Dirt by Bill Buford

Dirt by Bill Buford

What’s The USP? A food memoir by esteemed American writer and editor Bill Buford about his five-year odyssey to master the art of French cooking. The book contains detailed descriptions of the preperation of some dishes but there are no recipes and it is not a cookbook.

Who’s the author? Bill Buford has been a writer and editor for the New Yorker since 1995. Before that he was the editor of Granta magazine for sixteen years and, in 1989, became the publisher of Granta Books. He is also the author of Among the Thugs and Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-maker and Apprentice to a Butcher in Tuscany. He was also a contributor to Daniel: My French Cuisine by Daniel  Boulud.

What’s the story morning glory? There are several main threads to the book: Buford’s experiences working in various Lyonnaise kitchens; his wider food related experiences in Lyon and the surrounding region; his academic exploration into the the Italian influence on French cooking, and how the relocation from New York to Lyon affected Buford’s home life with his wife and young twin sons. Along the way, we also meet Buford’s mentors, the late Washington-based chef Michel Richard and Michelin-starred, Lyon-born and New York-based chef Daniel Boulud.

Why do I want to read 400 pages about an old American white bloke indulging his personal obsession for French food? Admittedly, you could hardly call Dirt a zeitgeist read. Its publication in 2020, more than 10 years after many of the events of the book (Buford’s two part BBC documentary Fat Man in a White Hat, which shares much of the same material as the book was released back in 2010. You can watch the whole thing here) and when the conversation around food writing has shifted firmly towards diversity, isn’t great timing. That aside, Buford is a great writer, a master storyteller and attacks his subject with enormous vigour and infectious enthusiasm. You will learn a great deal about the history and techniques of French cuisine and be hugely entertained along the way.

What won’t I love about the book?  There is an awful lot going on. By the end of the book, Buford has spent time in Michel Richard’s kitchen,  relocated his entire family from New York to Lyon, trained at Institut Paul Bocuse, worked at Merer Brazier restaurant and Philippe Richard Artisan Boulangerie, helped slaughter a pig, visited an artisan bakery and mill, gone river fishing, made Beaufort cheese, attended the  Bocuse D’or and Meilleur Ouvrier de France cooking competitions, as well as several gastronomic conferences, made an academic study of the Italian influence on French cuisine and introduced his readers to dozens and dozens of characters including many of Lyon’s major culinary players, even the late-great Paul Bocuse himself.

By the time Buford is hiking up the Grande Montagne de Virieu, Belley to visit the abbey of Saint Sulpice in order to follow in the footsteps of food writer Brillat-Savarin for some bloody reason, I felt exhausted. I’d spent too much time inside the head of someone whose obsession I shared but couldn’t keep pace with.

One of Buford’s greatest assets as a writer is his ability to totally immerse himself in a subject. In his first book, Among The Thugs he got so close to 1980s English soccer hooligan culture that he almost became a hooligan himself. It constitutes one of the most extreme examples of what the New York Times has described as ‘participatory journalism’ and is a must-read. But that Zelig-like quality can also be a liability; Buford becomes so much a part of his subject that he can at times lose objectivity.  The various strands that make up Dirt are obviously equally important and interesting to Buford, but that doesn’t necessarily hold true for the reader. There are some clunky gear changes between personal memoir, reportage, description of cooking techniques and dishes and academic historical study.  It feels like four books in one, but maybe that just means it’s good value.

Should I buy the book? If you’ve read and enjoyed Buford’s previous books, Dirt will not disappoint. If you’re unfamilar with French cuisine, this is an excellent introduction to the subject and even if you’re a Francophile, you will almost certainly learn something new. Buford may be guilty of throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the book (actually, there are kitchen sinks) but it is nevertheless an extremely readable book, albeit one that will probably appeal most to the food and restaurant nerds among us.

Cook Book Review rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Dirt: Adventures in French Cooking
£16.99, Johnathan Cape

Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook

9781529104677

What’s the USP? A diverse collection of recipes from the Mediterranean region, including dishes from Corsica, Sardinia, Morocco and Andalucia. The book also investigates the influence of Jordanian cooking on the food of the Med.  

Who is the author? For British readers of a certain age, Ainsley needs no introduction. He is a beloved broadcaster who has achieved national treasure status. If Ainsley Harriot is an unfamiliar name to you, he is probably best known as the presenter of the hugely popular 90s tea-time cooking challenge show Ready Steady Cook. He is a trained chef (he once headed up the kitchen at the  Long Room of Lord’s Cricket Ground) but also found success in the ’80s and ’90s as a comedy performer in the duo The Calypso Twins. He has presented numerous food-themed  TV series including Ainsley’s Big Cook Out, Gourmet Express and Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook and is the author of 17 cookbooks.

Is it good bedtime reading? With a three page introduction and two pages covering storecupboard essentials, this is not a book that will live much outside of your kitchen. That said, many of the recipe introductions go beyond just offering serving suggestions and substitute ingredients and contain lots of interesting nuggets of information Harriot picked up on his travels. But they add to the enjoyment of cooking from the book rather than making it a book you’d want to sit down and read, other than for the purposes of choosing a dish or writing a shopping list.  

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The book covers an awful lot of culinary ground but this is Ainsley ‘Mr Mainstream’ Harriot we’re talking about so, as you might expect, you’ll encounter very little difficulty getting hold of everything you need from your favourite supermarket including baharat spice blend and pul biber. Most keen cooks will find they already have many of the storecupboard ingredients to hand.

What’s the faff factor? It’s tempting to say the book is faff-free but some of the recipes do require a bit of work. For example, if you want to make cheese and walnut-stuffed aubergines, you’ll need to simmer the aubergines, cool, cut in half, scoop out the flesh, chop it up and mix with bread soaked in milk, grated cheese, chopped garlic, beaten egg, finely chopped walnuts, lemon zest, chilli flakes and herb de Provence, put the mixture in the dried and oiled aubergine skins then fry or bake and finally serve with basil, walnuts and cheese.  But it’s all very far from Michelin starred madness and nothing a keen cook would baulk at. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There is the odd ‘drizzle’ of oil and ‘handful’ of coriander or spinach leaves (I’d imagine Ainsley’s hands are about twice the size of mine)  but in the main, the recipes are detailed enough for a competent cook to follow.

How often will I cook from the book? You might well find yourself referring to Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook on a weekly basis. As well as the broad geographical scope which keeps things interesting, the book has recipes for everything from delicious lunchtime dishes like herby sesame falafels with hummus to the vegan-friendly Mediterranean stuffed peppers and beef tomatoes.

Killer recipes:  Rachida’s spiced roast cauliflower and chickpea curry; Mediterranean sea bass and potato bake; dukkah crumble fish pie; best-ever beef and red wine stew with olive and thyme dumplings; beef kofta rolls; harissa lemon chicken skewers with glazed aubergines and garlic-mint sauce; orange cardamom panna cotta with spiced mandarins and pistachio crumb.

What will I love? The sunny Mediterranean feel of the dishes and the location photography will lift your spirits and inspired you to cook on even the most miserable of rainy, grey-skyed British summer days.

What won’t I like so much? If you are like me and super sensitive to Jamie Oliver-style recipe titles that give the reader the hard sell, you might bristle at the likes of ‘best-ever beef and red wine stew with olive and thyme dumplings’ or ‘mighty pork and chargrilled pepper sandwich’. Thankfully they are few and far between and don’t spoil what is otherwise a very enjoyable book.

Should I buy it? If you’re looking for an undemanding introduction to the flavours of the Mediterranean that covers what may be some unfamiliar ground in a very accessible way you can’t go far wrong.

Cuisine: Mediterranean
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy the book
Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook
£20, Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Penne with artichokes, peppers, spinach and almonds by Ainsley Harriot
Lentil and haloumi bake by Ainsely Harriot
Mediterranean sea bass with potato bake by Ainsley Harriot

The Twelve Cookbooks of Christmas

There’s no better Christmas present to give a true foodie than a new cookbook. Here’s my selection of a dozen of the best new releases from the last few months that will please the gourmet in your life, whether they are serious hobbyist cooks, professional chefs or just in need of some fresh inspiration for midweek meals.

Big Mamma Cucina Popolare

Big Momma Cucina Popolare

What the publishers say:  The hotly anticipated cookbook from the group behind London’s Gloria and Circolo Popolare restaurants.  Italian restaurant group Big Mamma burst onto the London food scene earlier this year with the opening of Gloria, the 70’s Capri-style trattoria in the heart of Shoreditch. This little corner of Italy hosted an explosive menu, mixing old Italian classics with ingredients sourced direct from small producers in Italy, plus a few fun twists from Head Chef Filippo La Gattuta. In June, in the wake of the success of their first opening in London, French owners Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux opened Circolo Popolare – a sunny Sicily style trattoria in Fitzrovia, with immediate show-stopping dishes, from giant Pizzas al metro to XXL desserts.

Big Mamma Cucina Popolare: Contemporary Italian Recipes features 130 best recipes from the Big Mamma team. Some delicious, easy-to-prepare, imaginative twists from true classics such as La Gran Carbonara and Tiramisu, to some of the most creative Italian recipes today, including Pizza Nera Con Cozze and Sfoglia Lasagna. The book includes much-loved dishes from Gloria and Circolo Popolare, and some amazing Pizza Yolo, Lob’star Pasta, Ravioli Di Ricotta, Daft Punch and Eat Me Baba One More Time.

Full review coming soon

Buy this book
Big Mamma Cucina Popolare: Contemporary Italian Recipes
Phaidon, £27.95 (phaidon.com)

Cook from this book: coming soon

Marcus Everyday by Marcus Wareing

Marcus Everyday

Marcus Wareing has made his name as one of London’s best-known fine-dining chefs and as a stern taskmaster on Masterchef: The Professionals. But in his new book (the sixth he has co-authored with Chantelle Nicholson, Group Operations Director for Marcus Wareing Restaurants), he presents a kinder, gentler Marcus; the family man at home in his East Sussex hideaway Melfort House, gardening and cooking with his kids and grinning for the camera in his casual blue denim shirt. It’s the sort of aspiration lifestyle stuff you’d associate with the likes of Bill Granger or Donna Hay, but Wareing pulls it off. The recipes are very much ‘home cookery’ as Wareing likes to call it; approachable, achievable and not a hint of Michelin-starred hubris. Recipes that may well become regular standbys include hassleback potatoes with red wine and pork ragu; haddock with lentils, basil and mascarpone and beef and garden herb meatballs with roasted tomato sauce.

Read the full review 

Cuisine: International  
Suitable for:
For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Four stars

Buy this book
Marcus Everyday: Easy Family Food for Every Kind of Day
Harper Collins Publishers, £20

Rick Steins Secret France

Secret France Rick Stein

Restaurateur and seafood expert Rick Stein takes a meandering journey through rural France from Normandy in the north to Provence in the south. In addition to the usual suspects like snails in garlic butter,  omelette aux fines herbes, croque monsieur and steak frites, Stein has gone off the beaten track and unearthed pounti, a ham and chard terrine from the Auvergne; wild boar stew with pinot noir from Alsace, and boles de picolat, meatballs flavoured with cinnamon and piment d’Espelette from Prades in the Pyrenees. Fans of Rick Stein will not be disappointed. If you are new to the food of France this is a great introduction, and if you are a Francophile, you will enjoy revisiting old favourites and discovering new dishes to add to your repertoire.

Read the full review

Cuisine: French  
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein’s Secret France
BBC Books, £26

Black Axe Mangal by Lee Tiernan

Black Axe

Lee Tiernan runs the cult north London restaurant Black Axe Mangal and this is his first book. His pizza oven is emblazoned with the faces of the rock group Kiss and the flavours of dishes like pig’s tails with pickled chicory; braised hare, chocolate and pig’s blood with mash; oxtail, bone marrow and anchovy and the signature squid ink flatbread with smoked cod’s roe are turned up to 11.

The liberal seasoning of salty language and peppering of softcore glamour shots may be off-putting to some, but the step by step instructions on the key skills of grilling, smoking and baking that help define Tiernan’s food, along with the story behind his success, provide an insight into one of the UK’s most exciting and original chefs and make Black Axe Mangal an essential purchase.

Read the full review

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
Black Axe Mangal
Phaidon, £24.95

Cook from this book
Vietnamese Scrambled Eggs With Sesame Bread
Pressed Octopus And Szechuan Vinaigrette
Crispy Fuckin’ Rabbit

The Quality Chop House

Quality chop house

Recipes and stories from a landmark London restaurant that’s been trading in one form or other since 1869. You get a very real sense of what the Quality Chop House is all about. If you are already a regular, it will make you want to go back immediately and if you’ve never been you’ll be desperate for a table. Keen cooks willing to invest time and some money to create restaurant-quality dishes like mince on dripping toast; pastrami cured salmon; corn and marmite butter; truffled potato croquettes, and the signature confit potatoes at home will absolutely devour this book.

Read the full review

Cuisine: British 
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
The Quality Chop House: Modern Recipes and Stories from a London Classic
£30, Hardie Grant
(Head to the restaurant’s website for a signed copy wrapped in their own branded  butcher’s paper)

Cook from this book
Confit potatoes 

The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook by Annie Gray

Downton Cookbook

The acclaimed historian, cook and broadcaster Annie Gray takes the fictional Downtown Abbey as a jumping-off point to chart the history of British country house cooking in a series of short articles and recipes including Palestine soup; cabbage as they served it in Budapest; mutton with caper sauce; the queen of trifles; beef stew with dumplings; treacle tart; rice pudding. Downtown fans will love it, but it’s such a sumptuously produced book with lovely food photography by John Kernick that it will appeal to anyone with an interest in British food and its history.

Read the full review

Cuisine: British 
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook
White Lion Publishing, £25

Signature Dishes That Matter by Christine Muhlke et al

Sig dishes

A collection of 240 restaurant dishes that spans six centuries from the first-ever gelato created in 1686 by Procopio Cutò at Le Procope in Paris to Tomos Parry’s whole turbot, first-served at his London restaurant Brat in 2018. It is a fascinating read and an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of world cuisine. It’s perfect for bedtime reading and could provide inspiration for a spectacular retro-themed dinner party.

Read the full review

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Signature Dishes That Matter
Phaidon, £35

Dishoom by Shamil Thakrar, Kavi Thakrar and Naved Nasir 

Dishoom

The cookbook of the eight-strong Dishoom all-day dining Indian restaurant group inspired by the Persian-style Irani cafes of Mumbai.  There’s recipes for mid-morning snacks like keema puffs, lunch dishes including aloo sabzi (vegetable curry served with bedmi puri bread), afternoon refreshments such as salted laksi, ‘sunset snacks’  pau bhaji, a spicy vegetable mash served with toasted Bombay bread buns and dinner dishes such as soft shell crab masala, lamb biryani and spicy lamb chops. Besides the delicious recipes, the book looks beautiful, is a great read and gives you more than enough detail about Mumbai to plan a truly sybaritic holiday there.

Read the full review

Cuisine: Indian
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Dishoom: The first ever cookbook from the much-loved Indian restaurant: From Bombay with Love
Bloomsbury Publishing, £26.

The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver

St John

The long-awaited follow up to 2007’s Beyond Nose to Tail from one of the UK’s most distinguished and influential chefs Fergus Henderson and his business partner Trevor Gulliver. The publication coincides with the 25th anniversary of the opening of St John restaurant near Smithfield market in London, world-famous for dishes such as roast bone marrow with parsley salad that celebrate offal. Adding The Book of St John will bring something distinctive to your cookbook collection and might well expand your culinary horizons with dishes such as crispy lamb’s brains; pig’s tongues, butter beans and green sauce; chicken, bacon and trotter pie and Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese.

Read the full review

Cuisine: British 
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
The Book of St John: Over 100 Brand New Recipes from London’s Iconic Restaurant

Cook from this book
Welsh Rarebit 
Grilled lamb hearts, peas and mint
Salted caramel and chocolate tart 

The Food of Sichuan by Fuchsia Dunlop

The Food of Sichuan

The Food of Sichuan is a revised and updated edition of Sichuan Cookery, originally published in 2001. It’s an authoritative and comprehensive investigation of the styles, techniques and ingredients of a lesser-known regional Chinese cuisine with over 100 recipes, 50 of them new to the revised edition including bowl steamed belly pork with preserved vegetables; fragrant and crispy duck, and pot-sticker dumplings with chicken stock. The quality of the writing, the depth and breadth of the research and the sheer reassuring heft of the thing tell you this is the only book on Sichuan cooking you’ll ever need.

Read the full review

Cuisine: Chinese
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
The Food of Sichuan
£30, Bloomsbury

Cook House by Anna Hedworth

Cook House Anna Hedworth

If you’ve ever dreamed about making a career in food, self-taught chef and restaurateur Anna Hedworth’s story of how she opened a restaurant in a shopping container in Newcastle upon Tyne will provide you with the information and inspiration to take the leap. If you want to try out techniques like cooking over open-fire and preserving and fermenting for the first time, this book will be of particular interest. But even if you just want to add a few more delicious go-to recipes to your repertoire such as red pepper, paprika and rosemary soup with sourdough croutons; chicken, courgette and pea salad with aioli and sourdough crumb or dark chocolate and almond cake, Cook House is well worth adding to your collection.

Read the full review 

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Cook House
£25, Head of Zeus

The Shore by Bruce Rennie

The Shore

A collection of highly inventive and original seafood dishes from one of the best seafood restaurants in the country, The Shore in Penzance. Chef Bruce Rennie worked with Michelin starred Edinburgh-based chef Martin Wishart as well as Gary Rhodes and Rick Stein before opening The Shore in 2015. An extended introductory chapter covers Rennie’s own story, his relationship with the land and Cornwall and running the restaurant. Recipes are arranged into six, eight-course tasting menus which reflect Rennie’s love of Japanese and Indian flavours in dishes such as mackerel, sashimi style, sesame, beetroot and wasabi sorbet and cod with dal, cauliflower, lime pickle, onion bhaji and coriander.

Read my foreword to the book

Cuisine: Seafood
Suitable for: Dedicated home cooks/professional chefs

Buy this book
The Shore
£25, A Way with Media

Rick Stein’s Secret France by Rick Stein

Secret France Rick Stein

What’s the USP? Restaurateur and seafood expert Rick Stein really needs no introduction. After 25 years on British TV screens and 45 years of running his world famous The Seafood restaurant in Padstow Cornwall, Stein is something of a national treasure. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) about his world travels that include Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, and Mexico. Now he’s returned to France, a country he first wrote and broadcast about 15 years ago with his cookbook and TV series French Odessey. He takes a meandering journey through rural France from Normandy in the north to Provence in the south, making 10 stops along the way including Alsace, Champagne, the Haute Jura and Burgundy

What’s great about it? In addition to the usual suspects like snails in garlic butter,  omelette aux fines herbes, croque monsieur and steak frites, Stein has gone off the beaten track and unearthed pounti, a ham and chard terrine from the Auvergne; wild boar stew with pinot noir from Alsace, and boles de picolat, meatballs flavoured with cinnamon and piment d’Espelette from Prades in the Pyrenees. Food and travel photography by James Murphy is glorious, bringing France to vivid life and making the food look extremely appetising. Introductions to the book, chapters and recipes are informative and Stein’s distinctive voice comes across loud and clear.     

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? There are a few things that you will need to seek out, but there is a very handy suppliers list that will sort you out for most things including Kampot pepper, snails, brik pastry, Banyuls vinegar, and Bockwurst sausage (the latter coming from that obscure vendor Lidl). As you’d expect from Rick Stein, there is a chapter devoted to seafood and you will certainly want to visit a fishmonger for bream, palourde clams, lobster, octopus, brill and scallops (the list goes on). 

How often will I cook from the book? Although a few of the recipes will take some planning ahead, there are many that will suit a midweek supermarket-shopped meal such as deep-fried pork chops with parsley; lamb chorba (a very delicious North African stew with chickpeas and orzo pasta that’s flavoured with harissa and ras-el-hanout,  cooked for Stein by an Algerian fisherman in Cassis) and spelt risotto with spring vegetables.

What’s the faff factor? Stein may be a chef, but he’s a self-taught one and generally eschews too much complexity. There are more involved recipes such as The Flavours of Bouillabaisse with Gurnard and Fennel which has a long ingredients list, requires the making of a shellfish stock and the preparation of both confit tomatoes and green pistou sauce, but mostly, the dishes are approachable and very achievable.

Should I buy it? Fans of Rick Stein will not be disappointed with his latest effort. If you are new to the food of France this is a great introduction, and if you are a Francophile, you will enjoy revisiting old favourites and discovering new dishes to add to your repertoire.

Cuisine: French  
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein’s Secret France
BBC Books, £26

Casa Cacao by Jordi Roca and Ignacio Medina

Casa Cacoa

Although it seems to have been around forever, ‘bean to bar’ is a relatively new concept with the first single estate chocolate produced by Cluizel in 1996. That’s just one of many fascinating facts in Jordi Roca’s deep dive into the world of chocolate, written with food journalist Ignacio Medina and inspired by the launch of the three Michelin starred pastry chef’s own brand, Casa Cacao that takes the bean to bar ethos one step further.

Roca argues that ‘chocolate has its beginnings in the tree’, placing increased importance on the variety of cacao, the farmer and the environmental conditions. The book tells the story of Roca trips to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, visiting cocoa farmers where he discovered that a bean grown in Piura in the northwest of Peru which has ‘fruity and aromatic notes’ is very different from the ‘restraint, elegance and presence’ of beans from Vinces in Ecuador.

With the help of British chocolatier Damien Allsop (‘head of chocolate and bon bon production’ at Roca’s Girona restaurant El Celler de Can Roca), Roca is pushing the conventions of chocolate manufacturing, creating vegetable-based chocolate made, for example, by combining a paste of peas, sugar, isomalt, puffed rice and ascorbic acid with melted cocoa butter. Allsop has also created ‘chocolate²’ made with just cacao and sugar to intensify the purity of flavour. Recipes for both are included, along with a detailed description of the chocolate making process, but you’d need access to a chocolate factory if you wanted to attempt them.

More achievable are ‘chocolate classics’ such as chocolate brownies or sophisticated desserts including milk chocolate, lemon and hazelnut cake, although only the most ambitious pastry chef would consider trying to replicate Mexican Chocolate Anarkia, the recipe for which takes up eight pages of the book.  Also included are some wildly creative savoury recipes such as cacao pulp and spiced chocolate sauce with langoustines by Roca’s brother Joan.

Casa Cacao is a detailed look at a complex and niche subject area and as such will mainly be of interest to chocolatiers and pastry chefs working in a fine dining environment, but it’s a beautifully produced book that will inform and inspire its intended audience.

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Casa Cacao
Grub Street, £35

This review was originally published by The Caterer 

Good food writing

You and I eat the same

You and I Eat the Same

edited by Chris Ying with a Foreword by Rene Redzepi

What’s the USP? A publication of Rene Redzepi’s MAD nonprofit organisation that’s ‘dedicated to bringing together a global cooking community with an appetite for change’  that collects articles by food writers from around the world exploring the similarities of global cuisines rather than the differences, the more usual subject of food writing.

Who are the authors?  Chris Ying is the former editor of Lucky Peach food magazine (now ceased publication) and now works for David Chang’s Major Domo Media company which produces Ugly Delicious for Netflix and David Chang’s podcast. Rene Redzepi is a very famous Copenhagan-based two Michelin starred chef who literally needs no introduction.

Why is it good read? Nineteen articles of varying length take a global view of subjects such as the thousand year history of the flatbread, table manners, wrapping food in leaves and husks and how coffee can save lives. Contributors include Redzepi himself on his changing attitude to what constitutes a Nordic ingredient in a piece titled ‘If it does well here, it belongs here’ and renowned journalist and author Wendell Steavenson among many others.

Should I buy it? This is a wide ranging exploration of an important theme in a time when we need to be thinking about what unites us rather than divides us.  Thoughtful foodies will want to give it shelf space.

Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
You and I Eat the Same: 1 (Dispatches)

Buttermilk Graffiti

Buttermilk Graffiti

by Edward Lee 

What’s the USP? A chefs tour across America exploring the country’s diverse immigrant food cultures including stories and recipes.

Who are the authors?  Edward Lee is a Kentucky-based chef and restaurateur known for his progressive take on Southern cooking that incorporates elements from his Korean heritage. He is the author of one previous Smoke and Pickles and was featured on series 3 of the Anthony Bourdain exec-produced PBS show Mind of a Chef.

Why is it good read? Lee spent two years travelling across America to write the book, visiting 16 destinations, some off the beaten path such as Clarksdale, Mississippi and Westport, Connecticut as well as more familiar places including New Orleans and Brooklyn. But where ever he goes, he roots out fascinating stories and unusual recipes (40 of them) such as Nigerian-style beef skewers with cashews, curry and black pepper.

Should I buy it? Lee is an excellent writer and a dedicated researcher (the two go hand in hand). Buttermilk Graffiti, winner of the James Beard Award for Best Book of the Year in Writing, is destined to become a classic of American food writing and an important document of food in America in the early 21st century. If that sounds a little heavy, don’t be put off, Lee is a master storyteller and the book is an absolute pleasure to read.

Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Buttermilk Graffiti

Oyster Isles

Oyster Isles

by Bobby Groves

What’s the USP? A tour around Britain and Ireland’s oyster area’s exploring their history, cultural impact and ecological importance and telling the stories of the people who work in them.

Who are the authors?  Bobby Groves is ‘head of oysters’ (great job title) at the glamorous London restaurant Chiltern Firehouse. This is his first book.

Why is it good read? Groves has gone into real depth, travelling the four corners of the country to really crack the shell and get to the meat of his subject.

Should I buy it? The book will be of particular interest to Groves’s fellow professionals in the restaurant industry who buy and serve oysters, but if you are a lover of shellfish and British history then Oyster Isles will be of interest.

Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Oyster Isles: A Journey Through Britain and Ireland’s Oysters

The Garden Chef with an introduction by Jeremy Fox

The Garden Chef

What’s the USP? The Garden Chef explores the growing (pun intended) worldwide phenomenon of top chefs cultivating their own produce for their restaurants in on-site kitchen gardens. The book includes ‘recipes and stories from plant to plate’.

Who is the author? The book has been created from the contributions of chefs from 40 high-end restaurants around the globe which most notably include Simon Rogan from L’enclume in England, Ben Shewry from Attica in Melbourne, Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Michel and Cesar Troisgros from Trisgros in France. The introduction is by Jeremy Fox of Bridie G’s in Santa Monica who is also the author of the brilliant cookbook On Vegetables, also published by Phaidon and which is cookbookreview.blog five star-reviewed.

What does it look like? Expect a riot of raised beds, a plethora of polytunnels and a great deal of gathering in the fields. The accent is as much on ‘garden’ as it is ‘chef’. The majority of the 80 recipes are illustrated and the food does look great, but it’s rather overshadowed by all the greenery.

Is it good bedtime reading? The chef or chefs of each restaurant (some are run by duos including Michael and Iain Pennington at The Ethicurean just outside Bristol and Gaston Acurio and Juan David Ocampo of Astrid Y Gaston in Lima)  are given a full page to espouse their horticultural and culinary philosophies, earning The Garden Chef space on your bedside table.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ve seen the Indiana Jones movies, right? Unless you cultivate your own incredibly vast and comprehensive kitchen garden, be prepared for an amazing adventure where you’ll raid the lost ark, discover the temple of doom and embark on the last crusade to track down sangre de toro potatoes, kalanchoe blossfeldiana and Mexican pepperleaf, among many, many other obscure ingredients that you definitely won’t find at your local Asda.

What’s the faff factor? These are recipes aimed fair and square at the professional chef community. There are dishes achievable for the home cook, but really they are not the main reason you would buy this book; it exists primarily to document and give a window into a particular aspect of the modern restaurant scene.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? If you are up for attempting them, the recipes are detailed enough to follow to successful completion.

How often will I cook from the book? That depends. How often are you in the mood for something like chef Ana Ros’s ‘Rabbit That Wants to be Mexican Chicken’ where you’ll need to wrap rabbit mousse in whole chicken skins and serve with rabbit sauce flavoured with star anise and chilli, roasted carrots, apricot gel, carrot top pesto and hibiscus flowers?

Killer recipes? Don’t get me wrong, the book is full of delicious things you’ll want to eat like The Quay’s Tennouji white turnip, blue swimmer crab and Jersey Wakefield cabbage with fermented cabbage juice and brown butter dressing, but you’ll probably want to go to the restaurant and try them rather than cook them yourself, even if that does mean flying half-way around the world. Doable recipes include white and green pizza from Roberta’s in Brooklyn and cream of vegetable soup from The Sportsman in Seasalter.

What will I love? If you’ve been looking for inspiration to create your own kitchen garden, be it for your restaurant or your home, then you couldn’t ask for a better book. There are even garden tips and the chefs favourite heritage varieties to give you a kick start, although if you want step by step guidance on how to actually get out there and do it you’ll need to look elsewhere.

What won’t I like? The decision has been taken not to include any images of the interior of any of the restaurants, which gives the book a feeling of incompleteness. This is partly understandable, given that the thrust of the book is on the chef’s activities outside their restaurants rather than in them. However, after reading the book, you might well be interested in planning a visit to one or more of the places included and wonder what you are letting yourself in for. Of course, you can google the restaurant’s website and reviews for images, but that’s sort of beside the point; you can google images of many of the restaurant’s gardens and dishes too if you are minded to.

Should I buy it? It’s a great book but may have niche appeal. If you are a keen gardener or aspire to be one, as well as a foodie, you will dig (pun intended) this book. If you want to know more about an influential trend that is helping to define to the current global high-end restaurant scene, this is also a must-read.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Three stars

Buy this book
The Garden Chef: Recipes and Stories from Plant to Plate
£29.95, Phaidon

Cook from this book

Coming soon

Fare magazine

Fare Glasgow

What’s the USP? They say, ‘Fare is a bi-annual print publication exploring city culture through the intersection of food, history, and community.’ If I wanted to be profoundly annoying, I’d say it was a bookazine, but as I don’t want to be profoundly annoying, let’s just say, it’s its own thing. So, not a cookbook and there’s no recipes, but if you like Cook Book Review you are probably going to be interested in Fare.

Who’s the editor? Ben Mervis is a food writer who has previously worked at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen and has worked as a researcher and industry expert with the excellent Chef’s Table documentary series on Netflix. Contributors include some of the top names in food writing, including in the latest issue, Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin.

Is it great bedtime reading? It’s nothing but great bedtime reading. Each edition of the magazine takes a city as its subject and delves deep into it’s culture through a series of essays, photo-stories and illustrations. Destinations covered so far are Istanbul, Helsinki, Charleston, Seoul and, in the latest edition published July 2019, Glasgow

What will I love? It’s a beautiful object. Printed on a mix of high quality matt and gloss paper and roughly the size of a hardback novel (although the magazine itself is soft cover) it just feels great to hold and read. The art direction by Ric Bell is top class, and with roughly equal space given to word and image, there’s room for both satisfyingly long form writing and aesthetically pleasing visuals.

What won’t I like? You’ve come to Cook Book Review for the food, so in that context it’s worth underlining that Fare is not a food magazine exclusively, but the subject is dealt with comprehensively. In the Seoul issue for example, there are articles about Buddhist nun and chef Jeong Kwan (featured in an episode of Chef’s Table), Mingles restaurant, Fritz Coffee Company, budae jjigae (or army base stew), the Korean dish of ‘cold noodles’ and a photo essay on Noryangjin fish market, among others.

Should I buy it? I don’t know of any publication quite like Fare. It’s fascinating, educational, a pleasure to read and looks cool. Surely worth twelve quid (plus shipping) of anyone’s money.

Buy this magazine: Fare

 

Black Sea by Caroline Eden

black sea by caroline eden

What’s the USP? According to the book’s back cover blurb, ‘With a nose for a good recipe and an ear for an extraordinary story, Caroline Eden travels from Odessa to Bessarabia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey’s Black Sea region, exploring interconnecting culinary cultures’.

Who’s the author? Caroline Eden is a writer and journalist specialising in the former Soviet Union. Her first book Samarkand – recipes and stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus appeared in 2016 and was named Guardian book of the year and won Guild of Food Writers ‘Food and Travel’ award in 2017.

What does it look like? With a stylish, iridescent cover, evocative location photography and rustic-chic food shots, Black Sea has bags of character a distinctive look and feel worthy of its road-less-travelled subject matter.

Is it good bedtime reading? Black sea is as much a travelogue, a narrative of a journey,  as it is a recipe book, so this is definitely one for the bedside table. Eden deftly mixes history and with her first-hand travel experiences to build up a vivid picture of the region, it’s people and its cuisine.

Killer recipes? Ardie Umpluti (Romanian stuffed yellow peppers); afternoon Zelnick pie (chad, spinach and filo pie from Bulgaria); citrus-cured mackerel with gherkins from Istanbul; black sesame challah; Navy Day Covrigi (apricot stuffed buns from Romania).

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Given that Waitrose stocks the pul biber (Turkish pepper flakes) you’ll need to make Eden’s version of ‘Cornershop pilaf’ from Kastamonu with bulgar wheat, loads of herbs, spinach and cherry tomatoes and that the date syrup required for baked sesame halva can be found on most supermarket shelves, you should have no problems finding the means to make these dishes. Where the authentic ingredient is difficult for those outside of the region to track down, Eden has provided a more convenient alternative such as pecorino for the more obscure Romanian Kashkavel required for Shepherd’s Bulz (Romanian cornmeal and cheese baked dumplings).

What’s the faff factor? Although some of the recipes are inspired by dishes eaten in restaurants, this is homely cooking. Ingredients lists are mostly short and concise and cooking methods simple and straightforward.

How often will I cook from the book? Although the cuisines covered in the book may be unfamiliar to many readers (and is certainly less storied that many other European regions), the spicy, herby flavours – sometimes fresh, sometimes comforting – are very accessible and you might easily find yourself reaching for Black Sea when you fancy something just a little bit different for a mid-week meal or a dinner party.

What will I love? This is a well researched and written book that will have you planning your own trips to the region. If your interest is really peaked, Eden has supplied a comprehensive list of further reading, alongside the books, newspapers, journals, websites and magazines consulted while writing Black Sea that should keep you busy for many months.

What won’t I like? I honestly can’t imagine.

Should I buy it? If you like food, travel, cooking (and if you don’t, why are you reading this blog?) this is the book for you.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginners/competent home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes – Through Darkness and Light

£25, Quadrille

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This book has been shortlisted for the 2018 Andre Simon award. Click the logo to read reviews of all the shortlisted books.