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

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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

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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

Pasta, Pane, Vino by Matt Goulding

pasta-pane-vino-1

What’s the USP? Not a cookbook but rather a culinary travelogue through the regional cuisines of Italy.

Who’s the author? Matt Goulding is co-founder of Roads and Kingdoms a travel, food and politics website. Goulding is also the author of Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture and Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture. Goulding’s correspondence with the late Anthony Bourdain about Italy and Goulding’s plans for the book form the foreword. 

What does it look like? At 16.5cm by 19.8 cm, Pasta, Pane, Vino is a cute, squat volume. Clocking in at 352 pages, it’s also a weighty tome, packed with 200 colour photographs portraying the chefs, farmers, fishermen and other figures behind Italy’s culinary traditions, as well as the food, landscapes and cityscapes of Rome, Puglia, Bologna, Sicily, Naples, Sardinia , Piedmont and Lake Como.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is definitely one to keep on the bedside table, to send you off dreaming of carbonara in Rome, pizza in Naples and spaghetti alla marinara in Sardinia.

Killer quote: ‘In the end, it’s not a book about grandmas and their sacred family recipes (though they have a few delicious cameos); it’s a book about a wave of cooks, farmers, bakers, shepherds, young and old, trying to negotiate the weight of the past with the possibilities of the future’.

What will I love? Goulding is a writer from the top drawer. He not only knows how to construct a sentence and turn a memorable phrase (for example, the opening line of the book – ‘Long after the sun has set behind the Palatine Hill, after the sands of the Colosseum have been swallowed by shadows, after the tint of the Tiber has morphed from acqua minerale to Spritz to dark vermouth, you come upon a quiet piazza on a meandering cobblestone street…’), he’s also really done his research. Unless you know Italy extremely well, you will discover things about the country’s culinary scene you didn’t know before, from a hidden gem of a trattoria in Rome to the best time to visit Ballaro market in Palermo and much, much more.

What won’t I like? It’s difficult to find fault. In addition to the main body text of the chapters, the book is peppered with double page spreads such as ‘Anatomy of a dish’ (explanations of items like bistecca al la Fiorentina and caffe that are particularly significant to regional Italian cuisine), and ‘Postcards’ (an overview of destinations like Matera in southern Italy and Ragusa in Sicily not otherwise covered in the book)  which add variety and value and help break up the main text. You could argue that the only thing missing are some authentic recipes from each of the eight destinations covered, but that’s nitpicking.

Should I buy it? Do you like food? Do you like travel? Do you need everything spelled out to you?

Cuisine: Italian 
Suitable for:
Culinary tourists 
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy’s Food Culture (Roads & Kingdoms Presents)

Pie and Mash down the Roman Road by Melanie McGrath

pie and mash down the roman road by melanie mcgrath

What’s the USP? The story of an East End pie shop and the family who have owned it for nearly a century.

Who’s the author? Melanie McGrath has several strings to her authorial bow. She not only writes mysteries and thrillers such as Give Me The Child under the nom de plumes of MJ McGrath and Mel McGrath, but also specialises in non-fiction about the East End of London including Silvertown and Hopping which she writes under her own name.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is not a cookbook, there are no recipes, just 244 pages of social history centered around Kelly’s pie and mash shop on the Roman Road in East London. The book does include some culinary history, including of the dish of pie and mash, but the book primarily tells the stories of the people connected with the shop and the area including the customers, suppliers, employees and owners, and the historical conditions they lived in and events they lived through.

Killer quote: ‘To get to the real meat of us as islanders, Britons, and Londoners, why not start there, with something as simple and as iconic as a shop selling the Londoner’s meal of pie, mash and eels? …just as an archaeologist in revealing a scrap of pottery or fragment of mosaic in a rubble of a building site…can cast light on the history of the Roman empire and its citizens, a light shone on a pie and mash and eel shop in what might at first seem to be a unremarkable road in east London can help illuminate more general truths about who we really are.’

Should I buy it? If you don’t mind the use of the historical present (historical events narrated in the present tense), which some readers may find mannered, irksome and distracting, and are as interested in British social history as you are food, then this is the book for you.

Cuisine: British 
Suitable for:
Anyone interested in British culinary and social history
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Pie and Mash down the Roman Road: 100 years of love and life in one East End market
£18.99, Two Roads

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

 

Bread and Butter by Richard Snapes, Grant Harrington and Eve Hemingway

Bread and Butter Richard Snapes

What’s the USP? The history and culture behind the world’s greatest gastronomic double act, covering traditions, flavours and processes, plus recipes covering both the sweet and savoury incarnations of bread and butter.

Who are the authors?Richard Snapes runs The Snapes Bakery in Bermondsey that supplies the likes of Jose Pizzaro restaurants and Casse-Croute; Grant Harrington is a former chef who worked for Gordon Ramsay and now runs Ampersand Cultured Butter in Oxfordshire, supplying 20 Michelin starred restaurants (Snapes and Harrington met selling their wares at Maltby Street Market in London), and Eve Hemingway is a food writer who specialises in traditional food culture.

Killer recipes?  Buttermilk fried quails; ribollita fritters; brioche and brown butter ice cream; Tibetan butter tea, and a recipe from home brewed beer using stale bread from London’s Toast Ale brewery.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There are just 50 recipes in the book, with ‘The Field Loaf’, the signature bread of Snapes Bakery taking up no less than six pages and a twelve-page section on cultured butter, buttermilk and its variations, so it’s all about the detail. Recipes in the final ‘Bread & Butter’ and ‘Leftovers’ chapter feature contributions from all three authors where the specificity goes out the window somewhat with ‘knobs’ of butter and ‘splashes’ of olive oil and ‘handfuls’ of herbs.

Is it good bedtime reading? Top notch, and by all rights should probably be enjoyed with a late night sandwich made with Snapes Bakery bread and Ampersand butter. The first third of the book is dedicated to exploring the twin subject matter in depth with extended essays on Ancient Origins; Production and Craft; Bread and Butter Today; and Global Tastes and Traditions.

What will I love? The 360-degree approach to the subject unearths all sorts of fascinating material, including that the first recorded mention of bread and butter being eaten together was in a 15th century treatise on fly fishing, and a straightforward explanation of the Chorleywood mass production process and its disastrous impact on the quality and flavour of bread.

What won’t I like? There is a slight sense of compromise about the book; serious bakers might want more content on bread; those interested in butter may feel short changed by the number of pages given over to the subject and those in search of a recipe book may not be satisfied with just 50 of them.

Should I buy it? Reservations aside, the book will be of particular interest to anyone interested artisan food production as well as chefs wanting to offer something a bit special when it comes to the bread and butter course in their restaurants.

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

Buy this book
Bread & Butter: History, Culture, Recipes
£22, Quadrille

First, Catch by Thom Eagle

First catch

 

What’s the USP? When is a cookbook not a cookbook? When its a ‘hymn to an early spring meal’, all 226 pages of it. This is food writing in the purest sense, a series of extended essays ruminating on the process of cooking a single meal; a sort of exercise in culinary mindfulness.

Who’s the author? Thom Eagle is the head chef of Little Duck: The Picklery, a ‘fermenting kitchen and wine bar’ in East London (unsurprisingly, there is a fair amount on fermentation in the book) and writes the food blog ‘In Search of Lost Thyme’. First, Catch is his debut in print.

What does it look like? A novel. Forget glossy photographs, this is all text interspersed with some black and white line drawings of pots, pans and assorted ingredients by artist Aurelia Lange.

Killer recipes? Here’s the thing, Eagle says ‘recipes are lies’ so there aren’t any. At least not in the list-of-ingredients-followed-by-a-method format that we all know and love. Instead, they are snuck in by stealth, so for example, a recipe for quick-cured lamb loin, complete with measurements for the simple salt and sugar cure appears spread over three pages at the end of chapter one, ‘On Curing With Salt’ and one for salsa verde is nestled quietly in chapter 10 ‘On Wild and Domestic Celeries’.

What will I love? Eagle is a thoughtful sort of bloke with a particular view on all things culinary which gives the book a distinctive tone. When was the last time you heard someone say that they ‘go out of their way’ to visit old salt-pans’? Eagle has travelled from Kent to Sicily to look at the damn things, trips which have helped him, and now, in turn, his readers ‘appreciate the importance of salt throughout our history’.

What won’t I like? Eagle is very self consciously ‘a writer’ (he studied American Literature at uni) and consequently there is a fair bit of ‘food writing’ to get through; raw vegetables aren’t seasoned but ‘subjected to the violence of lemon and salt’ which you’ll either think is incredibly creative writing or just plain irritating, depending on your taste in literature.

Should I buy it? It may be a little pretentious and overwritten, and it’s debatable whether the ‘stealth’ recipes are an improvement on the traditional format, but Eagle has genuine insight into the practical and philosophical sides of cooking, as well as extensive knowledge of international cuisines and culinary history, making First, Catch well worth reading.

Cuisine: Modernist British
Suitable for: Anyone really interested in cooking and food writing
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Read an extract

Buy this book
First, Catch by Thom Eagle
£16.99, Quadrille