What is Cooking by Ferran Adrià and elBullifoundation

What is Cooking Ferran Adria

What’s the USP? This is not a cookbook and there are no recipes. According to the authors, it’s ‘a compilation of the connected knowledge needed in order to answer the question: ‘What is cooking?’. According to me, it’s nothing less than an intellectual land grab by one of the world’s most famous chefs in an attempt to place himself at the forefront of the study of cuisine and gastronomy as a formal academic subject.

Who is the author? Ferran Adrià is one of the world’s most famous chefs. Along with his brother Albert, he is the architect of what is commonly known as ‘molecular gastronomy’ but which Adrià refers to as ‘techno-emotional’ cuisine.

He closed the doors of his restaurant el Bulli back in 2011 and has since dedicated his time to the elBullifoundation, which, the website says is ‘a private, family-run foundation, promoted by Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler. Established on 7 February 2013, it came out of the need to transform elBullirestaurant, with a vision based on the desire to continue promoting innovation and creativity through the language of cooking and to preserve the legacy and spirit of elBulli for society’.

In practice that means publishing books, mounting exhibitions, the production of a documentary series about el Bulli restaurant, consulting services and whole raft of other projects including the development of educational courses. The one project that Adrià has been talking about almost since the day elBulli closed is the launch of elBulli1846, the re-purposing of el Bulli restaurant as ‘an exhibition lab’ for ‘studies, investigation and experimentation to generate knowledge around the theme of efficiency in innovation’. Although the website explicitly says that elBulli1846 is not a restaurant, that has been talk in the past of some food being prepared and served there, but no one seems to know if and when that will actually happen and if it does, who gets to eat it.

Is it good bedtime reading? Put it this way, there is a lot to read but it might keep you awake all night puzzling out just what it’s all meant to be for. To take an example, in the 48 page introductory section (broken down into a pre-foreword statement, a foreword by Adrià himself, a one page summary, a ten-page descriptive index and a 25 page introduction) you will find a flow chart that explains that, if you want to run a business that generates a gastronomic offering you will need a team of professionals from the sector that have a business culture and that they will need resources for different systems including storage tools and plating tools. In other words, if you want to run a restaurant, you need trained chefs who want to earn money and they will need things like fridges, tongs and spoons. The book continues in this vain, finding complex, opaque ways of expressing very simple and common ideas, for much of its 400-odd pages.

For example, in Chapter One: Let’s Start by Understanding Lexical-Symantic Aspects, you’ll ‘discover’ that ‘not all liquid is a beverage’ and that sometimes it’s food in a liquid state. Congratulations, you now know what soup is. You’ll also find out that 19th century food writer Brillat-Savarin ‘devoted his life to the tasting and enjoyment of food in different settings, which suggests a concept of alimentation that was not limited to survival, but that encompassed hedonism and recognized quality’. I hope you were sitting down for the earth-shattering revelation that people sometimes eat for pleasure.

In the same chapter, you’ll also find the definition of a word used no less than 913 times in the book- ‘elaboration’. Adrià would like you to use the word in place of cooking because ‘helps to give a more specific understanding of a stage within the culinary process’, which is a bit like trying to force your friends to call you by a nickname you’ve coined for yourself. However, Adrià is such a respected figure in modern gastronomic circles that he might just pull it off. Start practicing now if you want to be in with the cool kids, ‘I’m just going to elaborate this Aldi frozen minced beef pie in the heat supplying apparatus that is located within the area dedicated to the preparation of elaborations’. See, it’s fun!

Let’s for a moment imagine that it’s acceptable to take up 85 pages of a 464-page book introducing your subject and defining your terms. It might be then not unreasonable to expect that by chapter three you would be getting to the meat of the subject, that the author would be communicating some information, some facts from their research or at least some opinions or philosophy. And yet on page 97 we are confronted with this piece of spectacularly circular nonsense, ‘We can speak of interpretative creativity when the creation corresponds to the skilful interpretation of other, already existing creations. Whether or not this can be regarded as a level of creative outcome is a matter for debate, as it is a very subjective question.’

But there must be some concrete answers somewhere in the book, surely? How about in the section titled ‘We suggest several main criteria to discover the types of cooking a cook or a restaurant does’. Let’s take Adrià’s own dish, Pea Spheres. Here’s some of the things I ‘learned’ from reading about how it’s classified under 17 different criteria: it’s hedonistic food designed to produce pleasure; it’s an elaboration with food use; it’s an elaboration for the savoury world; it’s served in a fine dining restaurant and designed for customers of middle to high class social profiles, the working classes need not apply; it is an elaboration from a professional kitchen but amateurs with a spherification kit could reproduce it; it’s of the highest level of quality, sophistication and refinement, it is no less than creative culinary art. So, what do I do with that information? How do I apply that to the real world? If I use those same 17 criteria to analyse and categorise the fish and chips I’m having for my tea tonight, how will that change anything. I already know its savoury, it’s working class, it’s not particularly sophisticated and I could make it at home, but I can’t really be arsed. The process seems to be pointless.

But surely, Ferran Adrià and his multi-disciplinary team haven’t spent the last decade producing something of absolutely no value, have they? One last chance. Let’s read ‘As an action that is repeated over time, cooking generates consequences’, a chapter that views cooking from an historical perspective. The first line is ‘History is the time frame in which ‘everything’ happens.’ It’s not looking good is it? Anyway, let’s persevere. What does the book have to say about the Neolithic period? ‘With the Neolithic period came permanent settlements, and this sedentariness brought about sedentary cooking. Gradually, as a result, specialization emerged, with different elaborations giving rise to specialized cooking.’ That’s pretty much it. No specific examples of what the different elaborations or specialized cooking might actually be. It’s time for me to stop this. I’ve gazed long enough into the Adrià abyss. I can feel the Adrià abyss gazing back into me.

What will I love? I particularly enjoyed the infographic titled ‘The chef model: cooks, periods, styles and movements in contemporary fine-dining cuisine in western society’ which lists some of the biggest names in western gastronomy since the turn of the 20th century including Escoffier, Fernand Point and Alain Ducasse but reserves the largest font size on the page for the names Ferran and Albert Adria. History is always written by the victors.

That aside, the book looks great, and, er, that’s about it.

What won’t I like so much? In the introduction, the claim is made that ‘In spite of the large number of publications dealing with cooking or cuisine, we were unable to find any that offered a direct response to our seemingly simple question.’ One has to assume that eBullifoundation is including in that rather sweeping statement authoritative works such as the 1350 page Larousse Gastronomique (which in fact does have a page-long entry on the term ‘cooking’), the 900 page The Oxford Companion to Food (it too has entries on the terms ‘cook’ and ‘cooking), Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse and Le Repertoire to mention just a few. Set alongside those august tomes, the book singularly fails to justify its own existence.

I admit I may have missed the point, that I may not be sufficiently intelligent to understand how the Sapiens methodology works. Other readers, who may well be more sophisticated and erudite may possibly get a great deal from it. At the time of writing, there has been no other meaningful published review of What is Cooking (i.e. where the reviewer has actually read some or all of the book) and I don’t know anyone who has bought a copy and publicly expressed their views. I can’t imagine anything but praise from Adrià’s peers so the critical jury is currently out. You’ll just have to take my word for it at the moment.

Should I buy it? It’s £100. If you’ve got that to spare, if you wouldn’t miss it at all and if you are the world’s biggest Ferran Adria fan, then go ahead. Otherwise think very carefully before you are parted from your money. If you work in the fine dining sector, it’s worth considering whether you will actually learn anything of value by wading through 464 pages of powder dry theory. Will it help you do your job better? Will your understanding of the craft of cooking and cuisine have increased in a way that you can apply in a practical way to your business? Because there is very little pleasure to be derived from What is Cooking. In truth, this review has been an unpleasant ordeal, a tiresome bore and I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy, of which there are many and to which I’ve probably just added one more.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 1 star (for the design)

Buy this book
What is Cooking: The Action: Cooking, The Result: Cuisine (FOOD COOK)
£100, Phaidon

Good food writing

You and I eat the same

You and I Eat the Same

edited by Chris Ying with a Foreword by Rene Redzepi

What’s the USP? A publication of Rene Redzepi’s MAD nonprofit organisation that’s ‘dedicated to bringing together a global cooking community with an appetite for change’  that collects articles by food writers from around the world exploring the similarities of global cuisines rather than the differences, the more usual subject of food writing.

Who are the authors?  Chris Ying is the former editor of Lucky Peach food magazine (now ceased publication) and now works for David Chang’s Major Domo Media company which produces Ugly Delicious for Netflix and David Chang’s podcast. Rene Redzepi is a very famous Copenhagan-based two Michelin starred chef who literally needs no introduction.

Why is it good read? Nineteen articles of varying length take a global view of subjects such as the thousand year history of the flatbread, table manners, wrapping food in leaves and husks and how coffee can save lives. Contributors include Redzepi himself on his changing attitude to what constitutes a Nordic ingredient in a piece titled ‘If it does well here, it belongs here’ and renowned journalist and author Wendell Steavenson among many others.

Should I buy it? This is a wide ranging exploration of an important theme in a time when we need to be thinking about what unites us rather than divides us.  Thoughtful foodies will want to give it shelf space.

Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

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You and I Eat the Same: 1 (Dispatches)

Buttermilk Graffiti

Buttermilk Graffiti

by Edward Lee 

What’s the USP? A chefs tour across America exploring the country’s diverse immigrant food cultures including stories and recipes.

Who are the authors?  Edward Lee is a Kentucky-based chef and restaurateur known for his progressive take on Southern cooking that incorporates elements from his Korean heritage. He is the author of one previous Smoke and Pickles and was featured on series 3 of the Anthony Bourdain exec-produced PBS show Mind of a Chef.

Why is it good read? Lee spent two years travelling across America to write the book, visiting 16 destinations, some off the beaten path such as Clarksdale, Mississippi and Westport, Connecticut as well as more familiar places including New Orleans and Brooklyn. But where ever he goes, he roots out fascinating stories and unusual recipes (40 of them) such as Nigerian-style beef skewers with cashews, curry and black pepper.

Should I buy it? Lee is an excellent writer and a dedicated researcher (the two go hand in hand). Buttermilk Graffiti, winner of the James Beard Award for Best Book of the Year in Writing, is destined to become a classic of American food writing and an important document of food in America in the early 21st century. If that sounds a little heavy, don’t be put off, Lee is a master storyteller and the book is an absolute pleasure to read.

Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

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Buttermilk Graffiti

Oyster Isles

Oyster Isles

by Bobby Groves

What’s the USP? A tour around Britain and Ireland’s oyster area’s exploring their history, cultural impact and ecological importance and telling the stories of the people who work in them.

Who are the authors?  Bobby Groves is ‘head of oysters’ (great job title) at the glamorous London restaurant Chiltern Firehouse. This is his first book.

Why is it good read? Groves has gone into real depth, travelling the four corners of the country to really crack the shell and get to the meat of his subject.

Should I buy it? The book will be of particular interest to Groves’s fellow professionals in the restaurant industry who buy and serve oysters, but if you are a lover of shellfish and British history then Oyster Isles will be of interest.

Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

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Oyster Isles: A Journey Through Britain and Ireland’s Oysters

How To Eat a Peach by Diana Henry

how to eat a peach diana henry

What’s the USP? A collection of seasonal, themed menus designed to evoke memories, moods, time and place. The title comes from the recipe ‘white peaches in chilled moscato’, the idea for which Henry found while dining al fresco one night in Italy. The table next to her were served a bowl of peaches which they halved, pitted, sliced and dropped into glasses of chilled moscato; a dish, and cookbook, was born.

Who is the author? Diana Henry is one the UK’s best loved food writers. She is the author of numerous best selling books including Roast Figs, Sugar Snow and Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons. She has a weekly column in the Telegraph and hosts her own food-themed podcast.

What does it look like? Early evening on a day in late summer in England, with lots dappled sunlight falling on unironed white linen tablecloths. There’s hardly a living soul in any of the photographs (one double page spread features disembodied arms reaching across a table and the tops of a couple of heads, but that’s it; not even an author’s headshot), but the convivial nature of dining and entertaining at home is cleverly conveyed; three glasses of white wine sit on a window sill with a cork laying among them, as though just poured with their owners  who might be busily chatting out of frame.

Is it good bedtime reading? Henry is as much a food writer as a recipe writer and each of the 25 menus (each containing three to five recipes), has its own introduction, some of which run to several pages, so there’s plenty to enjoy even when you’re not actually cooking in the kitchen.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need to pick your own elderflower heads if you want to make Henry’s elderflower gin and tonic and you’ll need a specialist supplier for Spanish fideos noodles for the vegetable fideua (a version of paella) but most of the recipes will cause you little or no shopping headaches.

What’s the faff factor? While Henry is definitely not one for fiddly garnishes, complicated sauces or dishes with multiple elements, this is proper cooking. You’ll need to do things like blanch and peel broad beans, make your own mayo and braise ox cheeks for four hours to make these menus.

How often will I cook from the book? If you love entertaining, this book is going to get a lot of use. However, just because the recipes are organised into menus doesn’t mean they don’t stand on their own. There are plenty of dishes (see below) you’ll want to cook for everyday meals.

Killer recipes? Spatchcocked chicken with chilli, garlic, parsley and almond pangrattato; courgette, ricotta and pecorino fritters; roast tomatoes, fennel and chickpeas with preserved lemons and honey; lamb kofta; griddled squid with chilli, dill and tahini dressing; onglet with roast beets and horseradish cream. 

What will I love? How to Eat a Peach basically solves all your dinner party problems at a stroke; you’ll probably never be stuck for an idea again. That each menu comes with a story attached add bags of personality to the book (and might give you something to talk about if conversation around your table flags). Also, the furry peach skin-like cover is AWESOME.

What won’t I like? Most of the recipes serve either 6 or 8 people, so you’ll need to do a bit of maths if you want to adapt them for a small family or couple.

Should I buy it? If you like to cook seasonally for a crowd, snap it up.

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

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How to eat a peach: Menus, stories and places
£25, Mitchell Beazley

Fare magazine

Fare Glasgow

What’s the USP? They say, ‘Fare is a bi-annual print publication exploring city culture through the intersection of food, history, and community.’ If I wanted to be profoundly annoying, I’d say it was a bookazine, but as I don’t want to be profoundly annoying, let’s just say, it’s its own thing. So, not a cookbook and there’s no recipes, but if you like Cook Book Review you are probably going to be interested in Fare.

Who’s the editor? Ben Mervis is a food writer who has previously worked at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen and has worked as a researcher and industry expert with the excellent Chef’s Table documentary series on Netflix. Contributors include some of the top names in food writing, including in the latest issue, Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin.

Is it great bedtime reading? It’s nothing but great bedtime reading. Each edition of the magazine takes a city as its subject and delves deep into it’s culture through a series of essays, photo-stories and illustrations. Destinations covered so far are Istanbul, Helsinki, Charleston, Seoul and, in the latest edition published July 2019, Glasgow

What will I love? It’s a beautiful object. Printed on a mix of high quality matt and gloss paper and roughly the size of a hardback novel (although the magazine itself is soft cover) it just feels great to hold and read. The art direction by Ric Bell is top class, and with roughly equal space given to word and image, there’s room for both satisfyingly long form writing and aesthetically pleasing visuals.

What won’t I like? You’ve come to Cook Book Review for the food, so in that context it’s worth underlining that Fare is not a food magazine exclusively, but the subject is dealt with comprehensively. In the Seoul issue for example, there are articles about Buddhist nun and chef Jeong Kwan (featured in an episode of Chef’s Table), Mingles restaurant, Fritz Coffee Company, budae jjigae (or army base stew), the Korean dish of ‘cold noodles’ and a photo essay on Noryangjin fish market, among others.

Should I buy it? I don’t know of any publication quite like Fare. It’s fascinating, educational, a pleasure to read and looks cool. Surely worth twelve quid (plus shipping) of anyone’s money.

Buy this magazine: Fare

 

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.

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

 

 

 

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