Broth to Bowl by Drew Smith

Broth to Bowl

What is it? Sixty-odd soup recipes based around six base broths and their variations.

Who wrote it? Drew Smith, a former Good Food Guide Editor and author of Oyster: A Gastronomic History with Recipes.

What does it look like? The clean, elegant layout makes it a pleasure to use and Tom Regester’s unfussy photography and simple food styling means soup has never looked so good.

Is it good bedtime reading? Apart from a short introductory chapter, this is primarily a recipe book for the kitchen rather than the nightstand.

Killer recipes? Quick tom yum; flaming oxtail broth; scampi, pea shoots and tofu in miso broth.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There is nothing really obscure here and you will probably find most things you need in your local Waitrose, although you will need to shop in the organic aisle for your veg (‘you don’t want to be making a consomme of pesticides’ warns Smith). Head to your nearest Asian supermarket for some of the ingredients used in the chapter on kombu and develop a good relationship with your neighbourhood butcher and fishmonger (if you are lucky enough to have them) for items like pig’s trotters, oysters and gurnard.

What’s the faff factor? Depends on which recipes you choose. If you cook from the ‘Meat’ chapter, you’ll need to spend 2 days preparing the basic beef bone broth before you’ll be able to tackle some of the actual soups. On the other hand, you can whip up gazpacho in a few minutes. On the whole though, Smith favours ‘cooking slowly’ so be prepared to stick around for a few hours to tend something gently bubbling away on the hob or in the oven.

How often will I cook from the book? If you follow Smith’s example, at least once a week, otherwise you’ll need to be in the mood for a bit of a kitchen project.

What will I love? Smith’s obvious passion for his subject comes through loud and clear; he really wants you to not just enjoy eating soup, but take great pleasure from making it. If you are in tune with the concept of mindfulness, you will lap up Broth to Bowl.

What won’t I like? At 160 pages, the book is a bit on the short side. You may wonder why Smith couldn’t come up with more variations on each of the broths. Some aspects of the recipes are glossed over. The introduction for vegetable tea says to ‘ vary the spices, vegetables and herbs with the seasons’ but gives no example substitutions. The method for basic beef bone broth says to ‘ ‘spread the meats and bones across the bottom of a large casserole’ but the ingredients list doesn’t include bones. Garnishes are dealt with in one page with no recipes and no suggestions of which soups in the book they could be served with.

Should I buy it? If you eat soup on a regular basis and are looking for inspiration of new things to put in your bowl, then, despite some shortcomings, this could be the book for you. You may also want to consider A Celebration of Soup: With Classic Recipes from Around the World (Cookery Library) by Lindsey Bareham.

Cuisine: Modern European
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

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Broth to Bowl: Mastering the art of great soup from six simple broths
£20, Modern Books

This is Mine by Mark Dodson

This is Mine

You may know that Mark Dodson has held a Michelin star at The Mason’s Arms, his Devon pub, since 2006. You’ll probably also know that he’s a former head chef of The Waterside Inn. But you may not realise that he’s the only Brit ever to hold that position or that he spent a total of 18 years at the restaurant. And you almost certainly won’t have a clue that his favourite film director is Quentin Tarantino and that he has a huge collection of vinyl and gig ticket stubs.

You’ll discover all this and more reading his debut cookbook (the obscure title is explained by the cover strapline ‘I believe that every good chef has a cookery book in them…this is mine) which includes a glowing introduction by Michel Roux Snr (‘I look upon Mark as I look upon my son’) and a brief but illuminating biographical section.

Dodson describes his cooking style as ‘good honest food, featuring local ingredients wherever possible presented with style and taste’, neatly summing up the 70 recipes that are categorised into soups, starters, mains and desserts. In addition, there’s a section dedicated to game, a passion of Dodson’s with preparations ranging from classic roasted grouse with bread sauce and a crouton spread with farce au gratin (a sort of pate made from grouse and chicken livers) to wood pigeon with curried brussels sprouts.

Dodson has been cooking since the 70’s and his classical background is reflected in garnishes like turned and Parisienne-balled vegetables, fanned duck breasts and chicken cooked in a brick. There’s also a fair amount of 90’s-style stacking of food, but there’s a nod to modernism with dragged purees and pickled and smoked elements. Dodson also looks far beyond Britain and France for inspiration; smoked chicken comes with Thai-style salad and salmon is marinated in soy, mirin and yuzu.

The book won’t win any prizes for design with a dated and unimaginative layout and oddly lit photography that makes some dishes look washed out and unappetising. The editing could have been improved too with recipe introductions not delineated from the method and no instructions on how to prepare some ingredients in some recipes, making for a frustrating read at times. However, the book does offer an invaluable opportunity to tap into the wealth of knowledge accrued by one of the UK’s most respected and experienced chefs. This is Mine should also be yours.

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.

Cuisine: Modern European/French
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

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This Is Mine
£25 A Way with Media

River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray

River Cafe 30

River Cafe 30 commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most influential restaurants in London. Before Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray opened what was a nine table lunchtime-only canteen for the architects and designers who work in the converted Thames Wharf warehouse in Hammersmith that houses the restaurant, there were only fake trattorias serving generic Italian fare. The River Cafe introduced the notion of regional Italian cooking to the UK; of new season’s olive oil, cavalo nero, Tuscan bread soups, hand made pasta and the infamous flour-less Chocolate Nemesis cake, a recipe that no home cook it seemed could master, me included.

Taken purely as a collection of recipes, there is much to recommend River Cafe 30. This is simple, delicious, ingredient-led food requiring, in most cases, minimal skill from the home cook. If you can’t afford the premier league Italian produce that the restaurant’s reputation stands and falls by, then you’ll still derive a huge amount of pleasure from knocking up dishes like linguine with crab; spinach and ricotta gnocchi and pork cooked in milk. The ‘salsa’ chapter alone could transform your repertoire with killer sauces like bagnet made with capers, anchovies, bread, parsley, garlic, eggs, vinegar and oil.

However, this is not a book for the faint of wallet. The basic pasta recipe requires 13 eggs and that chocolate cake, one of a number of recipes recycled from the restaurant’s famous ‘blue’ cookbook from 1995, calls for well over half a kilo of ‘best quality’ dark chocolate. Follow River Cafe 30 to the letter and you’ll be bankrupt and homeless, although you will have a bit of extra fat to live off before you have to sell your extra virgin olive-oiled body to the night.

River Cafe 30 is a beautiful object with a vivid colour scheme inspired by the restaurant’s bright pink wood-fired oven, yellow pass and blue carpet. There are reproductions of menus drawn or painted on by artist fans that include Cy Twombly, Peter Doig, Damien Hirst and Michael Craig Martin along with evocative black and white photography depicting life in River Cafe’s open kitchen (one of the first in the country) and a moving tribute to the late Rose Gray by Ruth Rogers.

But where is the celebration of the countless chefs that have passed through The River Cafe’s kitchen? Not one word about Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall or Theo Randall, to name but three of the most high profile alumni. Three decades of culinary history are condensed into two brief pages of text plus some architectural drawings, a sample of one of the first menus and an article published in the New Yorker magazine in 1996.

Recipe introductions are sparse with little information about why dishes have been singled out for inclusion, their regional derivation or how they fit into the restaurant’s history. There isn’t even so much as a hint of how to use all those salsas.

Despite high production values, there is more than a whiff of cash-in about River Cafe 30. No doubt it will sell by the bucket load, especially to special occasion diners in search of a memento (River Cafe remains an exceptional place in which to eat your tea), but I can’t help but feel that this is a missed opportunity to properly celebrate one of Britain’s true culinary landmarks.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

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River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
Food Photography by Matthew Donaldson
£28 Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Mezze paccheri, black pepper and langoustine
Risotto al Amarone di Valpolicella
Veal shin slow cooked with Barolo and sage

Gary Rhodes at the Table

Rhodes at the table

At the Table was the spiky-haired one’s seventh major cook book in about as many years and followed hot on the heels of the mammoth New British Classics. How on earth did he do it?

No doubt that sustaining a career like Rhodes’s is a team effort, and the many acknowledgements in the front of the book support that theory. However, all the food for the book was prepared by the chef himself, and his style is firmly imprinted in both the prose and recipes.

As always with Rhodes’s dishes, quotation marks abound in titles to indicate not all is as it seems, eg Pigeon and Red Onion “Pasty” turns out to be a pithivier. There are many more examples. It’s an annoying affectation and is indicative of Rhodes slightly overwrought approach.

However, the book design is excellent, with good use of colour. The photography is superb, and there are some real gems amongst the recipes, including a terrific crab salad, duck with spicy plums and a fantastic pear parfait.

Rhodes is a highly skilled and talented chef, and his food can be demanding of the home cook. Using this book may require a little more forethought and preparation, and you may need to adapt the recipes to your own abilities, but the results will be worth it.

Cuisine: modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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Gary Rhodes at the Table
Gary Rhodes
£0.01 BBC Books

Atelier of Alain Ducasse

Ducasse

Atelier of Alain Ducasse sets out to provide an insight into the working methods and philosophy of prehaps the most successful chef currently working anywhere in the World today. The book contrasts signature Ducasse recipes with those of his current and former Head Chefs in order to illustrate his influence on the men who work for him.

The book begins with a look behind the scenes of the Ducasse empire and attempts to contextualise it in terms of the last 300 years or so of French gastronomy. This rather dry and pretentious exercise is greatly enlivened by the beautiful black and white portraiture of Herve Amiard. Some amusing non-secquiturs from Ducasse lighten the tone, such as “It is better to have turbot without genius than genius without turbot”. Probably the definitive statement in the fish versus intelligence debate, if not the only one.

Things liven up with profiles of Ducasses favoured suppliers and their produce, and again it’s the full colour photographs that impress. These range from dramatic shots of turbot and bass being landed, to a lemon grower in quite contemplation amongst his trees. They communicate beautifully the powerful connection between man and sea and land.

The book contains recipes for just 8 of Ducasse’s signature dishes. Each is based around a characteristic ingredient of his cuisine, and is followed by further recipes from five of his pupils. Hence, under the heading “Sea Bass” you find Ducasse’s “Sea Bass Steaks with Leeks, Potatoes and Truffles”, along with “Fried Mediterranean Bass” by Le Louis XV head chef Franck Cerutti. Notes on each recipe assist the reader in comparing and contrasting the different approaches taken. Although this is all very enlightening, I personally would have settled for a few more of the great man’s recipes.

Having said that, it is highly unlikely that I would ever attempt to produce a dish such as “Semi Dried Pasta with Cream Sauce, Truffles, and a Ragout of Cockscombs and Chicken Kidney” at home. If invested wisely, the small fortune required to purchase the ingredients (including lobster, sweetbreads, 4 1/2 pounds of veal and chanterelle mushrooms), would see my kids through university.

Although all the main recipes are supported by step by step photographs, preparation is dauntingly complex. You could probably write your first novel in the time that it would take to cook some of the dishes featured. The book is best approached as an inspiration to get into the kitchen, rather than something to be slavishly followed once you are there. Some individual garnishes are achievable however. I particularly liked the thinly sliced potatoes sandwiched together with slivers of olive, which were then baked and served with spider crab.

Illustrations of the food itself are refreshingly clear, and avoid the current and annoying fad of everything being out of focus except for a square centimetre in the centre of the picture. Although the overhead style used for every shot gets a little wearing, it does show the unusually relaxed presentation style Ducasse employs. Elements of each dish seem to be casually strewn across the plate, but still somehow create a pleasing and cohesive whole.

Having read the book, I now have a greater understanding of what M Ducasse food is all about, but didn’t really learn much about the man himself. The book provides a diverting enough read, some stunning photography and a few usable recipes, but can only be recommended to fans M Ducasse who already have his other books.

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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Atelier of Alain Ducasse: The Artistry of a Master Chef and His Proteges (Masters of Gastronomy)
Alain Ducasse
£20.05 John Wiley & Sons

The Frenchman and the Farmer’s Daughters by Stéphane Borie

Frenchman

The title might sound like a bawdy joke, but this is a serious cookbook from Michelin-starred The Checkers at Montgomery. The Frenchman is Waterside Inn-trained chef Stéphane Borie and the farmer’s daughters are his wife Sarah (also a former Waterside Inn chef) and her sister Kathryn who together run the acclaimed restaurant with rooms in mid-Wales.

In the forward, Michel Roux says Borie is ‘among the top ten’ of all the chefs that have worked at the Waterside Inn during its 45 year history; praise indeed given that list includes the likes of Pierre Koffmann and Mark Dodson (now of the Michelin-starred Mason’s Arms in Devon) who Borie worked under for three years.

Borie’s recipes reflect his long and varied career and includes dishes he created at the Waterside Inn such as Dover Sole printaniére (the fish stuffed with broad bean mousse and served with spring vegetables and a luxurious lobster, Champagne and sorrel cream sauce) as well as a recipe for figs marinated in honey, cardamom, mustard and ginger he picked up while working as a private chef for the Bamford family and serves at breakfast at The Checkers.

Borie is at his most distinctive when he is marrying his French heritage (he was born and raised in Agen in south west France) with that of his adopted home. Sewin – Welsh sea trout – is served as a canape in a Feuille de Brick ‘cornetto’ with lemon cream and caviar, and France and Wales sit side by side in a checkboard-style terrine of foie gras and leek.

While Borie isn’t averse to a few modern flourishes – date bubbles made in an alginate bath accompany a roasted crown of pigeon de Bresse and sous vide and dehydration techniques are employed regularly throughout the book – his style is grounded firmly in the French classics. Methods are often complex and require a decent level of knowledge, skill and precision to pull off successfully, but the results are impressive. You’ll probably need to bone up on your butchery before attempting the saddle of farmed rabbit stuffed with its confit shoulder and served with the best end but it will look stunning on the plate.

By using a small independent publishing company, Borie will probably make more money from the enterprise than if he had approached a major publisher, but the end-product suffers from a clunky and sometimes confusing layout and repetitious use of images (the same shot of a smoked tomato soup appears on three successive pages). Nevertheless, Borie’s individual talent shines through making The Frenchman and the Farmer’s Daughters a worthy addition to any cookbook collection.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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The Frenchman and the Farmer’s Daughters
Stéphane Borie
£25 A Way With Media

Éric Frechon by Éric Frechon

Eric Frechon

Éric Frechon is old-school French culinary royalty. You may have heard his name in connection with London’s Lanesborough Hotel where he is consultant chef to the one Michelin-starred Céleste restaurant, opened in 2015. But his heart belongs to Paris where he worked at Taillevent, La Tour d’Argent and Hotel de Crillon before heading up the kitchen of Le Bristol where he has held three Michelin stars since 2009 and where a starter of caviar with smoked haddock ratte potatoes fetches a cool €150.

The dish is included in this opulent tome as one of just 60 recipes. With a cover price of nearly fifty quid, that means you’re getting about half the usual amount for roughly twice the average price which cynics might say is business as usual for a three-star chef. But if you do shell out, be prepared to be delighted and frustrated by turns.

Benoît Linero’s dense, brooding images of Frechon’s dishes and favoured ingredients owe more to renaissance painting than modern food photography and are unquestionably breath-taking, but the decision not to show all the recipes as they are served in the restaurant is irksome, despite the inclusion of detailed plating instructions.

The recipes are inspiring (you’ll want to jump on the next Eurostar to Paris to eat the signature macaroni au gratin stuffed with truffle, artichoke and foie gras) but sometimes lack detail. If you want to know how Frechon makes truffle jus, chicken stock or vegetable nage then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

The rather florid forward by French food critics François-Régis Gaudry and Emmanuel Rubin provides some insight into the cuisine and creative process of a three-star chef. Frechon describing how he took the French classic of hare à la royale and developed it into a soup is particularly fascinating but ultimately you are left wanting to know more. It’s galling to read that the pair had ‘many meandering conversations’ with Frechon that could have provided much needed introductions to the recipes or a longer biographical section.

With a number of cookbooks already to his name, this self-titled volume is meant to constitute Frechon’s ‘culinary manifesto’.  At a skimpy 160 pages, it falls short of being that, but does paint a decent portrait of a French fine-dining chef at the top of his game.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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Eric Frechon
Éric Frechon
€59 Solar