Larder by Robin Gill

9781472948540 (4)

What’s the USP? An urban update on traditional larder-driven cooking based around fermentation, curing, pickling, flavoured butters and oils, stocks, sauces and seasonings.

Who’s the author? Irish-born, London-based chef Robin Gill has revitalized the capital’s dining scene with his distinctive take on top drawer cooking set in casual surroundings at The Diary, Counter Culture and Sorella, all in Clapham.

What does it look like? There’s a distinctly rustic feel to the whole thing with matt finish pages, pictures of Gill on the farm, by the shore or posing with a brace of rabbits and food plated on vintage or earthenware crockery. I wouldn’t want to utter that overused and lazy term ‘hipster’, but you get the idea.

Is it good bedtime reading? Although first and foremost a recipe book, there is plenty of food writing to enjoy in the form of substantial recipe introductions, producer profiles and general musings on cooking techniques and ingredients. The autobiographical introduction provides a fascinating, and at times troubling, look behind the scenes of the restaurant industry.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  Cod collars, pig’s head, buffalo milk, Baron Bigod cheese, chardonnay vinegar, espelette pepper and dried wakame mean that you’ll have to look further than your local Tesco for many of the recipes.

What’s the faff factor? Don’t be fooled by the rustic vibe; Gill has worked in some very serious kitchens and although the food is presented in a naturalist way, there’s often lots of work gone into making it all look laid back and simple.

How often will I cook from the book? Because many of the dishes rely on larder recipes (the hint’s in the title) some of which take days, weeks, months or even a year before they are ready, this is more a culinary philosophy that you need to buy into than recipe a book that you can easily dip in and out of.

Killer recipes?  Galician octopus with summer vegetables and nduja brioche; belted Galloway onglet, piatone beans, young garlic and hay; game faggots, celeriac, toasted hazelnuts; white peach with almond skin ice cream, elderflower jelly.

What will I love? The extended larder section provides a real insight into Gill’s style of cooking so you get a real sense of what makes his restaurants so different and special. There is also an excellent selection of inventive cocktails including Panic! At The Pisco made with pisco, white vermouth and rhubarb puree and even a recipe for homemade pumpkin beer.

What won’t I like? The lack of quick and easy dishes. But there’s more than enough of those sort of books knocking about already if that’s more your thing.

Should I buy it? If you want to learn the techniques behind contemporary British restaurant cooking and employ them in your own home (or your own gaff if you’re a chef) this is an essential purchase.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Professional chefs and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book 
Larder: From pantry to plate – delicious recipes for your table
£26, Absolute Press

Cook from this book
Loch Duart Salmon Oyster Emulsion, Fennel, Fried Wakame by Robin Gill
Smoked beetroot tartare Cacklebean egg yolk, hazelnut by Robin Gill
Salted Caramel Cacao, Malt Ice Cream by Robin Gill

Aska by Fredrik Berselius

Aska

What’s the USP? Cutting edge, natural cooking from a leading New York chef.

Who’s the author? Two Michelin-starred, Swedish-born chef Fredrik Berselius of Aska restaurant that’s located in a Brooklyn back street under the shadow of the Willamsburg Bridge.

What does it look like? The book is a very desireable object with its textured black and gold cover, elegant design and stunning landscape,  portrait and food photography.

Is it good bedtime reading? In addition to the inspirational food, Berselius writes evocatively about his homeland of Sweden, his foraging trips to upstate New York and being a restaurateur and chef in Brooklyn.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Recipes tick all the modish ‘New Nordic’ boxes with ingedients like aged diary cow, birch, buttermilk, lingonberries and white currents, some of which may be tricky to track down for the home cook.

What’s the faff factor? Berselius has his own distinctive style. Some of the the most impactful presentations are the most simple, yet belie the numerous processes that go into their creation. Lamb Heart Burnt in Bedstraw appears to be a black disc on the plate but is in fact brunoise of fermented sunchoke, sunchoke emulsion and rendered lamb heart fat dusted with a powder of lamb heart that’s been cured, dried, grated, dry-fried, burnt with bedstraw, dry-fried and burnt a second time then blended and passed.

How often will I cook from the book? Techniques such as smoking, pickling and fermenting (along with a fair bit of foraging) mean that cooking from the book will require a fair amount of committment in terms of time, energy and organisation. Definately not the book to reach for when you come home late from work and need to rustle something up in 20 minutes.

Killer recipes? Lichen, caramelised cream, pine mushroom, spruce and chanterelle; grilled eel head on a branch; mackerel and black locust; sourdough, smoked hake and toasted milk.

What will I love? Berselius might be a resolutely urban chef saying, ‘I knew I wanted to be in New York. I fell in love with the city as soon as I set foot here’, but his cooking draws on formative experiences and memories from growing up in the suburbs of Stockholm and visiting his grandmother in the north of Sweden with its ‘reindeeer and white and black birch bark’ and summers spent among the ‘wheat, oat, rapeseed, grazing cows, and horses’ of the lowlands. Berselius’s achingly beautiful creations put nature right there on the plate in front of you. The food ranges from delicate (lenghts of pickled and compressed cucmber are artfully decorated pickled linden flowers) to red in tooth and claw (truffles made from pigs blood, butter and rose hip) but always seem to evoke some wild Nordic landscape.

What won’t I like? Some readers may find the book a little po-faced and over serious.

Should I buy it? Aska provides genuine insight into the mind of an exciting chef who is pushing the boundaries of his own creativity. As accomplished as Berselius obviously is, I get the feeling that there is much more to come from him. Roll on Aska book two.

Cuisine: Progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Aska
£39.95 Phaidon

Book extract: First, Catch by Thom Eagle

First catch

I seek out and devour food writing in all of its forms – from lengthy and flowery introductions, through drily academic histories to the tersely scribbled instructions you sometimes find tucked into old cookbooks. But when I think of all the recipes I have read, professionally or otherwise, stacked up as it were in one gigantic pile on an overflowing workbench, the main sensation I feel is frustration.

All those neat little lists – take this, take that – as if cooking begins when you pick up an onion, or finishes as the dish goes on to the plate. So much more surrounds a meal and its making than just the bare facts of its enumerated parts. At the top of the page it just says ‘two onions,  chopped’, but someone had to grow them, to pick them, to store and transport and buy them, all before you take them from the vegetable rack or the fridge, halve them from root to tuft, and peel off the outermost layers of brown parchment; before you cut first in a wedging arch and then across, remembering the cook who taught you to let the onion fall into its own layers rather than force it apart into rigid dice, and wondering perhaps in passing why you are doing so, when the other recipe said sliced, when the other recipe contained no onion at all. The Koreans have a description for the specific qualities of a person’s cooking which translates as something like ‘the taste of your hands’; they know, I suppose, that knowledge rests in muscle and bone, which is never written down.

I have nothing against recipes. In fact I use them all the time, and am suspicious of cooks who claim never to do so. Recipes are a record of social and emotional histories as well as a means of travelling to almost any country or place you care to name, including, of course, the past. Anyone who tries to separate food from all of these things cooks for reasons I do not understand; it can only, I think, be vanity, trading the deep satisfaction of time for immediate gratification.

Yet, while useful to cook from, there is so much that recipes miss. The satisfaction of peeling a ripe, thick-skinned tomato, for instance, or unzipping a pod of broad beans; the smell of rosemary hitting gently warming olive oil; the yielding of a wing of skate to a gently pressing finger; the sight of a simply laid table in spring, awaiting the arrival of both people and lunch. None of this can be captured in a written recipe. These are sensations we feel behind the lines of our cookbooks, but the rigid lists that now fill them leave little room in which to do so, let alone to think about what we will do with this dish once we have cooked it. ‘Serve immediately’, these instructions end, but who to? Even a thousand recipes don’t make a meal.

Of all the contexts surrounding the acquisition and transformation of food, I think the meal itself is the most often forgotten. We cook in competition with ourselves now, imagining some bespectacled judge pacing around our chopping board and offering disparaging comments on our knife skills, our plating and our personal hygiene, while we collect and compare recipes of so-called genius and perfection, to be followed to the last detail. Whatever tortured dish emerges from such a process is designed not to be dug into with a questing fork, but to sit as it were under glass, to be admired one-on-one, alone. A plate is one part of a course, which is one part of a meal, so why fuss over the recipe so? I’d rather have, for example, a litre of wine, a pile of fresh pea pods, and many hands to peel and pour – with maybe a piece of cheese for afterwards.

Extracted from First, Catch: Story of a Spring Meal by Thom Eagle (Quadrille, £16.99)

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First, Catch by Thom Eagle

The Mushroom Cookbook by Michael Hyams & Liz O’Keefe

The Mushroom Cookbook cover

What is it? A directory of the most widely available mushrooms, both wild and cultivated, plus a collection of 50 mushroom-based recipes. Michael Hyams, based in Covent Garden Market, is apparently known as The Mushroom Man and supplies markets and restaurants with fungi while co-writer Lix O’Keefe is a chef, recipe developer and food stylist.

What’s the USP? From morels to mousseron and portobello to pom pom, Hyams describes in detail 33 of the most widely available wild and cultivated mushroom varieties, listing alternative names, their Latin name, where the mushroom can be found and when, along with a detailed description of its appearance, flavour and texture and how it should be prepared and cooked. In the second half of the book, O’Keefe provides 50 ways to cook your fungi.

What does it look like? It’s a game of two halves. The first half that contains the directory is a reference work with the emphasis on providing simple, clear and well organised information. The photos are mainly of unadorned mushrooms against a white or grey background accompanied with step by step illustrations of how to clean and prepare them. By contrast, in the second recipe half, there is a serious amount of food styling going on with all manner of folded napkins, trays, boards, slates and other props to liven up proceedings.

Is it good bedtime reading? Although there is a lot to read in the book, it’s more of a reference work than something you’d want to cuddle up to last thing at night.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There are a decent selection of fresh and dried mushrooms available in supermarkets these days and doubtless, you will find suppliers online (none are given in the book however) but for the more obscure varieties like lobster and saffron milkcap you might have to head out on an expert-led foraging trip (don’t try it by yourself – as the introduction points out, the book is not designed to be an identification guide for foraging and there are lots of poisonous varieties out there).

What’s the faff factor? A mix. There’s simple like creamy mixed mushroom and tarragon soup and there’s I’m-simply-never-going-to-make-that (mushroom sushi).

How often will I cook from the book? It really depends how much you like mushrooms; for most people, once in a while.

Killer recipes? Chinese mixed mushroom curry; Asian mushroom and pork ramen; wild mushroom and boar sausages

What will I love? The price. A 250 page, full-colour illustrated hardback cookbook for £15 is excellent value.

What won’t I like? Some of the recipes, like mushroom sushi, are a little gimmicky, there are some odd flavour combinations (Camembert and blackberry fondue on your mushroom burger anyone?) and some of the dishes like whole roast salmon with garlic pesto and truffle look messy and unappetising.

Should I buy it? At the knock-down price, it’s worth picking up for the mushroom directory alone.

Cuisine: Modern eclectic
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
The Mushroom Cookbook: A Guide to Edible Wild and Cultivated Mushrooms – And Delicious Seasonal Recipes to Cook with Them
£15, Lorenz Books

Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura

Bread is Gold

What is it?
Italy’s greatest gift to modern gastronomy, the three Michelin-starred, Modena-based chef Massimo Bottura of the former number one restaurant in the world Osteria Francescana follows up his 2014 book Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef with a compendium of recipes from his charitable ‘soup kitchen’ project Refettoria Ambrosiano that he created for Expo 2015 in Milan set in Teatro Greco, an abandoned and restored 1930’s theatre. The project continues to run as a community kitchen for homeless shelters using waste food from supermarkets.

What’s the USP?
All the dishes in the book were created by Bottura and dozens of other high profile chefs from around the world from ‘waste’ food from the Expo including wilted veg, bruised or over-ripe fruit and meat, fish poultry and diary close to their expiration date that would otherwise have been thrown away.

Who are these mysterious ‘friends’ who share the author credit?
Massimo is a well-connected guy and counts the likes of Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Daniel Humm and Ferran and Albert Adria among his many mates (more than 45 chefs have contributed to the book).

If Refettoria Ambrosiano is a soup kitchen, am I getting 400-odd pages of soup recipes?
Not quite. There are a dozen or so soups and broths including Redzepi’s Burnt Lime soup and Fish Soup with Bread Gnocchi by Antonia Klugmann from L’Argine a Vencó restaurant in Italy, but the 150 recipes cover the usual starters, mains and desserts. Given the nature of the project (a chef jetted in for a day and improvised a meal for a hundred people using whatever ingredients were to hand) some repetition of ideas and ingredients is inevitable. So there’s nine meatballs recipes, two for meatloaf and dozens involving stale bread; no surprise given the book’s title.

About that title, bread isn’t gold is it? Otherwise that loaf of sliced white going mouldy in my cupboard would be worth a fortune.
It’s the name of a Bottura signature dish created in memory of his late mother and based on the chef’s childhood memory of eating zuppa di latte or milk soup for breakfast which he made by grating leftover bread into a bowl of warm milk with sugar and a splash of coffee. The recipe, included in the book, is made from layers of salted caramel ice cream, caramel bread croutons and bread and sugar cream topped with a bread crisp sprinkled with edible gold dust.

Why should I buy the book?
Food waste in professional kitchens continues to be a big talking point and Bottura is leading the discussion. The book provides lots of inspiration for how to use produce that might otherwise end up in the bin which means you’re not only doing the world some good, but it could well help you cut your food costs. As well as the recipes, it’s also a great read with a one-page introduction to each chef, explaining how they prepared their meals and telling the story of the project.

What won’t I like?
At £29.95, you might expect hard-covers and glossy pages. What you actually get is soft covers and what appears to be recycled, matt paper which means the images are not as pin sharp as you might like. However, it’s all in keeping with the ‘make do’ ethos of Bottura’s Food For Soul charity that Refettoria Ambrosiano is a part of and to which all royalties from the book will be donated to, so stop complaining!

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
£29.95, Phaidon
Bread Is Gold