The rapper and chef tells Prudence Wade his money-saving tips when cooking.

Big Zuu knows firsthand the power of community spaces.

The rapper, chef and BAFTA winner grew up in west London, and says he was "always in community centres and youth clubs".

"Going to places in Ladbroke Grove, Harrow Road, Maida Vale, Kilburn - always going to community centres, whether we were doing music, cooking food, [or] learning about something important. It was a very big part of my youth."

It's in community spaces that the 27-year-old, whose real name is Zuhair Hassan, discovered his two passions: music and food.

"Going to the studio in my local youth club is where I first started recording [music]," he explains. "They also had kitchens where we could learn to cook."

"One of my youth clubs that I went to, the youth worker didn't let us swear or talk about anything that was negative. He made us focus on trying to say positive things and use better vocabulary in our music.

"It influenced me to be more creative with the words I use. I do have songs where I swear, of course, but I'm definitely less likely to use a swear word in my music, because of that stuff when I was growing up."

Now he's grown up and moved away from west London (not far though - only to Golders Green), Zuu's relationship with his community has shifted.

"I guess I'm less local than I was," he reflects. "But I'm more able to have a real positive impact - rather than in the area, having a local impact - I have more of a national presence with the things I want to change. It's different, but it's good."

Now, Zuu is teaming up with Co-op ( to raise awareness around Your Local Pantry ( - community hubs around the UK where people can pay membership fees to buy fresh food at a cheaper price.

"It's a way to access different types of food," Zuu explains. "I think sometimes when people are less fortunate, they don't get access to nutritional types of food - it's normally a lot of canned food, and things that don't have a lot of nutritional value. Pantries give people a chance to get different types of fresh produce at a cheaper rate than they would from supermarkets."

For Zuu, famous for his show Big Zuu's Big Eats, it's all about changing the narrative around pantries and food banks - particularly in a cost-of-living crisis, when the need for them is greater.

He visited a pantry recently and says: "What I'm seeing is that it's treated more as a place for people to come together and get fresh ingredients, rather than a place for people who are poor to get food - because I feel like that's the stigma attached to food banks and pantries."

And in tough times, community becomes more important than ever.

"It's all about support - sometimes when you feel like you're on your own, when you feel like you're going through things independently - a community can provide that structure and foundation to give you that extra hand in life," he says frankly.

"That's what communities are about - if we're all going through the same struggle, we come together and battle through it in an easier way. Over the past few years - especially through the pandemic - communities have been forced apart, but now they're coming back together. And with the times that we're in, they're rising up against what's going on in terms of cost of living and inflation. All the odds are stacked against normal, working class people - so when they come together and rise up together, it makes them way more powerful."

Big Zuu's tips for saving money on food

Go big on leftovers

"I live with three of my friends, and we're always trying to make sure we use everything in our fridge, make sure nothing gets thrown away," says Zuu.

"We're big on our leftovers. I have a heavy hand - when I cook, I always cook a lot, coming from an African family. So I'm used to packaging my food and making sure it doesn't get thrown in a bin - we try to have it for lunch or dinner tomorrow. And that's a good way to make things stretch."

He's also keen on repurposing any ingredients you might have left over.

"The easiest one is if you make a roast, use the chicken to make a soup. That's one of our favourite things to do."

Understand best before and use by dates

Zuu says he recently learned about the difference between best before and use by dates. He recommends "using our senses, rather than just using the label... You have to go with your judgement.

"If you see bread and it says 'best before this date', know that it might be past the best before, but you can still have it - it's fine."

Make things yourself

While Zuu acknowledges "life is quick right now", he still recommends slowing down and cooking as much as you can.

"A lot of people don't focus on process - they buy things to skip processes, like pre-packaged food, things that are already made. Sometimes those things are more expensive than just doing it yourself. Buying a jar of tomato sauce can maybe cost you one to two pounds, but buying tinned tomatoes, onions and garlic is cheaper."

Plus, Zuu adds: "It's always going to taste better" when you make it yourself.

Plan your meals

Zuu is all about "spreading your cost", he says. "The more you spend on your base ingredients - your onions, tomatoes, seasoning - the more you can replicate it across food throughout the week, rather than buying specific things for one meal every day.

"When I go shopping, I'm naturally always thinking about how I can make ingredients cross over. So if I'm going to do something that's Italian, how I can use that in some Mexican cooking, then how I can use those flavours in Indian cooking or something. Knowing that I can use tomatoes in all of them, peppers in all of them, onions, garlic, certain seasonings. Then I can rotate whatever I'm using - veg or a protein."

While Zuu accepts "it's good to express yourself through your cooking and try different things", a bit of planning can go a long way in a cost-of-living crisis.

Big Zuu has teamed up with Co-op to raise awareness of Your Local Pantry - a membership-based food scheme and community hub supporting communities across the UK