The Good Life

Young chef and food writer Ryan Riley tragically lost his mother Krista to small cell lung cancer in 2014 when he was just twenty years old inspiring him to co-found Life Kitchen – the UK’s first cancer cookery school. His mother’s experience of losing her sense of taste during chemo encouraged Ryan to develop the innovative dishes that feature in his debut cookbook – to bring back the joy of cooking and eating for those living with cancer.

Ryan says, “This is not about nutrition or medicine, it’s about enjoyment. I want people to have fun with food. One of the hardest things about watching my mother go through treatment was seeing her lose her love of food, so this cookbook is in honour of my mother’s memory, in the hope that it can help make cancer that little bit less painful and unforgiving for those living with it.”

Marmite Cream-Cheese Toast with Mushrooms

Eggs are a very good way to pack lots of amino acids (which the body needs to build proteins) into your breakfast, while Marmite and mushrooms work together to offer a powerful, super-umami flavour hit. This toast makes an easy, warming breakfast, or a lunch or light dinner.

Serves 1

4 tsp full-fat cream cheese
½ tbsp Marmite
boiling water, from a kettle
1 egg
olive oil
1 large mushroom, thinly sliced
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 slice of any bread you like (seeded sourdough is a favourite)
a sprinkling of sumac, to serve (optional)
Mix together the cream cheese and Marmite in a small bowl.

Place a small saucepan on a high heat and add the boiling water. Allow the water to start bubbling again, then carefully add the egg. Reduce the heat so that the water comes to a gentle rolling boil and cook the egg for 6–7 minutes – this should give you the perfect soft-boiled egg. Remove from the water using a slotted spoon andset aside.

Meanwhile, place a frying pan on a medium–high heat and add a generous glug of oil. When hot, add the mushroom and fry for about 5–6 minutes, until crispy and dark. Sprinkle in the lemon zest and juice and setaside.

Shell and halve the egg. Toast the bread to your liking and spread over the Marmite cream cheese. Spoon the mushroom on top and add the halves of soft-boiled egg. Sprinkle with sumac, if you like.

Carbonara with Mint & Peas

We’ve been teaching this recipe at Life Kitchen since our very first class. Pancetta, parmesan and peas bring that sought-after umami hit, while mint leaves and chilli wake up the senses. And, of course, tagliatelle offers comfort that is so inherent in every bowl of lovely pasta. If you don’t eat meat, crab (another provider of umami) is a worthy substitute.




Serves 4

1 large onion, very roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 red or green chilli, roughly chopped
vegetable or rapeseed oil
200g smoked bacon lardons
100g parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
2 tsp salt, plus extra to season
4 eggs
400g dried tagliatelle
a large handful of frozen peas
a small handful of mint leaves, torn if large
freshly ground black pepper

Pulse the onion, garlic and chilli in a food processor to finely chop. (Or, finely chop by hand.

Place a frying pan on a medium–low heat and add a glug of oil. When hot, add the chopped mixture and the lardons and season with salt. Cover with a lid (or use foil) and sweat on a low heat for 20-30 minutes, removing the lid to stir occasionally, until the onions have melted to a golden paste.

Meanwhile, beat together the grated parmesan and the eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the 2 teaspoons of salt and cook the tagliatelle according to the packet instructions.

Two minutes before the end of the cooking time, take 2 ladelfuls of the cooking water and stir it into the parmesan and egg mixture.Then, add the frozen peas to the pan with the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, drain it with the peas and tip everything back into the pan.

Add the parmesan and egg mixture and the onion and bacon mixture to the pasta and peas and stir – the sauce will take 2-3 minutes to heat through; just keep stirring and it will turn glossy and coat the pasta. Transfer to a serving dish and scatter over the mint leaves and extra parmesan.

Carbonara is a classic pasta dish, involving several sources of umami and many different textures. The addition of cooling mint, a trigeminal stimulant, offers piquancy, making this version of carbonara especially good for those with a diminished sense of smell.

Lemon Posset Tart

For me, a simple posset is the best dessert: the sweetness balanced with the bright citrus is a pairing that sings in harmony. However, Life Kitchen research has shown me that desserts need a high ratio of tang to sweetness to be really impactful, so I’ve added pomegranate in this recipe to increase the tartness. If you prefer not to put the filling in a pastry case, pour it into glasses or ramekins to make individual possets.

Serves 6–8

500ml double cream
200g golden caster sugar
2 limes, zest and juice
2 lemons, zest and juice
a small handful of raspberries
a small handful of pomegranate seeds
1 shop-bought 23cm pastry case
pomegranate molasses or Raspberry & Rose Syrup to serve (optional)

Place a large saucepan on a medium heat and add the cream, sugar and zest and juice of both citrus fruits. Stirgently for about 2-3 minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Then, bring the mixture to a very gentle boil for 3-5 minutes, until thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Sprinkle most of the raspberries and pomegranate seeds evenly across the tart base and pour over the citrus cream mixture.

Put the tart in the fridge to set for 3-4 hours. When set, sprinkle over the remaining pomegranate seeds and raspberries, then drizzle over some pomegranate molasses or raspberry and rose syrup, if you like.

Lemons add a darting ‘lift’ to a dish, because the sour receptors on our tongue fire up more quickly than the sweet, savoury or bitter receptors.

Life Kitchen by Ryan Riley (Bloomsbury, £20) is out now. Photography © Clare Winfiel

Follow Ryan on FB & Twitter @RyanRiley or visit


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