Audrey Gordon’s Tuscan Summer: Recipes and recollections from the heart of Italy
by Audrey Gordon
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books, Country: AU
ISBN: 9781742700090, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Audrey Gordon is a respected and prolific cookery writer. She has also been a long-time contributor to BBC radio, presented numerous television series and been voted ‘Britain’s Sternest Cook’ three times. She and husband Phillip recently closed their restaurant, audrey’s, and headed to Tuscany for a chance to take a break and of course write a book about it. The result is ‘Audrey Gordon’s Tuscan Summer’, a ’sumptuously photographed and lavishly over-designed book’ written for ‘the ordinary cook, stuck at home with insufficient bench space and a set of chipped mixing bowls’.

Full review

Audrey Gordon is one of Britain’s best kept secrets. She started her career as lifestyles editor at Formal Living magazine before moving on to Implausible Homes and forging a reputation for no-nonsense, practical food commentary. Since then she has been named as ‘Britain’s Sternest Cook’ three times, authored several books including Let’s Blanch!, A Taste of Audrey and Audrey’s Aromas, and presented numerous television series as well as hosting the food-quiz show A Question of Digestion.

Never heard of Audrey Gordon? That’s because Audrey is the creation of Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch – familiar, to Australian audiences at least – as the team behind Working Dog Productions, responsible for a number of television programmes including Frontline and The Hollow Men, films The Castle and The Dish and travel guide parodies (Jetlag Travel Guides) Molvanîa, Phaic Tǎn and San Sombrèro.

Audrey Gordon’s Tuscan Summer: Recipes and recollections from the heart of Italy is a parody of the celebrity chef cookbook/travelogue/memoir and as such has all the characteristics of the genre, such as the escape to the idyllic retreat (The Villa del Vecchio in the village of San Cisterno), trips to the local markets, encounters with the friendly, rustic neighbours (the Pasquinis, fonts of wisdom and local knowledge), the quest for local, authentic cuisine and the sharing of traditional recipes. And of course the text reads as a diary of the summer Audrey and her husband Phillip spent in Tuscany, a chance for them both ‘to step out of the limelight, to get away from the pressures of public life and enjoy a quiet, private break together. And then write a book about it.’

Audrey has all the attributes of the successful chef. She’s confident and opinionated, she has a conscience (she is a founding member of Chef Aid whose good works include shipping 200 pairs of grape scissors to a remote Indian village, and she is on the board of Breakout, an international group lobbying for a ban on waxed lemons), she’s a multi-media personality and of course she has years of culinary experience to share. She is a bit like a blonde Nigella with a good dollop of Delia and a splodge (which in Audrey speak is equivalent to two splashes) of Elizabeth (David, that is).

Along with the details of their Tuscan sojourn Audrey provides recipes for authentic fare such as ravioli di spinachi, bruschetta al pomodoro and risotto ai funghi arrosto con prezzemolo along with a couple of less traditional but no less tasty dishes – rotolo con la carta di riso (rice paper rolls) and taglierini con manzo e pepperoncini (chilli beef noodles). She also shares her advice on dinner party etiquette (if you must have music avoid anything with explicit lyrics or percussion), offers tips (a mix of crème fraiche and double cream will make ‘a suitably disappointing alternative’ to good quality marscapone) and her own thoughts on cooking and the enjoyment of food (‘nothing beats the taste and sense of quiet superiority that comes with making your own pasta’, ‘the thing I love about the food here is it’s so totally seasonal’, ‘food reflects both who we are and how we feel about ourselves’).

In fact very little escapes Audrey’s attention. She gives us her views on a host of issues from agrotourismo, kitchen garden schemes and cookbook endorsements to locavores, critics, fussy eaters and children in restaurants. Surprisingly, Audrey doesn’t have a philosophy as such, she believes that good cooking should rather have ‘a set of broad guidelines that, taken together, might be mistaken for a philosophy by anyone who hasn’t really thought it through’. She does however believe that the world would be a better place if we could eliminate ‘poverty and prejudice, along with pre-grated parmesan cheese’.

Audrey Gordon’s Tuscan Summer looks like a regular cookbook and the recipes are certainly workable if not necessarily authentic. There is nothing here that is new or especially exciting so this is probably not a book that you would refer to for the recipes. But clearly the authors don’t really expect that Audrey will be judged solely on her cooking skills or that readers will purchase her book for the recipe ideas. So the real question is ‘Is Audrey funny?’

Anyone who has seen the television series ‘Posh Nosh’ (starring Richard E. Grant and Arabella Weir) will immediately recognise the tone and style of humour employed here. But comedy – like food – is a matter of taste. There are for example (so I’m told) people who don’t find ‘Fawlty Towers’ even mildly amusing. Unfortunately one man’s humour can just as easily be childish, irritating and pointless to another. To try to get some idea about how others might react to Audrey I tested her on some of my friends. One or two were fooled initially so it is possible that some people may buy the book by mistake, thinking that Audrey is someone they should be familiar with or that she might be the new Delia. This sort of reaction is what the authors no doubt hope for although a brief reading of any of the text makes it clear that Audrey is not what she seems (unless of course you really are planning ‘a formal sit-down banquet for 300 lactose-intolerant, diabetic vegans with severe peanut allergies’). Once they had all worked out it was meant to be funny we all had a good laugh at Audrey’s expense, and even some of my more serious and idealistic foodie friends were amused. So yes, Audrey is funny, but once you’ve read her once I don’t know that you would rush back to read her again. That said, Audrey Gordon’s Tuscan Summer might make a good gift for any of your friends who also consider that ‘good food must be nourishing, wholesome, comforting, melancholic, flirtatious, imaginative, intriguing, provocative and – where possible – low fat’, who appreciate that the water for boiling pasta should reach ‘a vivacious boil, somewhere between lively and ebullient (but never raucous)’, and above all are prepared to laugh at themselves.

Audrey has her own web site www.audreygordon.co.uk and you can also find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/audreygordonchef.

If you want to hear her there is an interview here ABC Radio and you can watch her in action on YouTube here and here.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 3. Recommended – some flaws
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: If the person is really interested
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Audrey Gordon's Tuscan Summer, Audrey Gordon | 2010 | AU, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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