Weighing in at 6.5kg and standing over a foot tall, Glynn Purnell’s third book dwarfs his previous two volumes. Printed on high quality matt paper and presented in a clamshell box lined with the same pattern as the wallpaper in Purnell’s eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s a lavish production. But what do you expect from a chef with ego enough to anoint himself ‘The Prince of Birmingham’?
Purnell tells his story in a series of chapters titled with postcodes that relate to where he has lived or cooked. It begins in B37, his childhood home in the Chelmsley Wood council estate in Solihull where the closest the young chef came to foraging was helping his father carry home boxes of meat purchased in pub car park deals. The book then follows Purnell’s route to Michelin success in the heart of Birmingham’s city centre via stints at the Birmingham Metropole, Simpson’s in Kenilworth and Hibiscus in Ludlow, with detours for stages at Gordon Ramsay’s Aubergine and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
Although Purnell relates how he came to national attention and won his first Michelin star at Jessica’s in Edgebaston in 2005, the recipe for the restaurant’s signature dish of veal with caramelised squid is sadly not included. Instead, there are a selection of Purnell’s restaurant’s ‘greatest hits’ including monkfish masala with red lentils, pickled carrots and coconut garnish that ably demonstrate the chef’s knack for creating memorable dishes that stand the test of time.
Purnell is undoubtedly a macho chef and the book charts his passions for boxing, shooting, fishing and football. But there’s more than just testosterone on display here. His detailed description of the evolution of his signature haddock and eggs, cornflakes and curry oil dish proves Purnell to be a creative, thoughtful and reflective cook.
With just 33 recipes, you may feel the need to buy Purnell’s other books to understand the full extent of his culinary talents, but There and Back Again serves up a generous enough helping of amusing anecdotes and stunning visuals to justify its hefty price tag.
This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.
Cuisine: Progressive British
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars