Nick Lander is the restaurant correspondent of the Financial Times, author and hospitality expert. His first book, The Art of The Restaurateur became an Economist Book of The Year in 2012. He is the former proprietor of L’Escargot in Soho and has acted as a hospitality consultant to arts organisations across London including The Southbank Centre; the British Museum; and the Royal Albert Hall among many others. He consulted on the food and beverage offering at the restored St Pancras International station and for the development of King’s Cross, the 67 acre site that is currently the biggest single urban regeneration project in Europe.
When did you first get involved with the Andre Simon Awards?
Twenty years ago. I was a food book assessor then after two years they made me a trustee and when Julian Cotterell, my predecessor passed away I became chairman.
What are your responsibilities as chairman of the awards?
That depends on who you ask! The principle one is to monitor and make sure that the Andre Simon memorial fund doesn’t spend too much of its money on the awards, that’s the slightly dry side. The real job is to navigate the ship and listen to everybody’s opinions. I am involved in producing the short list, but I defer to the assessors. My job is more informal; providing lunch and a wrapping up speech on 5 February at the ceremony and ensuring we stay solvent.
I think the system we have of one food and one drink book assessor is absolutely fantastic because it minimises committees. A lot of these awards they have, they bring in the good and the great and everybody has an opinion and the lowest common denominator tends to dominate rather than the actual winner. The list of nine food books and six drink books we’ve got this year is probably the broadest and eclectic and wide ranging and interesting that we’ve ever had, and that’s nothing to do with me.
How have cookbooks change in the 20 years you’ve been involved in the awards.
I think they’re much more detailed and because the general cookbook has been so well covered in the past, nascent writers have to look for a subject and, like everything today, it’s becoming harder and harder to find an undiscovered topic. The idea that there’s a book on Shetland or the Black Sea is a reflection of that, and the Pie and Mash book too, which I think is a great read. The idea of Jill Norman or anybody else’s cookbook being definitive, those days are finished, and authors are having to search for slightly recherche but actually very interesting topics.
What impact does the awards have on British food and drink writing?
That’s a very difficult question, because the book trade is so odd, speaking as an author myself. We’ve tried all kinds of things to publicise the awards; stickers, moving the dates of the selection before Christmas so that the books could be highlighted in the run up. I’m not sure any of that actually works. I think the prestige comes after the award to the winner; nice cheque and the prestige to the publishers. It must be a huge pat on the back to the production team because production values are really important to Andre Simon.
How is food writing viewed by critics in the UK, do you think it get taken seriously enough?
There are so many books published and literary editors are swamped, so there’s no real room for food and drinks books other than at Christmas, which I think is a bit odd, we don’t eat and drink just at Christmas. I’d like to see more scope given to coverage of food and drink books.
Despite the many cookbooks already on the shelves, is there a cookbook you’d like to see that hasn’t yet been written?
I still hanker after something that brings food and wine together in one cookbook, I think that would be quite interesting; not matching, but just thoughts on cooking and choosing wine, but I don’t know of anybody who could do that.
And finally, do you have an all-time favourite cookbook?
The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews by Edda Servi Machlin, which Elizabeth David introduced me to, is a fantastic cookbook. And any fish cookbook from Rick Stein to whoever, I just marvel at what they can do with fish.
To read more about the Andre Simon Awards click on the logo below