from the Government.”

He added that he has been “lucky” to have a supportive employer, but “even with all the help I’ve had, the cost of living is getting out of control”.

A free paper copy of Essential Flavour can be pre-ordered from November 28, with 5,000 to be released on December 5. A £3 post and packaging fee applies.

A free online copy can also be downloaded from December 7 at https://lifekitchen.co.uk/  or https://www.big-c.co.uk/