What’s the USP? Two decades worth of recipes and stories that chart the evolution of the iconic two Michelin-starred Cambridge restaurant Midsummer House and its chef/patron Daniel Clifford.
Who’s the author? Daniel Clifford is one of the most revered, respected and, at times, controversial chefs working in the UK today. In addition to those Michelin gongs, he also holds five AA rosettes, the title of AA Chefs’ Chef of the Year 2015 and 8 out of 10 in the Good Food Guide. In short, he’s premier league.
What does it look like? A million dollars. Clifford’s food is very photogenic and has been allowed to speak for itself. Many of the dishes appear to be ‘plated’ directly onto the white of the page, a la Michel Bras’s 2002 book Essential Cuisine, which gives the intricate presentations room to breathe. The exemplary food photography is supplement by ‘family album’ snapshots in the autobiographical sections, bringing personality to the book and breaking up all the glossy perfection with a dose of behind the scenes realism.
Is it good bedtime reading? Clifford is brutally honest in the fascinating autobiographical passages that begin each chapter, both about the industry and his personal life, making Out of My Tree as much of a page-turning blockbuster as it is a document of modern British haute cuisine. Expect to be up to the early hours finishing it.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There’s a fair few specialist items such as gelepressa (a thickening agent) that you’d need to hunt down online, and if you want to emulate Clifford’s food you’ll need to source the highest quality raw ingredients you can lay your hands on, so forget the supermarket for the most part and think top notch butchers, fishmongers and your best local independent market for fruit and veg.
What’s the faff factor? This is unashamedly Michelin food, so the recipes are often long with numerous elements and many ingredients and replicating them will be demanding, requiring intricate and precise cooking.
How often will I cook from the book? On very special occasions or simply when the urge to spend a whole weekend (and a whole weeks wages on ingredients) hits you. For the home cook, it’s probably best to see this book as a source of inspiration from which you can cherry pick a sauce here and a vegetable preperation there rather than tackling entire dishes.
Killer recipes? We could be here all day. One of the many wonderful things about Out of My Tree is the warts and all approach. Of course there are the many triumphs; the insanely complicated Chicken, Sweetcorn, Truffle and Peas that won Clifford four perfect 10s on the Great British Menu and includes ballotine of chicken lined with spinach, stuffed with steamed truffled egg white and sweetcorn jelly (to resemble an egg), wrapped in potato string and deep fried. But there are also some embarrassing also rans such as parfait of banana, chocolate and a palm tree-shaped coconut tuile from 1998 (all the recipes are dated) that looks like it might have come straight from a TGI Fridays menu. Clifford has also included recipes for his mums egg sandwiches (served for staff lunch every Friday at the restaurant) and his nan’s cheese scones which he put on the menu when she came to eat at Midsummer House. Cute.
What will I love? Clifford and his publisher deserve a standing ovation for the obvious effort put into this book. A reported three years have gone into its production and it shows from the perfect food (as someone who has been involved in the making of a cookbook, trust me that getting 140 dishes of this degree of complexity to look immaculate on the page takes some doing) to the extensive biography and numerous extras like interviews with past employees and the string of forewords by Sat Bains, Tom Kerridge, Claude Bosi and others. Little details like illustrating the stock recipes with photos of how the finished product should look like elevate the book above the norm.
What won’t I like? This is unashamedly Michelin-starred, fine-dining, testosterone fueled stuff which may not appeal to every reader.
Should I buy it? Out of My Tree is the new White Heat, a once in a generation book. Clifford has put his heart and soul onto every page, making it the culinary equivalent of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Any chef that aspires to Michelin glory and wants to know what that really takes will want it on their shelf and every chef that has achieved that status it will want to share in Clifford’s journey. Enthusiastic diners will find the book truly eye opening. If you’re a chef, don’t just buy it, send Clifford an email to thank him for writing it; there is much hard-won wisdom generously shared in these 400-odd pages that, read carefully, might just save you years of grief.
Cuisine: Progressive British Suitable for: Professional chefs Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars
What’s the USP? This weighty 464-page volume is the latest in Phaidon’s series of ‘international cookbook bibles’ that have previously covered Mexico, Peru and China among other countries.
Who is the author? Californian Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a recognised authority on Japanese cooking both in America and Japan where she has lived for over thirty years
What does it look like? Three years in the making, the book contains over 400 recipes (many illustrated with clear and simple overhead photographs), organised into 15 categories including pickles, stir-fries and one pots, to create what Singleton Hachisu calls ‘a curated experience of Japan’s culinary framework from a specific moment in time’, researched during travels across the country and discussions with ‘chefs, local grandmothers and artisanal makers of traditional food’.
Is it good bedtime reading? As long as you’ve got strong arms, and be careful not to nod off reading about Jomon period of Japanese food history, if the 1.7kg book falls out of your hands it could do some serious damage.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may struggle to track down some things such as konnyaku but between your local Asian supermarket and online specialists such as Sous Chef you should be able to source the majority of stuff you need.
What’s the faff factor? All the dishes are listed with a preparation time and cooking time so you know what you’re letting yourself in for, but many can be completed in under half an hour.
How often will I cook from the book? There is a huge range of recipes included in this veritable encyclopedia of Japanese food so you could easily find yourself dipping into it on a regular basis.
Killer recipes? The broad selection of dishes from across the country covers everything from walnut dressed chrysanthemum petals to steamed mountain yam with nori and grilled eggplant miso soup to chicken yakitori.
What will I love? A history of Japanese food, a glossary of ingredients, a list of Japanese kitchen equipment and descriptions of Japanese cutting styles (zakugiri are ‘greens cut crosswise into 4cm pieces’). The 11-strong international line-up featured in the ‘shefu’ (chefs) chapter include Shinobu Namae of two Michelin-starred L’Effervescenvce in Tokyo, whose recipes include bonito sashimi with butterbur miso and shiso, and Shuko Oda of Koya Bar in London who contributes three recipes including clams, fava beans and capers steamed in dashi butter.
What won’t I like? If you’re looking for an encyclopedia of sushi, sashimi and ramen, then Japan The cookbook will disappoint, with just seven sushi, three sashimi and one ramen recipe (although there is a whole chapter on noodles).
Should I buy it? Japanese food has become an everyday part of the British diet. From udon at Wagamama to ramen at Bone Daddies, from robata grilled lamb chops at Roka to the omakase tasting menu at the three Michelin-starred The Araki, Japanese cuisine has become so prevalent that there are now even sushi counters in supermarkets. Japanese ingredients and techniques have also become part of many progressive British kitchens with dashi becoming almost as common as chicken stock.
But even the most ardent Japanophile chef will probably only have scratched the surface of a food culture with a recorded history dating back to the third century. That’s where Japan The Cookbook comes in. This is the perfect primer for anyone wanting to deepen their knowledge of an endlessly fascinating subject.
Cuisine: Japanese Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars
What is it? Five years on from her debut book, this is the second outing for New York-based dating-turned-food blogger extraordinaire Deb Perelman of New York Times profiled smittenkitchen.com with over 100 recipes for ‘real people with busy lives’.
What does it look like? What is it about American-published cookbooks that makes them just so damn desirable? I’m not an uber font-nerd but the Minion typeface used here (originally developed by Adobe for Macs in 1990 according to a note at the back of the book) is particularly attractive and clean looking. At over 300 pages, the book has a certain authoritative weight and the glossy paper makes the 127 full-colour photographs pop.
Is it good bedtime reading? Set aside that Grisham, the generous recipe introductions include plenty of culinary-related personal anecdotes and opinion, as well as cookery lore and background to the recipes themselves, making it a nighttime page-turner par excellence.
Killer recipes? Charred corn succotash with lime and crispy shallots; pea tortellini in parmesan broth; Manhattan-style clams with fregola; winter squash flatbread with hummus and za’atat; ricotta blini with honey, orange and sea salt; raspberry hazelnut brioche bostock; chewy oatmeal raisin chocolate chip mega-cookies.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Despite an almost encyclopedic approach to global cuisine, you should have no trouble finding the vast majority of ingredients in a good supermarket.
What’s the faff factor? Make no mistake, this is ‘proper’ cooking and many of the recipes have several elements that need to be brought together at the point of serving, but with a little planning and organisation, they should be stress-free.
How often will I cook from the book? Every day (duh!).
What will I love? This is an American book, but, God bless them, they’ve included gram or millilitre equivalents for cup measures which rockets the book to the top of the usability charts for UK readers (other US publishers please take note). The guide for special menus at the back of the book that highlights vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and diary-free recipes (of which there are many) is particularly thoughtful.
What won’t I like? Me, if I find out you don’t love this book as much as I do.
Should I buy it? Only if you like cooking delicious food. Otherwise, give it a miss.
Cuisine: American/International Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks Cookbook Review rating: 5 Stars
What is it? A sequel to the excellent Hawksmoor At Home was always going to be a tough gig but Gott and Becket, owners of the London-based modern steak restaurant group Hawksmoor that’s recently expanded to Manchester and will open in New York in 2019, have nailed it.
What does it look like? In a word, sumptuous. That’s not a word I particularly like but I can’t think of a better one for this hefty, 300-odd page tome with its hand-drawn illustrations, stunning photography of the food and restaurant interiors and imaginative page layouts.
Is it good bedtime reading? Absolutely. The story of the restaurant is told in detail with essays written by all the key players with additional contributions from suppliers.
Killer recipes? I could just copy out the book’s index, but some standouts include potted beef and bacon with yorkshires; Tamworth belly ribs; lobster slaw; macaroni cheese; whole roast pig’s head; trotter sausages; short rib bubble and squeak and sticky toffee tatin
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you want to follow Hawksmoor’s ethos of serving the best quality meat and fish, you’ll want to give Asda a swerve and start chatting up your local butcher and fishmonger, if you’re lucky enough to have them, especially when it comes to things like pig’s head, trotters and whole brill and monkfish. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.
What’s the faff factor? Although the food is often quite simple, if you want to go full on Hawksmoor at home, you will have to set aside some time to make stocks, sauces and condiments.
What will I love? The sheer breadth and depth of the recipes. As well as all that meat, the chapters on seafood, vegetables and sides, breakfast and brunch and puddings are excellent. There’s even recipes for bar snacks like hot buttered lobster rolls and some serious sounding cocktails including Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew made with gin, London Pride beer and ginger syrup.
What won’t I like? Some material from Hawksmoor At Home is repeated including how to cook the perfect steak and how to make the restaurant’s signature burger but there’s more than enough new content, including a new seafood chapter written by Mitch Tonks, to justify the purchase if you already own the first book.
How often will I cook from the book? You’ll be most likely to reach for Hawsmoor: Recipes and Recipes at the weekend when you have a bit more time in the kitchen, but the snacks, salads, vegetables and sides (and those cocktails) will come in handy anytime.
Should I buy it? Here’s a tip: if you’re best friends with Morrissey who wrote the song ‘Meat is Murder’, he probably won’t talk to you again if this celebration of all things carnivorous ended up on his coffee table. But if you’re a chef considering opening a steak restaurant or looking for inspiration for meaty starters and mains, this book is unbeatable. For fans of the restaurant, it’s the perfect memento with many of the recipes achievable at home. In short, Hawksmoor: Restaurants and Recipes over-delivers in every department, making what could have been a cash-in into an essential purchase.
Cuisine: British Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars
How did The Sportsman book come about?
I wasn’t planning to do a book at all particularly, but then I got an email from Phaidon. I thought, I quite fancy doing something with them, they make such lovely books. My motive really was to make a souvenir, a representation of The Sportsman and the work that we’ve done over the last 17 years, so it was as simple as that really.
I love a cookbook when it’s not just a collection of recipes, but also tells the story of the restaurant which The Sportsman does brilliantly.
Oh, thanks, that was the plan. I’m the same, I think we’ve probably got quite similar tastes in that respect. Just another recipe, photo, recipe, photo book can be lovely, but if you cook a lot you don’t often need that and its quite interesting to have a story, isn’t it?
I was a little bit intimidated by having to write the whole story, so I tried to do it episodically. I can write 1000-1500 words but as soon as it goes over that I’m a bit out of my depth, so I wrote essays. It appealed to me because I like that kind of Pulp Fiction thing where you move around in the story. It doesn’t insult the intelligence of the reader, it allows the reader to work it out for themselves.
Having written for The Telegraph for two years, I often have to assume no knowledge or intelligence on the part of the reader because that’s part of newspapers, everything has to be crystal clear- recipes that idiots can cook and all that kind of stuff. It was really nice to do a bit where actually I didn’t have to worry about that. I had a bit more of a free hand.
What are your favourite recipes from the book?
A few stand out. The one I’m really loving at the moment, it’s just gone back on the menu, is the pot roast red cabbage, that feels like a very modern dish. Rene Redzepi did this thing where he took a whole cauliflower, and, like a lot of people, I thought what a lovely idea. It makes you question the nature of a chicken versus a vegetable and why do we treat them differently. I thought I’d try a traditional cooking method applied to a winter vegetable and the result was spectacular. I love that dish.
The slip sole with seaweed butter is always going to be a big thing with us because that feels like a recipe with all the loose ends tied up, everything seems to work. It’s a local fish, its seaweed from the beach outside the pub, its butter from the diary, its salt from the sea, there’s something almost holistic about it.
You see slip soles on a lot of other people’s menus these days.
I know, I’m so chuffed. I love it, I think some chefs get annoyed when their ideas get copied but I actually see it as flattery.
Unusually, the book contains recipes for some fundamental ingredients, right down to salt.
That was the route that I chose twelve or thirteen years ago – to go elemental rather than poncey. We got to the point where the kitchen was quite well set up, I had a good team and I was able to start thinking about my own style. It was almost like a fork in the road; shall I go down the route that most two and three-star chefs do where they refine everything, and they trim all the fun out of the food and I went the other route which was to go a bit more elemental, to think about things like salt and butter and bread the very basics of restaurants and to try and elevate them and make them as good as they could be.
Then this whole idea sprang up that there were some things I could make in my own kitchen that were better than I could buy from any supplier. I used to love Echiré butter that you used to get in posh restaurants like Nico’s, it was so delicious, but I couldn’t afford it. But when I made my own butter that made a lot more sense. I always have to remind people that nobody was making their own butter in restaurants back then, so it was a radical idea, but it was also fantastic because it was a reflection of the landscape as well.
Has writing the book clarified in your own mind what your style is or was that already evident to you?
It was already there, but yeah, you’re right. Whenever you have to reflect a bit, inevitably it crystallises things and makes them a bit clearer. In that respect it was good. It was more just having to dredge into my own brain really and allow myself to look at it from that point of view. I don’t know whether it was revelatory, but it was a fun process.
How would you describe your cooking, it’s very distinctive isn’t it?
I suppose so, yeah. The Sportsman is like two restaurants in one. I’ve never really said it and not many people have observed this, but we do an a la carte which is for somebody who lives in Whitstable and wants to pop out for lunch, and then we do a tasting menu and it’s the tasting menu that I’ve put most work into in the last 10 years. When I wrote about a style of my own that was really it.
Olivier Roellinger and those kind of chefs developed a certain style. So Roellinger, I give the example in the book, was very much reflecting the spice trade in Saint-Malo; Michel Bras with his foraging reflecting the landscape on the plate, and that’s what the tasting menu is about really, it’s a bit more kind of highbrow but at the same time I’m also very keenly aware of not alienating people. My palate and my taste are quite traditional, and I love really tasty food. I think that’s the style.
It’s interesting that you mention chefs like Roellinger and Bras because you’re in the same category but you’re in a pub on the Kent coast. Have you ever been tempted to move The Sportsman into swanky restaurant premises?
No, I’ve never had a problem with that. I’ve always thought that anything’s possible where I am. The elephant in the room is their three Michelin stars versus our one, but I don’t mind that, I’m enjoying watching the arbiters of the food world struggling with the modern definitions of what’s good. We’ve added to that in a way. It’ll take you three or four visits to the Sportsman to realise, “oh wait a minute, this is really quite a serious restaurant”.
I’ve never had a problem with the idea that a pub is basically just a building same as a restaurant is and you can do whatever you like within reason. We don’t have locals because we’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no village around us, so that helps us to do whatever we like. The usual things that apply to pubs don’t apply to us. Because I have carte blanche then it’s just about what feels right rather than what anyone’s trying to tell you to do.
How has your cooking evolved over the time The Sportsman has been open?
I started off, I was a keen amateur and cooked dinner parties for friends. I loved everything-Chinese food, Italian food, I was a bit more ‘global-kitcheny’ as we all were back in the 90’s. Then I found a way to teach myself to cook by going to Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis, La Tante Claire and all those places that were around in the 90’s and copying them.
When I was a kid of 14, I bought a guitar and to learn how to play it – it’s not like now, you go on Youtube and any song you want to play you can watch someone play it – then I used to go to gigs, stand at the front and watch the guitarist, watch what his fingers did and try and do it as soon as I got home. And I suddenly realised that’s how I taught myself to cook. I went to the restaurant, ate the food, then I understood what it was supposed to taste like so when I went home to cook it, with the aid of quite a lot of books, it was the memory of what it was supposed to taste like in my head.
So that style of copying Ramsay and Marco and Nico was the first five years of the Sportsman. We would knock people out because we got close. We weren’t some rank amateurs who were out of our depth, we were delivering. It’s just that I wanted a bigger picture. I noticed that all the great chefs find an angle and my angle was the surrounding history of this area. I didn’t want to copy old recipes, I just wanted the landscape and the history to inform the tasting menu more than dominate it.
I started almost closing in on myself. It sounds restrictive but the reason I did it was because it such a remarkable few miles. It was owned by the kitchens of Canterbury Cathedral in the Doomsday Book, so for a thousand years it was their larder. There’s everything you need here – fish, seafood, lamb, pigs, salt making, hedgerows, it just goes on and on. I wrote them all down once and I thought, that’s enough, that’s a menu. There’s a concept behind it rather than just whatever’s nice that day. The food, when we send it out, feels like it reflects the surrounding area.
What’s your involvement with Noble Rot in London?
It started out as a wine fanzine. Dan and Mark who wrote it worked in the music industry with my brother Damien who lives in Brighton. Dan was married to my cousin who had also been working for Island Records. I met Dan and we hit it off about wine because we both like those slightly nerdy, culty wines.
He came and had a look in my cellar and saw Raveneau and Leflaive and all these great names and we bonded over that. Then three years after doing the magazine they said they wanted to start a wine bar and I just said, let me know when you do it, because I didn’t want them to mess the food up. I said, I’ll help you, thinking that they’d get a little wine bar like Sager and Wild and of course they found a 50-seater restaurant, but you know, sod’s law.
I got the chef and gave them some recipes to use; I just go up every couple of weeks and keep an eye on it now. I think they’re going to do another one in which case I will get back involved a bit more heavily. We’re really lucky, we’ve got a great head chef and a good team and so far, there haven’t been too many alarms, but I didn’t want the call at eight in the morning saying we haven’t got any staff, I can’t get involved on that level.
So, you’re still based at The Sportsman?
I’m still here at The Sportsman, its where I want to be. I don’t want a chain of restaurants, this is where I’ll be staying. I still cook every day. It’s different to how it was because for the first 10 years it was quite easy. Although we were busy it wasn’t mad, and you’d get the odd shift where you were quiet.
Now its 100 plus covers a day, every single day and that starts to mean that you have to have somebody running a section. That really has to be their whole job because there’s a lot of things to think about, a lot of planning, ordering, making sure everything goes out right.
I have chefs on each section and my job is to go through everything with them, taste all the stuff, monitor the food that’s coming out, coming up with new dishes, finding new ingredients, I like to meet the farmers I use and all that sort of stuff. That’s more my job, but that doesn’t preclude me from being in the kitchen every day, but I just tend to get in the way now. But it’s still great, it’s lovely. As I get a bit older it suits me better than working a section and doing 13-14 hour days.
My head chef has been with me 17 years my sous chefs have been with me for 10-12 years, it’s a bit of a family business as well, my brother is here, Emma my girlfriend works up front and does various things for the restaurant, although I’m the only one that tends to get mentioned. That was another thing in the book, I wanted to let the others share a bit of the blame, that’s why I put the interviews with them and let them talk to the editors, just to share it rather than it all being on me.
Talking of being in the spotlight, have you ever been tempted to do TV?
There’s been a couple of television companies sniffing around, but it’s all the same old shit – amateurs cooking and you judge them. It’s like, ‘haven’t you made enough of these programmes yet?’ I wouldn’t mind doing something interesting, but I think I’m a bit too old now, I think I missed the boat. Ten years ago I would have been a good choice, but I’m not bothered, that’s cool.
Chef’s Table came here a while ago to do a recce but we haven’t heard anything back from them. I like their stories, they’re a bit more interesting than your average one and I think that’s what Phaidon were drawn to, the story. You might be a really great chef cooking, knocking out three-star, two-star food but if you haven’t got much of a story, what kind of a book are you going to do? And I think that’s the same with Chef’s Table.
This is your first book, will there more?
I don’t know, I don’t think so. Actually, that question came up because when I wrote down all the recipes there were nearly 250 and we only had room for 55 in the book, so there is a lot of stuff left over. You can knock out a hundred of them because they’re dated slightly, but there’s still a lot that’s not in there so it’s possible. I don’t know how it works, if they ask me I’d have to think about it but no plans at the moment.
The Sportsman is a remarkable book about a remarkable place run by a remarkable man. Stephen Harris is a former punk rocker, turned history student, turned financial advisor, turned (mostly) self-taught cook, turned publican, turned Michelin starred chef. He runs what he once called ‘a grotty rundown pub by the sea’ in Seasalter on the Kent coast, but which to many is a place of serious culinary pilgrimage.
If you haven’t heard of Harris or The Sportsman, or come to that Seasalter, this is a wonderful introduction to all three. If you’re a fan, you’ll be especially delighted by the effort Harris has put into this, his first book, with a series of insightful and fascinating essays about his own personal history, the story of the pub, his approach to cooking and the heritage and produce of the region, making it so much more than simply a collection of recipes.
Not that you’d be disappointed with a collection of recipes from the Sportsman. There are 55 of them here, arranged under headings reflecting what Harris calls the ‘Kentish terroir’ that drives his menus. The signature slip sole in seaweed butter (‘I liked the idea of serving the fish alone on a plate. It was a statement of intent’ says Harris in the recipe’s introduction) appears in the The Sea: The Kent coast and North Sea and salmagundi – an English mixed salad that’s presented as more of an essay than an actual recipe with specific ingredients and a method – in a chapter titled The Gardens: The Sportsman Allotment and Isle of Thanet.
Harris takes inspiration from chefs around the world including David Kinch from California whose ‘Tidal Pool’ prompted Harris to create Rockpool, a collection of local sea vegetables and seafood served in a fish stock and seaweed broth; and Michel Bras in Laguiole in Southern France whose multi-ingredient gargouillou salad is the inspiration for salmagundi. But dishes such as baked cod with chestnuts, parsley and bacon; pheasant with bread sauce and rose hip juice and greengage soufflé with greengage ripple ice cream are unmistakeably English; the food is so specific to Kent that to call it British would be too much of a generalisation.
But you don’t have to live in the same county as Harris to cook his food. Unless you live by the sea, his recipe for salt is going to be tricky to pull off (transporting buckets of sea water any distance is always going to be a challenge) but the majority of the dishes can be easily adapted to produce more easily available near to where you live. They’re mostly straightforward to prepare, although he’s not adverse to a few long ingredient lists (his roast lamb gravy has 17 of them, including home-made chicken stock) or cheffy flourishes; smoked mackerel with cream cheese, apple jelly and soda bread with mackerel velouté is a properly complex restaurant dish.
There are many pearls of wisdom, from Harris’s treatise on what he calls Total Cooking (‘we are constantly questioning our processes and trying new ideas’) to his analogy of music and cooking (‘When I am finishing a sauce or soup, I can’t help thinking like I would if I had a graphic equaliser and was balancing something in a song. The treble is like acidity’) to detailed descriptions of his preferred ingredients (thornback rays are superior to the blond variety because ‘rather than the texture being open and woolly when cooked, the flesh of the thornback was denser and stickier on the teeth).
Even if you never prepare one dish (trust me, you will), you’ll be a better cook for reading The Sportsman. How many cookbooks can you say that about?
Cuisine: British Suitable for: Confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars
Reading London-based Irish chef Richard Corrigan’s second cookbook The Clatter of Forks and Spoons is a pain in the neck. Holding the monster-sized tome that weighs in at over 3lbs for extended periods of time doesn’t help, but its the constant nods of agreement that are the real problem.
“Philosophy of life, politics, religion maybe – but cooking? It’s just people trying to sound more meaningful than they really are.” (Nods reflectively) Couldn’t agree more.
“What is good cooking all about? Knowing your ingredients, and understanding what goes with what.” (Nods knowingly) Yes, absolutely.
“What’s the use of chefs at all, I sometimes wonder, when there is food as simple and gorgeous as Dover sole or a native oyster out there?” (Nods vigorously) Oh, someone get me an Aspirin.
Although primarily aimed at the home cook, there’s so much culinary common sense crammed into the book’s 400-odd pages that no chef should be allowed within a mile of a professional kitchen without reading it.
A cookery booked named after a quote from The Dead by James Joyce with a picture of a sink on the cover was always going to be a class apart. Numerous articles, essays and extended introductions along with the evocative landscapes, still lives and portraits by photographer Kristin Peters break the usual recipe/photo mould.
Corrigan underlines his ingredient-led approach by profiling some of his favourite producers or “extreme artisans” as he calls them. A veritable Irish Mafia of “stubborn, cranky people” includes cheesemaker Bill Hogan of Schull in West Cork and the Seed Saver Association in Country Clare that conserve heritage varieties of fruit vegetables and grains.
Despite his enthusiasm for artisan produce, Corrigan resists being too prescriptive with his recipes. Apart from a general exhortation to spend less in the supermarket and more at the butcher’s shop and farmers market, you won’t have to search too hard to find ingredients for the majority of the dishes.
A love of cheaper cuts such as pig’s trotter and ham hocks and relatively inexpensive fish including mackerel, hake and gurnard means you won’t have to break the bank to cook from the book (although there’s plenty of luxury produce like wild salmon, lobster, grouse and foie gras too).
An eclectic range of dressings and sauces including Italian salsa verde, Catalonian romesco and North African harissa, and dishes ranging from Mediterranean influenced stuffed baby squid with chorizo and feta style cheese to Thai crab and mussel soup reflect the globetrotting style prevalent during the 1990’s London restaurant scene where Corrigan first made his name.
The Clatter of Forks and Spoons also tells Corrigan’s own story, from growing up on a farm in County Meath to the recent opening of his posh new Mayfair restaurant. Although Corrigan’s time cooking in the Netherlands, working with Stephen Bull and opening the Lindsay House restaurant in Soho are all covered, you can’t help feeling that there must be more to say about such a larger-than-life character (try reading Stephen Bull’s side of the Fulham Road restaurant story in his excellent Classic Bull: An Accidental Restaurater’s Cookbook and you’ll see what I mean).
With the assistance of Shelia Keating (“without whom,” the author admits in his acknowledgements “the words wouldn’t be on the paper”), Corrigan has produced a volume that more than bears comparison to modern classics such as Alastair Little’s Keep It Simple and Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson. The book embodies much of what is great about British cooking in the 2000’s, and by doing so guarantees it will be used for decades to come.
Cuisine: modern British Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals Cookbook Review rating: 5 stars