Andre Simon awards special feature: An interview with chairman Nick Lander

nick lander at vinoteca kc cropped

Nick Lander is the restaurant correspondent of the Financial Times, author and hospitality expert. His first book, The Art of The Restaurateur became an Economist Book of The Year in 2012. He is the former proprietor of L’Escargot in Soho and has acted as a hospitality consultant to arts organisations across London including The Southbank Centre; the British Museum; and the Royal Albert Hall among many others.  He consulted on the food and beverage offering at the restored St Pancras International station and for the  development of King’s Cross, the 67 acre site that is currently the biggest single urban regeneration project in Europe.

 

When did you first get involved with the Andre Simon Awards?

Twenty years ago. I was a food book assessor then after two years they made me a trustee and when Julian Cotterell, my predecessor passed away I became chairman.

What are your responsibilities as chairman of the awards?

That depends on who you ask! The principle one is to monitor and make sure that the Andre Simon memorial fund doesn’t spend too much of its money on the awards, that’s the slightly dry side. The real job is to navigate the ship and listen to everybody’s opinions. I am involved in producing the short list, but I defer to the assessors. My job is more informal; providing lunch and a wrapping up speech on 5 February at the ceremony and ensuring we stay solvent.

I think the system we have of one food and one drink book assessor is absolutely fantastic because it minimises committees. A lot of these awards they have, they bring in the good and the great and everybody has an opinion and the lowest common denominator tends to dominate rather than the actual winner. The list of nine food books and six drink books we’ve got this year is probably the broadest and eclectic and wide ranging and interesting that we’ve ever had, and that’s nothing to do with me.

How have cookbooks change in the 20 years you’ve been involved in the awards.

I think they’re much more detailed and because the general cookbook has been so well covered in the past, nascent writers have to look for a subject and, like everything today, it’s becoming harder and harder to find an undiscovered topic. The idea that there’s a book on Shetland or the Black Sea is a reflection of that, and the Pie and Mash book too, which I think is a great read. The idea of Jill Norman or anybody else’s cookbook being definitive, those days are finished, and authors are having to search for slightly recherche but actually very interesting topics.

What impact does the awards have on British food and drink writing?

That’s a very difficult question, because the book trade is so odd, speaking as an author myself. We’ve tried all kinds of things to publicise the awards; stickers, moving the dates of the selection before Christmas so that the books could be highlighted in the run up. I’m not sure any of that actually works. I think the prestige comes after the award to the winner; nice cheque and the prestige to the publishers. It must be a huge pat on the back to the production team because production values are really important to Andre Simon.

How is food writing viewed by critics in the UK, do you think it get taken seriously enough?

There are so many books published and literary editors are swamped, so there’s no real room for food and drinks books other than at Christmas, which I think is a bit odd, we don’t eat and drink just at Christmas. I’d like to see more scope given to coverage of food and drink books.

Despite the many cookbooks already on the shelves, is there a cookbook you’d like to see that hasn’t yet been written?

I still hanker after something that brings food and wine together in one cookbook, I think that would be quite interesting; not matching, but just thoughts on cooking and choosing wine, but I don’t know of anybody who could do that.

And finally, do you have an all-time favourite cookbook?

The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews by Edda Servi Machlin, which Elizabeth David introduced me to, is a fantastic cookbook. And any fish cookbook from Rick Stein to whoever, I just marvel at what they can do with fish.

To read more about the Andre Simon Awards click on the logo below

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Andre Simon Awards special feature: an interview with Meera Sodha

meera sodha andre simon food assessor 2018 c. david loftus

Chef, food writer and author Meera Sodha is the independent assessor of the food category for the 2018 Andre Simon Food and Drink book awards.

Born in Lincolnshire to Ugandan Indian parents, her love for her ancestors’ food and a desire to keep their food traditions alive led her to capture her mother’s recipes from her childhood in her first cookbook Made in India, which was published by Figtree, Penguin in July 2014 It became a top 10 best seller and was named a book of the year by The Times and the Financial Times. Her second book, Fresh India, published July 2016 is a celebration of India’s love of vegetables.

She writes a regular column for Associated Press and writes (or have written) occasionally for Food 52, Borough Market, The Pool and The Guardian and you can follow her on instagram and twitter.

How did you get involved with the awards? 

My first two books, Made in India and Fresh India were both shortlisted so I’ve been lucky enough to come to the awards twice, meet the team and enjoy the company of so many interesting and influential voices in the world of food. I’ve have always loved how the awards is for the writers and by the writers and that every year, the shortlist throws up books I have never heard of and immediately want to buy. So when I got asked to be the independent assessor, I jumped at the opportunity.

What are your responsibilities as independent assessor?

I have the job of taking a very long list down to a shortlist and then ultimately to a few winners. Quite a daunting prospect once I realised just how books the postman was going to be delivering to me.

How many books did you have to read in order to come up with the shortlist?

I don’t know exactly but I would guess that I have received around 150 books. It shows just how the how highly publishers and writers view the awards. At times it’s been overwhelming – but through the process I’ve got to do what I love doing most, immersing myself in great writing and great cookbooks.

What does it take for a book to make it onto the shortlist. What are you looking for in a food book to make it a potential winner?

I look for a few things:

Originality – is this a book that takes a refreshing new angle on something or opens up a new world to the reader?

Knowledge – does the writer have a firm grasp and passion for their chosen subject?

Enduring – Is this a book of the moment or a future classic that we will be talking about for years to come?

Coherent – Is there a powerful core theme that runs through the book that I can identify?

Enjoyment – Does it make me feel something and how easy is it to put down?

As an author of food books, how do you feel about judging your peers?

It’s a real honour and very exciting but I also feel a strong sense of responsibility. As a writer, I know how much it takes to write a book and how challenging it can feel to not only get something done but create something that you are genuinely proud of. With every book I have read during the judging, I have tried to put myself in the author’s shoes and understand their journey and motivations for writing the book. Whether they’re a big name or an unknown name, I have tried to treat them all equally and focus on the quality of what they have produced.

What are your top three all-time food books, either Andre Simon awards shortlisted, winners or otherwise?  

I’ve loved the books produced by recent winners Mark Diacono’s Otter Farm, Rachel Roddy’s Five Quarters, Fuscia Dunlop’s Land of Fish and Rice and Stephen Harris’ The Sportsman. Sorry, that’s the previous four.

 What do you think about the current food writing scene in general, do you think we are in a golden age of food writing right now?

 I think of it less as a golden age and more as a scene that has just continually gets better and better over the years. A bit like the broader food world in the UK. There are now such a variety of voices writing brilliantly about such an amazing variety of topics that with each year that passes, the food writing world becomes richer and more interesting.  It’s a fantastic time to be a reader – the only problem is choosing which book to read(!)

Is there a food book that doesn’t exist that you think needs to be written (and who should write it)?

Cooking in out of space. Might be a few years until we see it…

Do you think that food writing should be considered as ‘literature’ – do you think it gets taken seriously enough by critics?

I don’t mind what it is classed as, I’m more interested in how good it is and how much people are reading it. Anecdotally, I do feel as though food writing is something more people are starting to enjoy and understand. Recently, I was buoyed to see in Daunt Books that the main book being promoted throughout the store was MFK Fishers ‘Consider The Oyster’ – perhaps a book that years ago would have been hidden away in a dusty corner.

Coming soon: André Simon Awards special feature

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On 5 February 2019, the 40th annual André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards will be presented at a reception in central London. In the run-up to the big night, cookbookreview.blog is delighted to be able to bring you reviews of each to the eight books shortlisted in the food category along with interviews with this year’s independent assessor of the food award, chef, food writer and author, Meera Sodha and André Simon chairman Nick Lander.

Click here to go to the new dedicated André Simon page where you will be able to access all the content as it appears.

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The shortlisted food books for 2018 are:

  • Black Sea
    by Caroline Eden (Quadrille Publishing)
  • First, Catch
    by Thom Eagle (Quadrille Publishing)
  • How to Eat a Peach
    by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley)
  • Lateral Cooking
    by Niki Segnit (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • MOB Kitchen
    by Ben Lebus (Pavilion Books)
  • Pasta, Pane, Vino
    by Matt Goulding (Hardie Grant Publishing)
  • Pie and Mash Down the Roman Road
    by Melanie McGrath (Two Roads)
  • Shetland
    by James & Tom Morton (Quadrille Publishing)
  • Together
    by The Hubb Community Kitchen (Ebury Press)

We won’t be reviewing the shortlisted drink books, but we’re sure they will be well worth investigating:

  • Amber Revolution
    by Simon J Woolf (Morning Claret Productions)
  • Flawless
    by Jamie Goode (University of California Press)
  • Red & White
    by Oz Clarke (Little Brown Book Group)
  • The Life of Tea
    by Michael Freeman & Timothy D’Offay (Mitchell Beazley)
  • The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste
    by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay (Ten Speed Press)
  • Vineyards, Rocks and Soils
    by Alex Maltman (Oxford University Press)