Roots by Tommy Banks

roots tommy banks

What’s the USP?  Fans of Kunta Kinte will be disappointed to learn that this is not another  update of Alex Haley’s famous slave saga. The title actually refers to the ‘root ingredients’ used fresh or preserved by acclaimed young chef Tommy Banks, who divides the year into three rather four seasons which he calls The Hunger Gap (January to May); Time of Abundance (June to September) and the Preserving Season (October to December) which reflects the way he cooks at his North Yorkshire restaurant The Black Swan at Oldstead.

Who’s the author? Tommy Banks has had something of a meteoric rise since taking over the kitchens of the family restaurant in 2013, aged just 24. He’s one of the youngest ever Michelin starred chefs in the UK and has become something of a TV personality, appearing on the Great British Menu where he cooked turbot with strawberries and cream (recipe included in the book) at the grand banquet at Wimbledon and was a featured chef on Masterchef the Professionals where he demonstrated his signature dishes including crapudine beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat with smoked cod’s roe and linseeds, also included in this, his debut book.

What does it look like? Bucolic. The North Yorkshire landscape looks stunning and there are plenty of shots of Banks posing in fields and on the family farm gathering his beloved ingredients. The food is colourful and attractive without being too tortured on the plate.

Is it good bedtime reading? The short autobiographical introduction is bolstered by chapter introductions and essays on favoured ingredients such as elderflower, summer berries and ‘hedgerow harvests’ making Roots more than simply a collection of recipes.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you’re not a keen gardener then you might find it tricky to lay your hands on things like crapudine beetroot and courgette stalks, and you’ll need to follow Banks’s recipes for fermenting vegetables to make a number of dishes, plus you’ll need a good fishmonger if you’re planning on serving raw red mullet, and a decent butcher who can sell you sweetbreads and mince pork back fat for you, and you’ll need to get out picking elderflowers in June if you want to make elderflower drizzle cake, and…

What’s the faff factor? This is fundamentally a collection of restaurant dishes so expect to put in a fair amount of effort for your dinner.

How often will I cook from the book? This is more weekend project than mid-week supper cooking.

Killer recipes? See above, but also crab, elderflower and potato salad; scallops cured in rhubarb juice with Jerusalem artichoke, and potato skin and brassica broth with cheddar dumplings.

What will I love? All the recipes are rated either 1,2 or 3 for complexity which makes choosing what you want to cook from the book, depending on the time you have to hand easy. But this is more than just a collection of delicious sounding, interesting and characterful recipes, a real effort has been made to give a sense of Banks’s cooking ethos and life at The Black Swan.

What won’t I like? Some readers may feel they’ve been-there-and-done-that with the pickling, fermenting and foraging aspect of the book.

Should I buy it? Roots is a substantial debut effort from one of the UK’s highest profile young chefs with his own take on field to fork cookery which makes it well worth investigating.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Roots
£25, Orion Books

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

First, Catch by Thom Eagle

First catch

 

What’s the USP? When is a cookbook not a cookbook? When its a ‘hymn to an early spring meal’, all 226 pages of it. This is food writing in the purest sense, a series of extended essays ruminating on the process of cooking a single meal; a sort of exercise in culinary mindfulness.

Who’s the author? Thom Eagle is the head chef of Little Duck: The Picklery, a ‘fermenting kitchen and wine bar’ in East London (unsurprisingly, there is a fair amount on fermentation in the book) and writes the food blog ‘In Search of Lost Thyme’. First, Catch is his debut in print.

What does it look like? A novel. Forget glossy photographs, this is all text interspersed with some black and white line drawings of pots, pans and assorted ingredients by artist Aurelia Lange.

Killer recipes? Here’s the thing, Eagle says ‘recipes are lies’ so there aren’t any. At least not in the list-of-ingredients-followed-by-a-method format that we all know and love. Instead, they are snuck in by stealth, so for example, a recipe for quick-cured lamb loin, complete with measurements for the simple salt and sugar cure appears spread over three pages at the end of chapter one, ‘On Curing With Salt’ and one for salsa verde is nestled quietly in chapter 10 ‘On Wild and Domestic Celeries’.

What will I love? Eagle is a thoughtful sort of bloke with a particular view on all things culinary which gives the book a distinctive tone. When was the last time you heard someone say that they ‘go out of their way’ to visit old salt-pans’? Eagle has travelled from Kent to Sicily to look at the damn things, trips which have helped him, and now, in turn, his readers ‘appreciate the importance of salt throughout our history’.

What won’t I like? Eagle is very self consciously ‘a writer’ (he studied American Literature at uni) and consequently there is a fair bit of ‘food writing’ to get through; raw vegetables aren’t seasoned but ‘subjected to the violence of lemon and salt’ which you’ll either think is incredibly creative writing or just plain irritating, depending on your taste in literature.

Should I buy it? It may be a little pretentious and overwritten, and it’s debatable whether the ‘stealth’ recipes are an improvement on the traditional format, but Eagle has genuine insight into the practical and philosophical sides of cooking, as well as extensive knowledge of international cuisines and culinary history, making First, Catch well worth reading.

Cuisine: Modernist British
Suitable for: Anyone really interested in cooking and food writing
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Read an extract

Buy this book
First, Catch by Thom Eagle
£16.99, Quadrille