Fuchsia Dunlop, one of the best contemporary writers about Chinese cookery, has delivered an outstanding work of “simple Chinese home cooking”. Accompanied by delicious photography by Chris Terry, it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to leave this book unused in the kitchen.
Author Archives: Duncan Markham
Probably the most impressive British post-war cookery compendium is The Constance Spry Cookery Book, first published in 1956. It was reprinted a number of times, and now the publishers Grub Street have produced a handsome metricated version. Nostalgia is fun, but utility is a worthy cause too – this reviewer found the layout difficult and was disappointed that the editors made no effort to lend context to the book and its recipes for a modern audience.
Chef Andrew McConnell, one of Australia’s most prominent representatives of high-end relaxed cuisine, has written his first cookbook. It’s attractive, broad in its flavours, and likely to stimulate and puzzle those who aren’t familiar with this type of dining. The book has a strong local feel and will be appreciated by McConnell’s devotees, despite (or because of) the rather demanding shopping list the cookbook requires.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentices is the only reasonably unvarnished account of what it was like to work at el Bulli. Alongside occasional descriptions of the creative process involving Adrià and his key chefs, the book’s main focus is on the life of the unpaid apprentices lucky enough to have been selected to spend a season at the restaurant. The book provides interesting insights into the workings of this very special restaurant and the experiences of the people involved, but I found it long and heavy reading. Opinions of this book are likely to vary greatly.
Colman Andrews paints a sympathetic and informative picture of Ferran Arià, a chef who, through passion, obsession and creative focus, almost accidentally made the culinary earth move.
Reinventing Food is worth reading both for the interested and the unbelievers. Especially for the latter group, frequently sceptical of modernist cuisine because of the media depiction of it being laboratory food lacking soul but oozing “cleverness”, Reinventing Food might shed more light on what really is significant and fascinating and (perhaps) delicious about so many aspects of Adrià’s contribution to the culinary world.
An impressive, compendious work about ice cream and other frozen sweets for home cooks. The much-awaited revision of an earlier book by the authors has yielded a greatly expanded range of delicious recipes, plus some additional history and trivia. The authors’ insistence on precision and recommended formulae for making ices is undermined by their own mistakes and inconsistencies, but despite this, Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide is a work worth considering for any avid home ice cream maker.
Nina Kéhayan’s classic work on aubergines (eggplants) was reprinted in English this year. It’s a very broad collection of recipes, covering a multitude of aubergine preparations and is likely to make any aubergine lover happy. The book is, however, not particularly attractive or informative, beyond what can be gleaned from the many techniques in the recipes.
Lebanese Australian chef Abla Amad, renowned in Melbourne for her delicious homestyle cooking, this year updated her 2001 book The Lebanese Kitchen. The new edition, renamed to Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen comes on top of the peak of interest in Eastern Mediterranean cuisines. Unlike the first edition, the 2010 version is an attractive hardcover book with numerous photographs to entice the reader, but beyond that there’s barely anything new. The lack of new content is not necessarily a drawback, however, as Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen retains the original simple, personal focus on some delicious food.
Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking aims to inspire the home baker to try new variations of homely desserts and sweets, and is successful at encouraging creativity to some degree. There is a wide range of recipes and some modest but interesting suggestions. However, it is lacking in helpful explanations and is too narrow in its selection of ingredients and special brands, and the use of US-centric measures and terminology may be frustrating to international readers.
Katie Caldesi’s Italian Cookery Course (published as Cook Italy in the USA) is in equal measure an exceedingly attractive and enjoyable exploration of Italian cooking, and a mild disappointment as a “cookery course”. Caldesi, co-owner of the UK restaurants Caffè Caldesi, Caldesi in Campagna, and an Italian cooking school, seemed to embark on a voyage of discovery in order to find the knowledge to write this book. The result is an enormous range of recipes with many personal preferences, sometimes deviating from what a reader might expect of recipes in a course in Italian cooking. In the end, the book could have been titled “Katie goes to Italy”. Many people will enjoy this attractive, well written book, forgiving or overlooking the weakness of many of the “masterclasses” and occasional gaps in information.
Finding a good meat book is a challenge in the feedlot of cookbooks. If you just want recipes, there’s a lot to choose from, but if you want more than that — information, tips, wisdom — satisfaction is lean. What on earth is the problem with producing a book that actually explains meat to home cooks? This feature surveys some of the recent and/or better meat books out there. (Not a feature for vegetarians, naturally.)
Students seem to have been a new target for publishers in 2009, with at least four student-oriented cookbooks appearing. I guess publishers anticipated that students wouldn’t be able to afford the stereotypical diet of burgers, chips, pizzas, noodles and beer. An entertaining and attractive book, From Pasta to Pancakes, the Ultimate Student Cookbook is the work of young British food personality Tiffany Goodall. Unfortunately, despite the innovative presentation and the worthy intention of teaching food-illiterate students how to cook, the book is disappointing.
The culinary literature in English about Portugal is a bit patchy, often the work of emigrés reproducing the recipes of family and friends. The latest contribution about Portuguese cuisine is David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table. Unlike all previous books, this one sets out to innovate and modernise. Why this is the goal isn’t entirely clear, but it’s an interesting work containing tasty recipes and useful additional information from this Portuguese-American food writer.
The most renowned encyclopedia of food, the Larousse Gastronomique, has just appeared in its fourth English edition. Attractively presented with a bronze cover and black slipcase, it’s the latest in a series of impressive, fascinating and somewhat quirky editions in both French and English. Each edition is a translation and adaptation of a preceding French edition, and the fifth French edition was published almost exactly two years ago, in mid-October 2007. This feature provides an overview of the various editions and some of the interesting issues and changes over the years.
Basic ice-cream books are fairly common, but informative or innovative ones are few. Lola’s Ice Creams & Sundaes has been hailed as a welcome addition to the innovative side of things and I’m happy to agree. This attractive book by Morfudd Richards, owner of the UK’s high-class ice-cream van Lola on Ice, presents a very good range of delicious and inspiring recipes and some flawed explanation of the knowledge needed to become a confident and creative ice-cream maker.
A buzz of joy courses through some readers when they discover certain books of special note. Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti had this effect on me. The author’s prose has that rather stiff, knowledgeable and cheekily irreverent prose familiar in parts from writers like Elizabeth David or MFK Fisher. From discussion of the probable diets of different classes of people in classical times to descriptions of contemporary foodsellers to notes about making your own tomato extract, Simeti captures the culinary atmosphere, context, attitudes and flavours of deepest, hottest Sicily.
Chef Gerald Hirigoyen and writer Lisa Weiss have produced an enjoyable, tasty book of Basque tapas — Pintxos. Every time a cuisine becomes popular, booklovers see too many poorly done chefs’ books land on the shelves. Pintxos shows how a book can capture a chef’s style and cuisine traditions without feeling forced, pretentious or too much like a self-promotional device. Pintxos is an enjoyable book to cook, eat and entertain from.
Jennifer McLagan’s book of bones attracted rightful acclaim for its presentation of recipes, knowledge and tips about cooking and eating meat on the bone, eating marrow from the bone, and using disfavoured cuts of meat to produce delicious dishes. Each section gives refreshingly clear, concise descriptions of where cuts of meat come from on each animal’s carcass and how best to cook them, tips about buying good meat, and a number of tasty recipes. McLagan’s clarity of explanation and evident passion makes Cooking on the Bone stand out.
From the national Country Women’s Association branches around Australia comes a collection of cake recipes, published by Penguin. This is one of a few CWA books to be released in 2009. The photos are attractive, despite the range of cakes being far from fancy, and there are many familiar classics alongside some novel twists. The personal touch saves the book from being just an idiosyncratic catalogue of recipes (not least fruitcakes!) and with a little care most readers would enjoy baking from it, despite a few recipe problems.
Food served in small glasses — verrines — has been popular in France for at least four years. José Maréchal’s book Verrines, published by Murdoch Books, is only the second book in English to focus strongly on this type of dish. Two of Maréchal’s French books on verrines (published by Marabout: Verrines, Verrines toutes fraîches) have been combined to produce this compact 128 page volume in English which gives an excellent introduction and provides lots of inspiration. This is a title that deserves five stars because it achieves what it needs to so well, combining a feel for the dishes with tips and inspirations. The book suits cooks who enjoy food presentation and bright flavours and who have at least basic technical confidence.
Chocolate is a mammoth work from the Chocolate History Group at the University of California, Davis. The culmination of ten years of anthropological and archival research, this is a book for a narrow range of readers with interests in food research, anthropology and history, or for those whose curiosity will be sated by an enormous range of fascinating tidbits about chocolate. As a volume representing the final output from the group, it is a collection of 56 academic essays covering anything from the religious significance of chocolate in pre-Colombian and post-colonisation societies to advertising cards in 19th century Europe and North America. As might be expected, this is no light reading and generalist readers may find it hard going. Despite the title, the remit of the research group was strongly oriented towards the Americas, leaving European chocolate history rather neglected in the final product.
Anjum’s New Indian offers inviting recipes, useful background information and a warm but not over-the-top enthusiasm for food. The book features recipes from a BBC television series, Indian Food Made Easy, focusing on regional dishes of India.
The book could easily have been yet another one of those “inspired by the flavours of …” titles, leaving the user none the wiser about what really makes a cuisine, but thankfully the author not only tells the reader how many dishes are traditionally prepared, but is also open about what changes she has made and why. It makes this book doubly valuable: helping you understand traditional methods and flavours while giving you at times lighter, simpler or just personally preferred alternatives. The results are delicious and attractive for omnivores and vegetarians alike.
Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio promises a lot. He seeks to teach home cooks about the basic relationships between ingredients that form the basis of so many preparations – from custard to bread to sausages to mayonnaise. Bread, for instance, is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water. These relationships, ratios or “codes” for combining ingredients, are more fundamental than the specific weights and volumes of today’s flood of “new” recipes.
I was excited in anticipation of this book, but was greatly disappointed with the outcome from this otherwise good author. Ratios are a great approach to reviving cooking “sense”, but they require skill in definition and explanation. Somehow Ruhlman’s sense for communicating about cookery didn’t conquer the demands of explaining a mathematical relationship clearly to a range of possible readers. It was never going to be an easy task, especially when trying to apply chef sense to something which domestic cooks have largely forgotten. Nonetheless, despite its failings, the existence of this book is truly valuable and can be of utility to certain readers – those who are already familiar with ratios in cooking, perceptive novices who need no visual material, and perhaps some others who might want to explore their own understanding of cooking fundamentals.
If you’re a bloke with barely a pinch of kitchen knowledge (or with an overdose of indolence), Beat Heat Eat might be your cup of tea. Dean Lahn has created a slim, very visual cookbook for the unreconstructed male. The recipes are short and quite novel in their low-effort approach, presented with fine engineer-like graphics that are mostly useful. Textual instructions are clear and the introductions and asides for each recipe could make you laugh or cringe, depending on your temperament. It’s fun. At times it’s brilliant. It will irritate many experienced cooks. And women.
This enormous volume inspires awe and some moments of disappointment. James Peterson presents an amazingly rich collection of recipes (600) and information about techniques in his book titled very simply “Cooking”. Just opening to the table of contents, spanning six pages, is enough to convince you that this could be the one, the book that covers all the bases you might need for a strong standard repertoire of dishes. The table of contents lists every major recipe in the book. Wonderful. Not only a wealth of classics, but a long list of technical explanations with photographs (1500), tips and recommendations turn this into a book which many owners would be satisfied with. It’s aimed at a USAmerican audience and is probably of most use to cooks with some confidence in approaching cooking, even if they aren’t experienced cooks.
It seems like we’re forever being told to eat healthier, lighter food yet at the same time there aren’t exactly a mountain of attractive food books that really focus on interesting healthy options. Too many healthy-eating books make food much less fun than it needs to be. To my surprise, Jill Dupleix successfully combines the ideas of lighter eating without making you feel like you’re launching into a 100% fat-free nightmare. Lighten Up offers a welcome diversity of good, appetising recipes in an attractive package. The tone won’t suit everyone, and the trendy ingredients might put some people off at first, but this is a book well worth looking at. I was surprised at how interesting I found the range of recipes.
In the public imagination, the leading light of what has commonly been called the Molecular Gastronomy movement is the restaurant elBulli and its head chef, Ferran Adrià. For many years, elBulli has produced large, beautiful volumes of innovative dishes, techniques and the philosophy of their creation, first in Spanish and then, with some delay, in English. Unattainably expensive for many chefs and non-chefs alike, these books have provided one of the few clear insights into what Ferran Adrià and his restaurant is about, minus the breathless enthusiasm of food critics or hyped “weird-shit” descriptions of lesser food writers. At last there is a book that is aimed at the public, perhaps leading to better understanding of what this approach to cooking and eating is about. Sceptics might not make it through to the interesting bits, however, as this book is a vanity work of many pages and photos that only becomes interesting the further you look. In many ways this is little more than a coffee table book, yet fails in that form. It is simultaneously dull, unwieldy, informative and complex. The “potted guide” to elBulli, to use a slightly old fashioned term, just without the brevity!
Eating Between the Lines claims to be “A different kind of food tour” and sociologist Rebecca Huntley certainly takes the readers on a journey. The book is a series of discreet chapters exploring aspects of food culture in Australia. From the subtitle of the book, “Food & Equality in Australia”, you might expect the focus to be on poverty, access to food, and perhaps the ability to cook. In fact, Huntley ranges over these themes and adds a sociopolitical agenda involving gender roles, racism, Slow Food and more. At times, the reader might feel that the author lacks much insight into deeper cultural and historical issues, leaving her argumentation a little popular-conscience rather than achieving insightful examination. Nonetheless, many interesting pieces of information come out of the interviews and stories and the footnotes are interesting. I found Eating Between the Lines very irritating, but it’s well written and designed to hit the right “how terrible” buttons with certain types of readers. Huntley might, however, have cast her net a bit too wide, because there are enough touches of sneering through the book that she might well offend even some of her target audience.
Beautiful. This is a stunning production imbued with the personality of the author, local context, and an appealing warmth, packaged with style and a sense of understanding of the author’s values. Maggie’s Harvest is, in keeping with the author’s own philosophy and the prevailing food ideology, organised by season. And in what feels quite Australian, it starts with summer and ends with spring (take that you northern hemispherics!). The only downside? There’s some content reproduced from Maggie Beer’s previous books, but this isn’t revealed.
An attractive book presenting the story of the family of an Australian Vietnamese restaurateur and the Red Lantern restaurant in Sydney. It combines narrative with recipes. The photography is warm. Decorative patterns add a great deal to the appeal of the pages and to the fabric cover. The book is both saddening and frustrating. Despite the visual attraction and the promise of delicious food, Secrets of the Red Lantern presents a bleak narrative and has serious flaws which greatly mar the experience for some readers.
Few Australians have much understanding of the refugee experience or, more to the point, the Australian Vietnamese experience. It is good to see an attempt to recount the situation of people escaping Vietnam to seek a new life, the treatment as refugees in camps and then Australia, and how they have struggled and changed over the last thirty years. Combining this with the theme of food is logical. Many evocative books on food combine personal experience with the web of memory and emotion sustained by food. However, the story of this family involves so much suffering — largely at the hands of the writer’s father — that I found it uncomfortable to read this in what is clearly meant to be a cookbook. By ‘uncomfortable’ I don’t mean confronting; instead, I felt the narrative was out of place in this book.