Sun and Rain by Ana Roš

9780714879307

Self-taught Slovenian chef Ana Roš highly unusual path to the professional kitchen is set out in the biographical section of this fascinating and visually stunning book. She trained as a professional dancer and was a member of the Yugoslav national ski team before going on to study international science and diplomacy. Her plans for a career in international diplomacy changed when she met her future husband and natural wine expert Valter Kramar. The couple decided to work in Kramar’s family countryside restaurant Hiša Franko in the remote Soča Valley where Roš eventually took over the running of the kitchen. International acclaim followed with Roš taking part in culinary events like Cook IT Raw and being featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table documentary series.

Roš‘s lack of any formal culinary training has led to a highly individual style based on the abundant natural larder of the extreme north-west of Slovenia. A community of local foragers, shepherds, cheese makers, hunters and fishermen (some of which are profiled in the book) supply Roš with trout, deer, goats, dairy produce and fruits which she transforms into eye-catchingly plated dishes such as marble trout roe with rosa di Gorizia chicory and yeast; veal consommé, celeriac and young linden leaves, and beeswax peaches and elderflower.

The majestic natural glory of the Soča Valley is well represented in the photography of Suzan Gabrijan who has also captured the rugged elegance of Roš’s food. Even by publisher Phaidon’s consistently high standards, this is an exceptionally beautiful book. Disappointingly, however, apart from two photographs taken in the kitchen, there are no shots of the restaurant interior or exterior which is a puzzling and frustrating omission.  The recipes are hived off into a separate chapter at the end of the book so that it’s necessary to flick back and forth to the images of the finished dishes if you want to understand exactly what you are looking at.  These minor niggles criticisms aside, Sun and Rain is a comprehensive look at the life, culinary philosophy, and cooking of a remarkable figure in the modern culinary scene that will inspire any progressive thinking chef or very keen home cook.

Cuisine: Slovenian/Progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

This review was first published in The Caterer

Buy the book
Ana Ros: Sun and Rain (Food Cook)
£39.95, Phaidon

Cook from this book
Summer Pear by Ana Roš
Bread by Ana Roš
Goat cottage cheese ravioli by Ana Roš

What is Cooking by Ferran Adrià and elBullifoundation

What is Cooking Ferran Adria

What’s the USP? This is not a cookbook and there are no recipes. According to the authors, it’s ‘a compilation of the connected knowledge needed in order to answer the question: ‘What is cooking?’. According to me, it’s nothing less than an intellectual land grab by one of the world’s most famous chefs in an attempt to place himself at the forefront of the study of cuisine and gastronomy as a formal academic subject.

Who is the author? Ferran Adrià is one of the world’s most famous chefs. Along with his brother Albert, he is the architect of what is commonly known as ‘molecular gastronomy’ but which Adrià refers to as ‘techno-emotional’ cuisine.

He closed the doors of his restaurant el Bulli back in 2011 and has since dedicated his time to the elBullifoundation, which, the website says is ‘a private, family-run foundation, promoted by Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler. Established on 7 February 2013, it came out of the need to transform elBullirestaurant, with a vision based on the desire to continue promoting innovation and creativity through the language of cooking and to preserve the legacy and spirit of elBulli for society’.

In practice that means publishing books, mounting exhibitions, the production of a documentary series about el Bulli restaurant, consulting services and whole raft of other projects including the development of educational courses. The one project that Adrià has been talking about almost since the day elBulli closed is the launch of elBulli1846, the re-purposing of el Bulli restaurant as ‘an exhibition lab’ for ‘studies, investigation and experimentation to generate knowledge around the theme of efficiency in innovation’. Although the website explicitly says that elBulli1846 is not a restaurant, that has been talk in the past of some food being prepared and served there, but no one seems to know if and when that will actually happen and if it does, who gets to eat it.

Is it good bedtime reading? Put it this way, there is a lot to read but it might keep you awake all night puzzling out just what it’s all meant to be for. To take an example, in the 48 page introductory section (broken down into a pre-foreword statement, a foreword by Adrià himself, a one page summary, a ten-page descriptive index and a 25 page introduction) you will find a flow chart that explains that, if you want to run a business that generates a gastronomic offering you will need a team of professionals from the sector that have a business culture and that they will need resources for different systems including storage tools and plating tools. In other words, if you want to run a restaurant, you need trained chefs who want to earn money and they will need things like fridges, tongs and spoons. The book continues in this vain, finding complex, opaque ways of expressing very simple and common ideas, for much of its 400-odd pages.

For example, in Chapter One: Let’s Start by Understanding Lexical-Symantic Aspects, you’ll ‘discover’ that ‘not all liquid is a beverage’ and that sometimes it’s food in a liquid state. Congratulations, you now know what soup is. You’ll also find out that 19th century food writer Brillat-Savarin ‘devoted his life to the tasting and enjoyment of food in different settings, which suggests a concept of alimentation that was not limited to survival, but that encompassed hedonism and recognized quality’. I hope you were sitting down for the earth-shattering revelation that people sometimes eat for pleasure.

In the same chapter, you’ll also find the definition of a word used no less than 913 times in the book- ‘elaboration’. Adrià would like you to use the word in place of cooking because ‘helps to give a more specific understanding of a stage within the culinary process’, which is a bit like trying to force your friends to call you by a nickname you’ve coined for yourself. However, Adrià is such a respected figure in modern gastronomic circles that he might just pull it off. Start practicing now if you want to be in with the cool kids, ‘I’m just going to elaborate this Aldi frozen minced beef pie in the heat supplying apparatus that is located within the area dedicated to the preparation of elaborations’. See, it’s fun!

Let’s for a moment imagine that it’s acceptable to take up 85 pages of a 464-page book introducing your subject and defining your terms. It might be then not unreasonable to expect that by chapter three you would be getting to the meat of the subject, that the author would be communicating some information, some facts from their research or at least some opinions or philosophy. And yet on page 97 we are confronted with this piece of spectacularly circular nonsense, ‘We can speak of interpretative creativity when the creation corresponds to the skilful interpretation of other, already existing creations. Whether or not this can be regarded as a level of creative outcome is a matter for debate, as it is a very subjective question.’

But there must be some concrete answers somewhere in the book, surely? How about in the section titled ‘We suggest several main criteria to discover the types of cooking a cook or a restaurant does’. Let’s take Adrià’s own dish, Pea Spheres. Here’s some of the things I ‘learned’ from reading about how it’s classified under 17 different criteria: it’s hedonistic food designed to produce pleasure; it’s an elaboration with food use; it’s an elaboration for the savoury world; it’s served in a fine dining restaurant and designed for customers of middle to high class social profiles, the working classes need not apply; it is an elaboration from a professional kitchen but amateurs with a spherification kit could reproduce it; it’s of the highest level of quality, sophistication and refinement, it is no less than creative culinary art. So, what do I do with that information? How do I apply that to the real world? If I use those same 17 criteria to analyse and categorise the fish and chips I’m having for my tea tonight, how will that change anything. I already know its savoury, it’s working class, it’s not particularly sophisticated and I could make it at home, but I can’t really be arsed. The process seems to be pointless.

But surely, Ferran Adrià and his multi-disciplinary team haven’t spent the last decade producing something of absolutely no value, have they? One last chance. Let’s read ‘As an action that is repeated over time, cooking generates consequences’, a chapter that views cooking from an historical perspective. The first line is ‘History is the time frame in which ‘everything’ happens.’ It’s not looking good is it? Anyway, let’s persevere. What does the book have to say about the Neolithic period? ‘With the Neolithic period came permanent settlements, and this sedentariness brought about sedentary cooking. Gradually, as a result, specialization emerged, with different elaborations giving rise to specialized cooking.’ That’s pretty much it. No specific examples of what the different elaborations or specialized cooking might actually be. It’s time for me to stop this. I’ve gazed long enough into the Adrià abyss. I can feel the Adrià abyss gazing back into me.

What will I love? I particularly enjoyed the infographic titled ‘The chef model: cooks, periods, styles and movements in contemporary fine-dining cuisine in western society’ which lists some of the biggest names in western gastronomy since the turn of the 20th century including Escoffier, Fernand Point and Alain Ducasse but reserves the largest font size on the page for the names Ferran and Albert Adria. History is always written by the victors.

That aside, the book looks great, and, er, that’s about it.

What won’t I like so much? In the introduction, the claim is made that ‘In spite of the large number of publications dealing with cooking or cuisine, we were unable to find any that offered a direct response to our seemingly simple question.’ One has to assume that eBullifoundation is including in that rather sweeping statement authoritative works such as the 1350 page Larousse Gastronomique (which in fact does have a page-long entry on the term ‘cooking’), the 900 page The Oxford Companion to Food (it too has entries on the terms ‘cook’ and ‘cooking), Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse and Le Repertoire to mention just a few. Set alongside those august tomes, the book singularly fails to justify its own existence.

I admit I may have missed the point, that I may not be sufficiently intelligent to understand how the Sapiens methodology works. Other readers, who may well be more sophisticated and erudite may possibly get a great deal from it. At the time of writing, there has been no other meaningful published review of What is Cooking (i.e. where the reviewer has actually read some or all of the book) and I don’t know anyone who has bought a copy and publicly expressed their views. I can’t imagine anything but praise from Adrià’s peers so the critical jury is currently out. You’ll just have to take my word for it at the moment.

Should I buy it? It’s £100. If you’ve got that to spare, if you wouldn’t miss it at all and if you are the world’s biggest Ferran Adria fan, then go ahead. Otherwise think very carefully before you are parted from your money. If you work in the fine dining sector, it’s worth considering whether you will actually learn anything of value by wading through 464 pages of powder dry theory. Will it help you do your job better? Will your understanding of the craft of cooking and cuisine have increased in a way that you can apply in a practical way to your business? Because there is very little pleasure to be derived from What is Cooking. In truth, this review has been an unpleasant ordeal, a tiresome bore and I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy, of which there are many and to which I’ve probably just added one more.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 1 star (for the design)

Buy this book
What is Cooking: The Action: Cooking, The Result: Cuisine (FOOD COOK)
£100, Phaidon

Summer Pear by Ana Roš

Ana Ros cookbook summer pear

When I was a kid I was addicted to the summer pears in my grandmother’s garden overlooking the seaside. These are green, sweet and delicate.

Serves 4

For the nasturtium granita

80g sugar
15g glucose
2 soaked gelatine leaves
100 g nasturtium leaves
10g oxalis

For the poached pears

200 g summer pears
100 g butter
35g honey
10g salt

For the blackcurrant coulis

700 ml blackcurrant juice
70g sugar
8 g agar agar

For the whey coulis

100 ml whey
20g honey
5g gelespessa

For the whey ice cream

875 ml whey
25g glucose
375 ml cream
200 g sugar
5g super neutrose
420 g egg yolks

For the caramelized white chocolate

100 g white chocolate

Boil 450 g water, the sugar and glucose. Add the gelatine and cool it down.

Blend the nasturtium, oxalis and cold base. Freeze it and stir every 5–10 minutes.

Clean and halve the pears. Melt the butter and add the honey. Vacuum bag the pear with butter. Cook at 62o C (144oF) for 15–20 minutes.

To make the blackcurrant coulis, com- bine all the ingredients and boil. Cool it down, then blend.

To make the whey coulis, blend all the ingredients together.

Boil the whey, glucose and cream. Mix the sugar and super neutrose. Add the sugar to the cream and whey. Pour everything over the yolks and cook all together to 82oC (180oF). Strain.

Bake the chocolate in an oven at 160oC (320oF) for 6–8 minutes.

To serve, cool the plates to -5oC (23oF). Pacojet the ice cream. Take a frozen plate and plate the 2 coulis and the caramelized white chocolate. Centralize the ice cream, cover with granita, compose the pears and finish with 2 spoons of granita.

Cook more from this book
Bread
Goat Cottage Cheese Ravioli

Read the review

Buy this book
Ana Ros: Sun and Rain (Food Cook)
£39.95, Phaidon

Bread by Ana Roš

041 bread

My sourdough was born four years ago.

I fermented apple peels with some flour and spring water. The first bubbles hap-pened pretty late because it was January, and our apartment is never really warm. The first bread was miserable and even today, the bread sometimes gives us unpleasant surprises. It is a living thing –it suffers from rain and sun – and even flowers around Hiša Franko and pollen in the air may change it completely. Breadmaking for me is one of the most fascinating and challenging moments of the kitchen. And it is also very rewarding.

Makes 8 loaves

1.8 l water
480 g sourdough starter
120 g honey
720 g roasted khorasan flour
1680 g strong (bread) flour
120 ml water
48g salt
oil, for spraying

Eight to 12 hours before making the dough prepare the starter. Mix 240 g of strong bread flour, 240 ml of lukewarm water and 100 g of active sourdough starter. Leave to double in volume and become bubbly, then use to mix the dough. Warm the water to 28oC (82oF). Pour into a mixing bowl, add the starter and mix by hand. Add the honey and whisk again. Weigh the flours and mix. Transfer to a stand mixer with a dough hook and mix for 5 minutes. Add the second amount of water and the salt. Mix for 5 minutes. Take out of the bowl and put in a plastic container sprayed with oil. The dough should be 24–26oC (70–75oF). Next leave the dough for the bulk fermentation.

In this period the dough should get stronger, puffed and airy and should also increase in the volume. In the first 2 hours of the bulk fermentation perform a series of stretch and fold (4 times in 30-45 minute intervals). This will help the dough gain strength.

To perform stretch and fold, grab the dough at 1 side, then pull it up and fold over itself. Repeat on 4 sides of the dough. Leave the dough to rise until it increases approximately 80 percent of the initial volume. Divide the loaves into 620 g each for 8 loaves. Pre- shape, then let rest for 20 minutes. Give them a final shape and place in floured rising baskets. Proof the loaves at the room temperature until the bread approximately doubles in volume and passes the poking test. Make an indent into the dough and observe the reaction –

the dough is done proofing when the indent comes to the initial position slowly. If it returns fast, leave the dough to rise longer. Bake for 20 minutes at 230oC (445oF), full steam and fan, and then for 30 minutes at 160oC (320oF) no steam or fan.

Cook more from this book
Summer Pear
Goat Cottage Cheese Ravioli

Read the review

Buy this book
Ana Ros: Sun and Rain (Food Cook)
£39.95, Phaidon

Cooking in Marfa by Virginia Lebermann and Rocky Barnette

Cooking in Marfa

Set in the Chihuahuan Desert, the Texan town of Marfa boasts a population of two thousand and occupies just over one and half square miles. Despite being 200 miles from the nearest commercial airport, its premier restaurant, the Capri has been featured in Vogue, the New York Times and Conde Nast Traveller magazine, which included the converted army airfield hangar in a list of the 34 most beautiful restaurants in the world.

Marfa was first put on the map by its thriving arts scene and Capri co-owner Virginia Lebermann initially intended it to be a cultural arts project, launching in 2007 with a gig by Sonic Youth. However, the arrival in Marfa of Inn at Little Washington-trained chef Rocky Barnette in 2008 led to the Capri’s rebirth as a restaurant focusing on the region’s distinctive natural larder.

Barnette’s cooking is the ultimate expression of contemporary Tex-Mex (a style that Lebermann says was created in Marfa in 1887 when Tula Borunda Gutierrez opened a restaurant using Mexican ingredients and ‘added to them to suit the taste of ranchers’) incorporating ingredients grown or cultivated in the local region including cacti, mesquite beans and dessert flowers as well as Mexican produce such as dried grasshoppers (chapulines) from Oaxaca and huitlacoche, a black fungus that grows on corn.

Although many of the 80 recipes in the book reflect the site-specific nature of the Capri’s menu, it doesn’t mean they are unachievable for UK-based cooks. You may have trouble finding fresh yucca blossoms to tempura, but online resources such as coolchile.co.uk means you should find nearly everything you need for dishes such as masa pasta ravioli with cured egg yolks and bottarga or tostados al carbon, made with activated charcoal and served with razor clams and chorizo.

The story of the Capri and the people behind it (who are as extraordinary as the restaurant itself) makes for fascinating and inspiring reading. In his introduction, three Michelin starred chef Daniel Humm of New York’s Eleven Madison Park calls the book, ‘a window into [Rocky and Virginia’s] creativity and passion’; it’s one that every curious cook will want to look through.

This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine

Cuisine: Mexican
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four Stars

Buy the book
Cooking in Marfa: Welcome, We’ve Been Expecting You (FOOD COOK)
Phaidon, £35

No Sushi by Andrew Kojima

No Sushi

What’s the USP? Japanese food that goes beyond raw fish and rice, inspired by authentic recipes and experiences in Japan as interpreted by a UK chef and restaurateur. There are recipes for bao buns, udon noodles and karaage, but none of course for sushi.

Who is the author? Andrew Kojima is the chef and owner of Koj restaurant in Cheltenham. He was a finalist in the 2012 series of Masterchef and runs cookery classes. No Sushi is his first outing in print.

Is it good bedtime reading? It’s a genuinely entertaining and informative read. The first half of the book is dedicated to Kojima’s own story, from childhood to opening the restaurant, as well as some general background on Japanese cuisine and the chef’s own cooking style and culinary philosophy.  Recipe introductions are substantial and contain a lot of additional information and personal anecdotes. 

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? You might need to go online or a specialist shop for a few things such as karashi (Japanese mustard), yuzu juice and bonito flakes but many supermarkets stock a decent range of the Japanese ingredients used in the book such as miso, mirin, bao buns and panko breadcrumbs.

What’s the faff factor? There is some fine slicing and shredding required but for the most part the recipes are short and enticingly simple.

How often will I cook from the book? Although this is a restaurant cookbook, the recipes are very achieveable and many of the recipe would be ideal for a mid-week meal or weekend snacks and treats.

Killer recipes:  Tamari almonds; panko cauliflower, yuzu pickled red onion, curry mayo; Koj Fried Chicken; miso marinated cod, bok choi, radish; chicken curry udon; ox heart meat balls, crispy leeks.

What will I love? Let’s face it, there are more than enough cookbooks on the planet already so if you’re going to write one, the only way to make it stand out from the crowd is to inject your personality into it. No Sushi has that in spades. From the utterly charming picture of the author as a baby with his late father to the anecdote about the day he proposed to his wife, Kojima lets the reader into his world. Once you learn that his mission to dispel the myth that there’s nothing more to Japanese food than sushi was inspired by his final conversation with his father, you are with him all the way, eager to try out the recipes and spread the word. The book looks great with plenty of images of the restaurant as well as some snapshots from Kojima’s family album. Very simply shot, the food is allowed to speak for itself, and it says, ‘I am delicious, eat me.’

What won’t I like so much? The book contains just 34 recipes (including 5 variations on bao buns although no full recipe for the actual bun is included) plus 9 cocktail recipes which is a fair few short of enough, especially for the £30 price tag. It’s frustrating, as the recipes that are included are terrific and another 50 or 60 of them would have been very welcome indeed. As a former Masterchef semi-finalist myself, I would have loved to have learned more about Kojima’s experiences on the show which is dealt with in a couple of paragraphs. 

Should I buy it? If you’re a regular at the restaurant, you’ll want to own a copy. If you’ve ever dreamed of opening your own restaurant, Kojima’s story will be inspiring. If you’re new to Japanese food, this is a great introduction. It’s just a shame there’s not more of it. 

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Beginners/Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four Stars

Buy the book
No Sushi by Andrew Kojima
awaywithmedia, £30

Arzak + Arzak by Gabriella Ranelli, Xabier Gutiérrez and Igor Zalakain

Arzak

Few chefs have had such an influence on modern cuisine as San Sebastian-based Juan Mari Arzak. As Anthony Bourdin noted, ‘Ferran and Albert Adrià, Martin Berasetgui, Andoni Aduriz: these are just a few of the chefs who looked to Arzak as an example of the new possibilities’. Those ‘new possibilities’ crystallised into molecular gastronomy, but they had their roots in the 1970’s movement of ‘New Basque Cuisine’ the Spanish response to French nouvelle cuisine that was headed up by Arzak. So, no Arzak, no el Bulli, Fat Duck or Alinea.

Arzak + Arzak, originally published in Spanish in 2018 and now reissued in an English language edition, tells Juan Mari’s story, including his ongoing, decade-long creative collaboration with his daughter Elena, the fourth generation of the family to work in Arzak restaurant since it first opened as a tavern in 1897. With extensive narrative text and some stunning black and white portraiture, the introductory chapters provide background on the day to day running of the restaurant and kitchen, as well as the ongoing creative processes of Arzak’s ‘laboratory’ where chefs Xabier Gutiérrez and Igor Zalakain collaborate with the Arzaks to create 50 new dishes a year.

However, the lack of introductions to the often avant garde recipes is frustrating. Dishes such as Symbolic Squab (pigeon decorated with variously shaped red cabbage and purple potato tuiles); Flaming Chickpea Stew (a frozen dessert of coffee-flavoured bavarois set in a chickpea-shaped mould and served with cardamom, cocoa and gellan gum ‘rusty nails’), and the frankly bizarre Another Brick in the Chocolate and Mustard Wall are baffling when presented without context or explanation.

There are some more mainstream dishes in the book such as sea bream with nasturtium leaves and crispy crepe lobster, but make no mistake, this is a Spanish modernist cookbook. The majority of the recipes would only be attempted by a professional chef or a very serious hobbyist home cook but would make a nice souvenier for those that have eaten at the restaurant. Elena Arzak is quoted in the book saying that, ‘My biggest challenge is foreseeing the unpredictable taste of people and staying ahead of them’.  Despite such forward looking ambition, Arzak + Arzak feels trapped in molecular gastronomy’s past.

A version of this review was first published in The Caterer

Cuisine: Spanish/Progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three Stars

Buy the book
Arzak + Arzak
£30, Grub Street

Giffords Circus Cookbook by by Nell Gifford and Ols Halas

Giffords Circus

What’s the USP? Some people go to the circus for the clowns, some for the acrobats and their feats of derring-do. But if you’re headed to the traditional touring circus of Giffords, which performs across the Cotswolds and the South West of England each year, then you might well be going for the food.

For the last 17 years, Giffords has also been host to the UK’s only travelling restaurant. After each show, 60 audience members gather for a 3-course banquet that seems to carry all the wonder of the circus over into each dish. Here, then, is the Giffords cookbook; now you can create your own whimsical feast without having to worry about your children’s coulrophobia (that’s a fear of clowns, as if you couldn’t guess).

Sounds magical! Who’s the author? The circus’ founding matriarch, Nell Gifford has teamed up with the restaurant’s head chef, Ols Halas. Both get ample time to share their stories at the beginning of the book and, as you might expect, they’re pretty fun (it’s not often a chef’s background involves literally running way to join the circus).

Is it good bedtime reading? The reading is probably where Giffords Circus Cookbook is at its best. There’s an absolute tentful of writing here, from Marco Pierre White’s fawning foreword to the chapter introductions that offer insight both into the challenges of cooking in a travelling restaurant and of the inner-workings and community of a modern circus.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Nothing here is particularly unusual, though the recipes do tend to fall on the more luxurious end of the scale. You’ll want a good butcher at hand, and some of the ingredients (romanesco broccoli, activated charcoal and fresh truffles) are a little more Waitrose than Asda. It would be nice to see a cookbook knock up this sort of wonder and magic in their dishes using more down-to-earth ingredients, but I suppose that’s not the point, is it?

What’s the faff factor? Look, Willy Wonka didn’t build his chocolate factory in a day. It took bloody ages and required the slave labour of Loompaland’s indiginous people. So consider yourself lucky when your own slice of whimsy only needs a two-day brine beforehand, or perhaps necessitates the creation of a meringue (there’s a lot of meringue in here – apparently this is a staple of the circus diet).

What will I love? There’s an irrepressible joyfulness that runs throughout the entirety of the Giffords Circus Cookbook. Everything is bright, and everyone always seems to be having so much fun. It’s an infectious sort of a feeling, and reading the book makes you feel every bit a part of the mish-mash vaguely-Moominesque family of oddballs and misfits.

What won’t I love? The recipes aren’t organised in any sense that could be considered even remotely helpful. Instead, the eight chapters loosely tell the story of a season with the circus and might feature anywhere between one and nineteen recipes. Desserts are mixed in, and as such the panna cotta might be found next to the monkfish tails, the black forest trifle opposite roast guinea fowl. If you know what you’re looking for, you can dive right into the index – but for inspiration, it’s not particularly practical. But then, what part of ‘60-seat restaurant serving the clientele of a travelling circus’ suggested practicality to you?

Should I buy it? If you entertain regularly and want to inject a little bit of magic into your dinner parties, this cookbook is not to be missed. There isn’t much here for the casual, everyday cook – except escapism. And that’s always worth a look.

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

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

Buy this book
Giffords Circus Cookbook: Recipes and stories from a magical circus restaurant
£27, Quadrille

French Onion Ramen by Tim Anderson

05.13.19_VeganJapaneasy_D4_FrenchRamen_022 3

FRENCH ONION RAMEN
SERVES 4

I can never figure out why French onion soup ever went out of style. It’s just so good. I had some that my great aunt Jean made a few years back at a family get-together in Wisconsin and it made me think, ‘I should eat French onion soup every day!’
Suddenly fixated on French onion soup, my thoughts quickly turned to ramen. The molten onions mingle beautifully with the noodles so you get a lovely sweetness and silky texture in every bite, all bathed in a rich, beefy broth that just happens to contain no beef. The onions do take a while to caramelise properly, but for comfort food I think it’s worth the wait.

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 brown onions, halved and thinly sliced
pinch of salt, or more, to taste
1 teaspoon caster (superfine) or granulated (raw) sugar
2 garlic cloves, crushed and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons ruby port or red wine
1.2 litres (40 fl oz/4¾ cups) Mushroom or Triple Seaweed Dashi
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
a few grinds of black pepper, or more, to taste
4 tablespoons soy sauce, or more, to taste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin, or more, to taste
1 tablespoon Marmite (yeast extract)
1½ teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)
200 g (7 oz) fresh spinach, washed
¼ Savoy cabbage, cut into thin strips
4 portions of uncooked ramen noodles
4 spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced
80 g (3 oz) bamboo shoots (if you can, use Japanese menma – pickled bamboo shoots)
a few drops of sesame oil and/or truffle oil
60–80 g (2–3 oz) vegan cheese (‘Cheddar’ or ‘Italian-style’), grated (shredded)
4 slices of good-quality bread, toasted

Heat the oil in a deep saucepan or casserole (Dutch oven) and add the onions and the salt. Cook over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until they soften, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for another 45–50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. After about 15 minutes, the onions will start to caramelise, so make sure you scrape the bottom of the pan when you stir to prevent them from catching and burning prematurely. When the onions are just starting to brown, stir in the sugar and add the garlic. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, you will have to stir and scrape often to ensure the onions don’t burn. (If it’s proving difficult to scrape up the stuck bits, add a splash of water, which should help them release nicely.)

Add the sake and the port or wine. Add the dashi, bay leaves, thyme and black pepper and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, then stir in the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, mirin and Marmite. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you like it – it should be fairly salty and slightly sweet. Remove the bay leaves and thyme stems and discard. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the broth into a small dish and leave to cool. Stir the cornflour into the cooled broth to make a thin slurry, then stir it back into the soup and bring to the boil to thicken the broth slightly.

Bring a large saucepan full of water to the boil and blanch the spinach for 15 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and rinse under cold water. Drain well, pressing out any excess water. In the same pan, boil the cabbage for 3–4 minutes until just tender, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Let the water return to a rolling boil, then cook the ramen until al dente, according to the packet instructions. Drain well.

Divide the ramen among 4 deep bowls and ladle over the soup. Gently stir the noodles through the soup to ensure they aren’t sticking together. Top each ramen with the spinach, cabbage, spring onions, bamboo shoots, sesame or truffle oil and vegan cheese. Serve with the toast on the side to soak up the broth once the noodles have all been slurped away.

Buy this book
Vegan JapanEasy: Classic & modern vegan Japanese recipes to cook at home

Cook from this book
Japanese Mushroom Parcels with Garlic and Soy Sauce
Sweetcorn Curry Croquettes

Vegan JapanEasy by Tim Anderson


Vegan Japaneasy

What’s the USP? Full Ronseal vibes here – Vegan JapanEasy is a cookbook filled with easy vegan Japanese recipes. I’m really not sure you need me to tell you that, actually.

Eesh. Sorry I asked. Alright then, who’s the author? Tim Anderson was the youngest winner of Masterchef when he and his Japanese-influenced dishes came out top back in 2011. Since then he’s opened his own restaurant – Nanban – and three vibrant Japanese cookbooks, including 2017’s JapanEasy. This, its vegan spinoff, is his fourth.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s definitely plenty to read in here. Of note are the usual pages detailing Japanese ingredients you’ll want to familiarise yourself with, punched up with useful ideas on each ingredient’s uses outside of Japanese cuisine.

Anderson writes lovingly and respectfully about Japanese culture and cuisine, and his occasional treatises on dashi or Japanese curry roux are always entertaining – as are his recipe introductions, which are occasionally longer than the recipes themselves.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Anderson’s whole thing is ease, and sourcing the ingredients is no different. Most ingredients are widely available but at worst will warrant a trip to an Asian supermarket. The recipes generally avoid any mock-meat and non-dairy cheeses as well, opting instead for light, delicious looking vegetable numbers.

What’s the faff factor? Do you really need to ask? Nothing in Vegan JapanEasy should throw the average home cook. That said, some dishes do require a little time or, in the case of the ramen recipes, a glut of ingredients – so not every dish is going to cut it for a weeknight dinner.

Killer recipes Teriyaki-roasted carrots; jackfruit karaage; kimchi miso hotpot; cauliflower katsu curry;  Japanese style celeriac steak; fridge drawer fried rice.

What will I love? Anderson’s non-pretentious approach to cooking means that not only does everything look delicious, it’s also tantalisingly do-able. Dishes like Pesto Udon are so simple, and yet so tempting, that there’s a good chance you won’t eat anything else ever again.

What won’t I love? The only slightly grating factor is Anderson’s fondness for ranking the ease of each dish at the bottom of the recipe. Given that ease is the premise of the entire book, it’s entirely unnecessary and instead ends up as a destination for some fairly poor dad jokes that wear thin pretty quickly: “the only cult I’d join is the Not Diffi Cult, and this recipe would be our Kool-Aid”

Should I buy it? In short, yes. Anderson’s book is as practical and imaginative as any other Japanese cookbook on the market. In fact, even as a meat-eater, Vegan JapanEasy has a more appealing range of recipes than the original carnivore-friendly JapanEasy title.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

Buy this book
Vegan JapanEasy: Classic & modern vegan Japanese recipes to cook at home

Cook from this book
Japanese Mushroom Parcels with Garlic and Soy Sauce
Sweetcorn Curry Croquettes
French Onion Ramen