John Burton-Race: The Authorised Biography with Michael Cowton

John Burton Race

Where to start with this odd and badly written biography of the former Michelin-starred chef, minor TV personality and tabloid headline-hogger? Well, how about the time Burton-Race returned drunk from a night out with his then wife Kim to find his stepdaughters Olivia and Eve and Eve’s boyfriend with what Burton-Race thought was drugs on the kitchen table. His response? To go to the utility room and unlock the gun cabinet where he kept ‘a Beretta and a special edition Browning worth £7,500’ and return to the kitchen wielding a shotgun. During a struggle, he knocked Olivia to the floor and hit both her and his wife in the face with the butt of the gun.

That may well be all you need to know about Burton-Race, who you may remember from his 2007 appearance on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, but if for some reason you are still considering parting with £20 for this shoddy, thrown-together book then read on. Cowton has based the above anecdote on an interview given by Kim Burton-Race to the Evening Standard in 2007. Cowton writes that Burton-Race himself, ‘was reluctant to talk about it in any great detail’ and that Cowton feels that ‘the incident does not sit well with John. It is something he would sooner forget.’ That Cowton has allowed him to do so gets to the heart of the book’s problem. You will learn as much, if not more about Burton-Race from Googling a few interviews and articles (this one by Jay Rayner from 2008 is particularly good) as you will from reading this biography.

In the second chapter, Cowton describes his first meeting with the chef which partly helps explain why the book is such a mess. ‘Without any prompting, he launches into a stream of anecdotes with no prior considered response to my first question…I suggest it might be appropriate to begin noting our conversation and he agrees. However, trying to get John Burton-Race to rewind when he is in fast forward is an entirely different matter.’ Cowton goes on to claim that ‘As I grow to know John Burton-Race better, and on a more personal level, I begin to slowly unravel the complexities of the man’. If that’s true, he has failed to document his findings. Instead, the impression Cowton gives is that he has been bamboozled by the mercurial chef and has struggled to make anything substantial from that ‘stream of anecdotes’ which are often banal and lacking in any real detail.

At 264 pages, it’s a relatively short book yet Cowton has still found it necessary to bulk it out by taking some utterly bat-shit tangents including a page on the sexism of 1960s-80s era Savoy hotel head chef Silvetto Trompetto and the subsequent achievements of women in the hospitality industry. It should be noted that Bruton-Race never worked for Trompetto or with any of the women listed by Cowton which include Prue Leith and Eugénie Brazier. And then there are the disproportionately lengthy biographies of chefs Burton-Race has actually either worked for or with including Raymond Blanc, Gary Jones (executive chef of Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons), Martin Blunos and Nigel Marriage which all include details that have no bearing on Burton-Race’s story whatsoever.

However, important incidents go unexplored. Marriage had an unwanted 15 minutes of fame in the mid-90s when he was secretly filmed physically and verbally bullying a junior chef in the kitchens of Burton-Race’s two Michelin starred restaurant L’Ortolan in Berkshire (now under different ownership). The footage featured in an episode of ITVs The Big Story documentary series exposing abuse within the restaurant industry. It was a major scandal at the time which ruined Marriage’s reputation and did no favours at all for Burton-Race who was also filmed verbally abusing the young chef. Cowton offers no new insight from Burton-Race into the incident, quoting only from reports from the time, again failing to add to the sum of biographical knowledge about the chef.

Cowton’s own deathless comment is that, ‘The situation was not helped when the film crew shot John as this opulent bloke driving in his Porsche, so everybody who didn’t have the money for a bicycle suddenly hated him. All the upper-crusties who thought John Burton-Race was politically correct, brilliantly talented and fun to be with suddenly didn’t like him anymore because they felt he had let them down.’ One suspects that those words were actually spoken by Burton-Race himself, as much of the text which is not in quotation marks reads like transcribed interview re-written in the third person. That maybe a valid approach for a biography, but only when properly considered and edited and with sufficient mediated storytelling from the biographer. Unfortunately, time and again, John Burton-Race: The Authorised Biography reads as if it has been banged out in a hurry with the minimum of care and attention.

Given the number of factual errors and spelling mistakes, it’s surprising to discover via Cowton’s acknowledgements that the book actually had an editor. It’s worth noting at this point that Cowton’s other works include books about Level 42, The Pet Shop Boys and a trilogy on Murders That Shocked the World and that, despite claiming to have a ‘passion for gastronomy’ in his Twitter handle, his unfamiliarity with his subject matter is painfully obvious. Chef Gary Hollihead is referred to as Paul Hollihead on two separate occasions, chef Aldo Zilli is called Aldo Zilley and Gidleigh Park hotel becomes Gidley Park.

Every restaurant in New York visited by Burton Race on a trip in 1994 is misnamed. Daniel is Daniels, Le Cirque is La Cirque and, for some reason, Cowton hasn’t even bothered to Google the name of ‘Robert De Niro’s place in the docks’ (it’s Tribeca Bar and Grill, and it’s not in the docks). In one of the worst sentences ever written in the English language, Peter Luger Steakhouse gets rechristened: ‘Mesmerised by the host of influential quarters, he found himself at the hub of a cosmopolitan gem and visited a steakhouse in Brooklyn called Lugeros.’ I’m sorry, he was mesmerised by what, where?

The book is full of puzzling moments. In a bizarre and difficult to follow anecdote that goes precisely nowhere, Cowton confuses rillette (potted pork), with andouillette, a famously pungent sausage made with chitterlings. On page 143 we learn that ‘John met his second wife Kim in 1996 on a Caribbean island’. On page 144, THE VERY NEXT PAGE, Cowton writes, ‘As John was collecting his Catey Award in 1995, the year also saw him betrothed to Kim’. That’s one year before they met in case you’re having trouble keeping up. More troubling is the head scratching revelation that Burton-Race’s mother and father-in-law abandoned him and his younger sister at some point in his childhood (there is no strict chronology in the early part of the book), leaving them alone in a house in Sarisbury Green in Hampshire and moved to Indonesia with ‘no explanation to the children, no heartfelt goodbyes, nothing – just gone, the taxi’s rear lights flickering and gradually fading into the distance’.

According to Cowton, the children were discovered by chance by ‘an uncle’ and then ‘placed with neighbours’. But then, sometime later (weeks, months, years – it’s impossible to tell), Burton-Race’s mother and father-in-law returned to the UK, took up residence for a brief spell and then returned to Indonesia, this time taking Burton-Race and his sister with them. Given that Cowton says that Burton-Race’s ‘earliest childhood memories are a pile of mismatched fragments’, it’s surprising that Cowton appears not to have tried to verify the exact circumstances surrounding what is obviously an important incident in his subject’s life and which he says ‘had devastating results’ and ‘left both children mentally scarred’. Why would the parents not have been arrested for child abandonment on their return to the UK? Why would they have been allowed to take them out of the country after behaving in such an astonishingly irresponsible manner. Why were the children not taken in by relatives and who were those amazingly generous-hearted neighbours?

A little bit of legwork with public records and the local paper’s archive might have provided some answers, but Cowton seems satisfied to leave his readers with more questions about his subject’s life than when they started reading the book. Much easier to devote pages documenting forgettable TV appearances on programmes like Kitchen Criminals and Great British Menu, which can be called up on YouTube, or interviewing easily accessible chefs such as Michel Roux Junior who has never even worked with Burton-Race but has ‘bumped into him several times at events’ and was willing to contribute a quote or two to fill up a bit of space.

It’s also easier to cram the book full of clichés: at various points in the book Burton Race is ‘never lots for words’, has had a ‘long and distinguished career’ is on ‘a single minded mission’ and ‘a relentless search for perfection’ or has ‘ had to manage the cards he’s been dealt’. There’s plenty of meaningless hyperbole too, culminating with the laughably unsupportable assertion that ‘without question [Burton-Race] has worked monumentally hard to achieve and maintain a level of creative genius unparalleled in his time’ (no one mention Ferran Adria or Rene Redzepi or Daniel Humm or…well, you get the picture).

There’s no question that Burton-Race is a complex figure who has led an interesting life and achieved notable success in his chosen field. In more skilled hands, his story could have made for a rattling yarn (albeit with some unsavoury aspects), instead John Burton-Race: The Authorised Biography makes for a deeply unsatisfactory read. If you want to find out about the life of a flawed British Michelin-starred chef then you’d be much better off with Marco Pierre White’s oddly titled but very readable autobiography White Slave.

Due to a litany of bad business moves and ill health (all documented in the book), Burton-Race’s career is currently at something of a low-ebb with his most recent venture in Torquay, that included John Burton Race hotel and Restaurant, folding within less than two years. From his website it appears that he is currently concentrating on consultancy. If this book is an attempt to get him back into the limelight, he may be in for a disappointment as big as anyone foolish enough to buy a copy.

Cookbook Review Rating: One star

Buy the book
John Burton-Race 2020: The Man, The Magic & The Mayhem
£20, Banovallum Books

Sweetcorn Curry Croquettes by Tim Anderson

09.30.19TimVegan_CroquettesPrep_007(Kare¯ Korokke)

Makes 16 croquettes, which is a lot
(enough for 4 servings as a main, 8 as a side), but they freeze well

In Japan, they have something called curry pan, or curry bread, which is essentially an oblong doughnut filled with Japanese curry, so you can have curry in a convenient hand-held format. That recipe is nice, but it’s a bit tricky for a book calledVegan JapanEasy (maybe my next book will be called Vegan Japanslightlymoredifficult), so here’s an alternative: curry croquettes, which are perhaps even better because they’re more crunchy on the outside. Win-win!

1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) floury potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) chunks
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 hot red chilli, finely diced
150 g (5 oz) sweetcorn (from a tin is fine)
2 heaped tablespoons curry powder
1 heaped tablespoon garam masala
salt, to taste
vegan egg replacer, equivalent to 8 eggs, prepared according to the manufacturers’ instructions, or 2 x recipe quantity of Batter for Breadcrumbing (page 46)
about 80 g (3 oz/scant ⅔ cup) plain (all-purpose) flour, for dredging
about 150 g (5 oz/3½ cups) panko breadcrumbs
about 2 litres (70 fl oz/8 cups) oil, for deep-frying (or less for shallow-frying)

Boil the potatoes until fork-tender, 10–15 minutes, then drain and leave to cool slightly. Meanwhile, saute the onions and chilli in the oil over a medium-high heat until they soften, then add the corn and continue to cook for several minutes until everything starts to brown a bit. Add the spices and cook for another few minutes to make a thick paste, then remove from the heat. Mash the potatoes and stir in the onion-cornspice mixture, and add a generous amount of salt.

When the mash is cool enough to handle, divide itinto 16 equal balls and then squash each ball into a kind of oblong patty shape. Lay the potato patties out on baking sheets lined with foil and transfer to the freezer to firm up for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the egg replacer or batter. Dredge the patties in the flour, then dip in the eggreplacer or batter, and then the panko, ensuring they are all well-coated. At this point the croquettes can be frozen on the baking sheets, or cooked straight away. (The cooking process is the same from frozen or chilled.)

Preheat your oven to 100C (210F/Gas .). Heat the oil in a wide, deep saucepan to 180C (350F). Carefully lower the croquettes into the hot oil, in batches of 4–6, and fry until deep golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on a wire rack and keep hot in the oven with the oven door slightly open, until ready to serve.

ALTERNATIVE METHOD
Preheat the oven to 200C (400F/Gas 7). Pour enough oil into a non-stick, flat-bottomed frying pan (skillet) to come up to a depth of 5 mm (. in) and place over a medium-high heat. Carefully lower in the croquettes and fry on each side for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer the par-fried croquettes to a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes, until a thin knife inserted into the middle of a croquette comes out feeling hot to the touch.

Read the review

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
French Onion Ramen

Japanese mushroom parcels with garlic and soy sauce by Tim Anderson

05.13.19_VeganJapaneasy_D4_MushParcels_024

SERVES 2 AS A SIDE OR 1 AS A MAIN

I always associate this preparation, or simple variations thereof, with izakaya – the wonderful Japanese drinkeries-cum-eateries where the food is highly varied but always conducive to drinking loads of good sake or beer – typically salty, snacky, shareable, crowd-pleasing dishes with bold but not over-the-top flavours. This is exactly that kind of dish, mushrooms simply steamed in a foil parcel with plenty of garlic and soy sauce – tearing open the foil is like opening a present on a particularly garlicky Christmas morning. It’s lovely on its own but I would strongly recommend enjoying this with sake – nothing too fancy, as the earthier flavours of cheaper sake are perfect for this mushroomy garlic umami funkbomb.

200 g (7 oz) Japanese mushrooms (such as enoki, shimeji (beech), shiitake and eringi (king oyster)– often supermarkets sell an ‘exotic’ mushroom pack containing a few of each of these, which are perfect)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1½ teaspoons sake
1½ teaspoons olive oil
3–4 garlic cloves, crushed and thinly sliced
a few grinds of black pepper
a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
You will also need some sturdy kitchen foil

Preheat the oven to 220ºC (430°F/Gas 9). Prepare the mushrooms: for enoki or shimeji, cut off their bottoms and break up any large clusters; for shiitake, simply remove the stems; for eringi, cut them into roughly bite-size pieces.

Stir together the soy sauce, sake, olive oil, sliced garlic, black pepper and parsley. Toss the prepared mushrooms with the soy sauce mixture.

Set a wide piece of kitchen foil (about 40 cm/ 16 in long) into a shallow bowl or dish, and place the mushrooms and the sauce into the middle of the foil. Gather up the sides of the foil to cover the mushrooms, crimping them together to form a tight seal. Place the parcel on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Transfer the parcel to a plate, taking care not to tear the foil. Serve with the parcel closed and open it at the table.

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

Cook from this book
French Onion Ramen
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

South by Sean Brock

South Sean Brock

What’s the USP? A collection of Southern American recipes from one of the foremost modern exponents of the cuisine

Who is the author? Chef Sean Brock is the founder of the awarding winning Husk restaurant group with branches in Charleston, Nashville, Greenville and Savannah. Since stepping down from his role as culinary advisor to The Neighborhood Dining Group’ that included Husk as well as McCrady’s, Tavern, and Minero, Brock has announced four new projects in Nashville: Joyland Audrey Red Bird and an unnamed project at the Grand Hyatt. Profiled in an episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table  and featured in a season of the PBS series Mind of a Chef, Brock has established himself as the leading proponent of the culture, traditions and heritage ingredients of Southern cuisine.

Is it good bedtime reading? A 12 page introduction provides some background to Brock’s career and why he is so passionate about Southern cuisine; the ‘microregions’ of the American South (which, Brock says ‘has as many cuisines and comprises a region nearly the same size as Continental Europe’) and how key dishes such as shrimp and grits and cornbread vary from microregion to microregion. Additionally, there are articles on fireplace cookery; smoking; grilling; how to take care of cast iron pans; how to cook a pot of greens and fresh field peas or butter beans; an introduction to cornbread; how to make butter; preserving and canning, and how to make vinegar. So go ahead, take Brock to bed.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you live in America, you’ll be able to take advantage of the two page list of resources at the back of the book to track down the likes of Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice, Rosebank Gold Grits and Hominy Corn; Kenny’s Farmhouse Dry Fork Reserve Asiago cheese; sorghum syrup, seed and flour; Lindera Farms honey vinegar and Bob Wood’s country ham. If you’re outside of America, then you’ll need to do a little research to identify the best substitutions, but on the whole you should be able to cook the majority of the recipes in the book albeit not to Brock’s high level of authenticity.

What’s the faff factor? Recipes vary from a relatively straightforward chicken breast with black pepper and peanut butter gravy, or pork shoulder steak with grilled mushrooms, to shrimp and grits that requires the preparation of four other linked recipes: oven roasted tomatoes; braised fennel; pressure cooker grits and crispy pigs ears.  You’ll also need to make your own crab roe bottarga if you want to make Brock’s recipe for grilled oysters with green garlic butter (although he does say you can substitute a good ready made mullet bottarga).

How often will I cook from the book? Once you’ve sorted out what ingredients you might need to either omit or find alternatives for, you’re sure to find yourself returning to the book often. There’s a fantastic recipe for fried chicken, a great cheeseburger, some amazing looking biscuits (the savory scones, not the one’s you’d dunk in your PG Tips)  and lots of delicious salads like grilled asparagus and cracklin’ salad and sides such as charred corn or grilled carrots that will brighten up any meal. There’s also enough weekend projects including condiments, pickles and preserves to keep you going for months.

Killer recipes? See above, but also pork prime rib with mustard onions; pit cooked chicken sandwiches; bacon jam; pea and hominy succotash; blackberry cobbler, and buttermilk pie.

What will I love? The food, as photographed by Peter Frank Edwards, looks fantastic. At 376 pages, the book covers a lot of ground and is a great introduction to South American cuisine.

Should I buy it? Unless you already own Heritage, Brock’s first book, you probably won’t have a book quite like South in your collection. Although some of the recipes might seem to be covering familar ground, you’ll want to have Brock’s version of grilled chicken wings with a West African style BBQ sauce as well as to experiment with some of the more recherché dishes such as Lowcountry fish-head stew.

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

Buy this book 
South
Artisan, £30

Marcus Everyday by Marcus Wareing

Marcus Everyday

 

What’s the USP? Approachable, achievable family recipes from a Michelin starred TV chef.

Who are the authors? Marcus Wareing has made his name as one of London’s best-known fine-dining chefs with three restaurants: Marcus, The Gilbert Scott and Tredwells and as a stern taskmaster on Masterchef: The Professionals. He rose to fame in the 90’s as Gordon Ramsay’s right-hand man, heading up a number of restaurants including the original Petrus in St James’s Street. His falling out with Ramsay is well documented.

Wareing’s co-author for the sixth time is Chantelle Nicholson (their previous books include The Gilbert Scott Book of British Food; New Classics and Marcus at Home among others). A New Zealand-born lawyer turned chef whose CV includes The Savoy Grill and Petrus, she opened The Gilbert Scott as general manager and is currently back in the kitchen as head chef of Tredwells in Coven Garden and is the author of Planted her debut solo cookbook outing.

Is it good bedtime reading? Only if you fall asleep really, really quickly. A three-page introduction plus brief chapter and recipe introductions and that’s your lot.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Apart from lavender flowers, whole smoked ham hock, fresh bergamot and ripe pears (who has ever found a ripe pear?) you should have no problem tracking down 99 per cent of the ingredients in this book. Even things like fresh turmeric, Gordal olives and white miso should be available in your local Waitrose.

What’s the faff factor?  The book’s raison d’etre is to fling out the faff, so you can mostly expect short ingredient lists and straightforward methods. That’s not always the case however and the prep and cooking times that are provided for all the recipes range from 5 minutes prep and under 10 minutes cooking time for a caramelised banana split up to 1 3/4 hours prep and 3 3/4 hours cooking time for confit of duck ravioli with cucumber and a peanut, sesame and chilli dressing. But at least you know what you’re letting yourself in for.

How often will I cook from the book? No one actually cooks from one book every day, do they? It’s a bit of a self-defeating title really. If people did buy the book and cook from it every day then that’s HarperCollinsPublishers out of business pretty sharpish, or at least Marcus Wareing’s career as a cookbook writer cut mercilessly short. But there is certainly a wide enough range and variety of recipes to keep us cuisine-hopping Brits satisfied for quite some time with everything from celeriac, ham hock and barley hot pot to Thai chicken salad  and prawn tomato and chilli linguine in between. There’s also guidance on fermenting, pickling, jam and chutney making for when you’re in the mood for a bit of a project, so there’s little chance of this turning into Marcus Collecting Dust Everyday.

Killer recipes? Recipes that may well become regular standbys include hassleback potatoes with red wine and pork ragu; haddock with lentils, basil and mascarpone; beef and garden herb meatballs with roasted tomato sauce; barbecued lamb ribs with chimichurri sauce and chocolate and peanut caramel tray bake. 

What will I love? This is 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 with not a hint of Michelin-starred hubris.

Should I buy it? There are many books already on the market aimed at this style of cooking (not least the excellent Bill Granger Every Day) but Marcus Everyday ticks enough modern trend and trope boxes including vegan, vegetarian, healthy eating, low waste cooking, preserving and barbecuing to make it a useful addition to any collection. It will be of particular interest to newbie cooks or those in need of updating and broadening their style and repertoire.

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

 

 

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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The Shore
£25, A Way with Media