This is Mine by Mark Dodson

This is Mine

You may know that Mark Dodson has held a Michelin star at The Mason’s Arms, his Devon pub, since 2006. You’ll probably also know that he’s a former head chef of The Waterside Inn. But you may not realise that he’s the only Brit ever to hold that position or that he spent a total of 18 years at the restaurant. And you almost certainly won’t have a clue that his favourite film director is Quentin Tarantino and that he has a huge collection of vinyl and gig ticket stubs.

You’ll discover all this and more reading his debut cookbook (the obscure title is explained by the cover strapline ‘I believe that every good chef has a cookery book in them…this is mine) which includes a glowing introduction by Michel Roux Snr (‘I look upon Mark as I look upon my son’) and a brief but illuminating biographical section.

Dodson describes his cooking style as ‘good honest food, featuring local ingredients wherever possible presented with style and taste’, neatly summing up the 70 recipes that are categorised into soups, starters, mains and desserts. In addition, there’s a section dedicated to game, a passion of Dodson’s with preparations ranging from classic roasted grouse with bread sauce and a crouton spread with farce au gratin (a sort of pate made from grouse and chicken livers) to wood pigeon with curried brussels sprouts.

Dodson has been cooking since the 70’s and his classical background is reflected in garnishes like turned and Parisienne-balled vegetables, fanned duck breasts and chicken cooked in a brick. There’s also a fair amount of 90’s-style stacking of food, but there’s a nod to modernism with dragged purees and pickled and smoked elements. Dodson also looks far beyond Britain and France for inspiration; smoked chicken comes with Thai-style salad and salmon is marinated in soy, mirin and yuzu.

The book won’t win any prizes for design with a dated and unimaginative layout and oddly lit photography that makes some dishes look washed out and unappetising. The editing could have been improved too with recipe introductions not delineated from the method and no instructions on how to prepare some ingredients in some recipes, making for a frustrating read at times. However, the book does offer an invaluable opportunity to tap into the wealth of knowledge accrued by one of the UK’s most respected and experienced chefs. This is Mine should also be yours.

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.

Cuisine: Modern European/French
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

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This Is Mine
£25 A Way with Media

Atelier of Alain Ducasse

Ducasse

Atelier of Alain Ducasse sets out to provide an insight into the working methods and philosophy of prehaps the most successful chef currently working anywhere in the World today. The book contrasts signature Ducasse recipes with those of his current and former Head Chefs in order to illustrate his influence on the men who work for him.

The book begins with a look behind the scenes of the Ducasse empire and attempts to contextualise it in terms of the last 300 years or so of French gastronomy. This rather dry and pretentious exercise is greatly enlivened by the beautiful black and white portraiture of Herve Amiard. Some amusing non-secquiturs from Ducasse lighten the tone, such as “It is better to have turbot without genius than genius without turbot”. Probably the definitive statement in the fish versus intelligence debate, if not the only one.

Things liven up with profiles of Ducasses favoured suppliers and their produce, and again it’s the full colour photographs that impress. These range from dramatic shots of turbot and bass being landed, to a lemon grower in quite contemplation amongst his trees. They communicate beautifully the powerful connection between man and sea and land.

The book contains recipes for just 8 of Ducasse’s signature dishes. Each is based around a characteristic ingredient of his cuisine, and is followed by further recipes from five of his pupils. Hence, under the heading “Sea Bass” you find Ducasse’s “Sea Bass Steaks with Leeks, Potatoes and Truffles”, along with “Fried Mediterranean Bass” by Le Louis XV head chef Franck Cerutti. Notes on each recipe assist the reader in comparing and contrasting the different approaches taken. Although this is all very enlightening, I personally would have settled for a few more of the great man’s recipes.

Having said that, it is highly unlikely that I would ever attempt to produce a dish such as “Semi Dried Pasta with Cream Sauce, Truffles, and a Ragout of Cockscombs and Chicken Kidney” at home. If invested wisely, the small fortune required to purchase the ingredients (including lobster, sweetbreads, 4 1/2 pounds of veal and chanterelle mushrooms), would see my kids through university.

Although all the main recipes are supported by step by step photographs, preparation is dauntingly complex. You could probably write your first novel in the time that it would take to cook some of the dishes featured. The book is best approached as an inspiration to get into the kitchen, rather than something to be slavishly followed once you are there. Some individual garnishes are achievable however. I particularly liked the thinly sliced potatoes sandwiched together with slivers of olive, which were then baked and served with spider crab.

Illustrations of the food itself are refreshingly clear, and avoid the current and annoying fad of everything being out of focus except for a square centimetre in the centre of the picture. Although the overhead style used for every shot gets a little wearing, it does show the unusually relaxed presentation style Ducasse employs. Elements of each dish seem to be casually strewn across the plate, but still somehow create a pleasing and cohesive whole.

Having read the book, I now have a greater understanding of what M Ducasse food is all about, but didn’t really learn much about the man himself. The book provides a diverting enough read, some stunning photography and a few usable recipes, but can only be recommended to fans M Ducasse who already have his other books.

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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Atelier of Alain Ducasse: The Artistry of a Master Chef and His Proteges (Masters of Gastronomy)
Alain Ducasse
£20.05 John Wiley & Sons

The Frenchman and the Farmer’s Daughters by Stéphane Borie

Frenchman

The title might sound like a bawdy joke, but this is a serious cookbook from Michelin-starred The Checkers at Montgomery. The Frenchman is Waterside Inn-trained chef Stéphane Borie and the farmer’s daughters are his wife Sarah (also a former Waterside Inn chef) and her sister Kathryn who together run the acclaimed restaurant with rooms in mid-Wales.

In the forward, Michel Roux says Borie is ‘among the top ten’ of all the chefs that have worked at the Waterside Inn during its 45 year history; praise indeed given that list includes the likes of Pierre Koffmann and Mark Dodson (now of the Michelin-starred Mason’s Arms in Devon) who Borie worked under for three years.

Borie’s recipes reflect his long and varied career and includes dishes he created at the Waterside Inn such as Dover Sole printaniére (the fish stuffed with broad bean mousse and served with spring vegetables and a luxurious lobster, Champagne and sorrel cream sauce) as well as a recipe for figs marinated in honey, cardamom, mustard and ginger he picked up while working as a private chef for the Bamford family and serves at breakfast at The Checkers.

Borie is at his most distinctive when he is marrying his French heritage (he was born and raised in Agen in south west France) with that of his adopted home. Sewin – Welsh sea trout – is served as a canape in a Feuille de Brick ‘cornetto’ with lemon cream and caviar, and France and Wales sit side by side in a checkboard-style terrine of foie gras and leek.

While Borie isn’t averse to a few modern flourishes – date bubbles made in an alginate bath accompany a roasted crown of pigeon de Bresse and sous vide and dehydration techniques are employed regularly throughout the book – his style is grounded firmly in the French classics. Methods are often complex and require a decent level of knowledge, skill and precision to pull off successfully, but the results are impressive. You’ll probably need to bone up on your butchery before attempting the saddle of farmed rabbit stuffed with its confit shoulder and served with the best end but it will look stunning on the plate.

By using a small independent publishing company, Borie will probably make more money from the enterprise than if he had approached a major publisher, but the end-product suffers from a clunky and sometimes confusing layout and repetitious use of images (the same shot of a smoked tomato soup appears on three successive pages). Nevertheless, Borie’s individual talent shines through making The Frenchman and the Farmer’s Daughters a worthy addition to any cookbook collection.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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The Frenchman and the Farmer’s Daughters
Stéphane Borie
£25 A Way With Media

Éric Frechon by Éric Frechon

Eric Frechon

Éric Frechon is old-school French culinary royalty. You may have heard his name in connection with London’s Lanesborough Hotel where he is consultant chef to the one Michelin-starred Céleste restaurant, opened in 2015. But his heart belongs to Paris where he worked at Taillevent, La Tour d’Argent and Hotel de Crillon before heading up the kitchen of Le Bristol where he has held three Michelin stars since 2009 and where a starter of caviar with smoked haddock ratte potatoes fetches a cool €150.

The dish is included in this opulent tome as one of just 60 recipes. With a cover price of nearly fifty quid, that means you’re getting about half the usual amount for roughly twice the average price which cynics might say is business as usual for a three-star chef. But if you do shell out, be prepared to be delighted and frustrated by turns.

Benoît Linero’s dense, brooding images of Frechon’s dishes and favoured ingredients owe more to renaissance painting than modern food photography and are unquestionably breath-taking, but the decision not to show all the recipes as they are served in the restaurant is irksome, despite the inclusion of detailed plating instructions.

The recipes are inspiring (you’ll want to jump on the next Eurostar to Paris to eat the signature macaroni au gratin stuffed with truffle, artichoke and foie gras) but sometimes lack detail. If you want to know how Frechon makes truffle jus, chicken stock or vegetable nage then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

The rather florid forward by French food critics François-Régis Gaudry and Emmanuel Rubin provides some insight into the cuisine and creative process of a three-star chef. Frechon describing how he took the French classic of hare à la royale and developed it into a soup is particularly fascinating but ultimately you are left wanting to know more. It’s galling to read that the pair had ‘many meandering conversations’ with Frechon that could have provided much needed introductions to the recipes or a longer biographical section.

With a number of cookbooks already to his name, this self-titled volume is meant to constitute Frechon’s ‘culinary manifesto’.  At a skimpy 160 pages, it falls short of being that, but does paint a decent portrait of a French fine-dining chef at the top of his game.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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Eric Frechon
Éric Frechon
€59 Solar

The Five Seasons Kitchen by Pierre Gagnaire

Five Seaons

Pierre Gagnaire is the French godfather of modernist avant garde cuisine, winning Michelin stars for his adventurous food in the early 80’s when Ferran Adria was still washing dishes for a living. Now, he presides over a world-wide empire that includes restaurants in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, and Dubai as well as his native France. But if you’re hoping for a definitive tome of the chef’s culinary oeuvre in the style of the Noma or el Bulli books, then you’re in for a disappointment.

Instead, to mark his 50th year in cooking, Gagnaire has produced his first family cookbook. The book’s 90 recipes are organised into 30, three course menus which are divided between not four, but five seasons. Gagnaire claims the fifth season is ‘that moment after winter has ended but before  spring has truly begun’. Recipes in the ‘Almost Spring’ chapter designed to be cooked in March and April include a stunning sole terrine with leek (although perhaps more of a dish for the restaurant than the family table) and a more homely and traditional blanquette de veau.

As you might expect from the man who serves conger eel with green mango and grapefruit granita in his eponymous three star restaurant in Paris, dinner chez Gagnaire is no ordinary affair. Fresh oysters are garnished with sardine, ginger and slices of frozen banana. Yes, banana. Floating islands is re-imagined as starter of egg white quenelles in a coffee scented chestnut veloute, topped with mortadella; and financiers are flavoured with rocket chlorophyll and served as a dessert with mint syrup and vanilla ice cream.

Frustratingly, there are no introductions to the recipes so the reader is left none the wiser to where the inspiration for all this creativity comes from, or the derivation of the name of the spicy ‘6 rue de la Pepiniere sauce’ that’s served with roast beef and made from red and green peppers, strawberries, raspberries and beetroot among other things (Google the address and you’ll discover it’s a branch of M&S Food in Paris, but how the two are connected remains a mystery).

The lack of a ‘basics’ section means there are no recipes given for the stocks, jus, brioche and ice creams required to make some of the dishes, inferring that home cooks are expected to use ready made alternatives. But despite it’s shortcomings, cooks of all levels may well find inspiration lurking in the pages of this highly individual collection.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

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The Five Seasons Kitchen
Pierre Gagnaire
£25 Grub Street