The Noma Guide to Fermentation By René Redzepi & David Zilber

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What’s the USP? Everything you ever wanted to know about fermenting food but were afraid to ask. Plus, everything else you didn’t even know you wanted to know.

Who are the authors? René Redzepi is one of a handful of chefs worldwide that literally need no introduction but, just in case he’s not on your radar, Redzepi is the pugnacious co-owner of noma in Copenhagen, four times recognized as the world’s best by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, is the poster boy for the hugely influential Nordic food movement/marketing initiative and has twice appeared on the cover of Time magazine. He’s also the author of Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine and A Work in Progress. However, you probably will need an introduction to David Zilber, chef and photographer from Toronto who has cooked across North America, most notably as a sous-chef at Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver. He has worked at noma since 2014 and has served as director of its fermentation lab since 2016.

What does it look like? With more than 750 full-colour photographs, most of them step-by-step how-to guides, The Noma Guide to Fermentation looks very much like the technical manual it actually is, so the hand-drawn illustrations by Paula Troxler add a very welcome extra visual dimension.

Is it good bedtime reading? Well, there’s certainly a lot to read but, given its mainly technical nature (introduction by Redzepi himself aside, which is a fun read), whether its the sort of thing to send you off into the land of nod is debatable.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may need to head online for things like unpasteurized kombucha and SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) but often the recipes are simply one common ingredient, such as plums, and salt.

What’s the faff factor? There are a lot of things to consider when fermenting anything so although the ingredients might be simple, the processes can be complex and may require the purchase of specialist equipment, all of which is listed in the book. Think of fermentation as your new hobby, like home brewing beer,  rather than cooking.

How often will I cook from the book? This is pretty much an all or nothing deal. If you are interested in serving your family/guests lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables, black fruits and vegetables (e.g. black garlic or any fruit and veg that undergoes a ‘very slow, very dark browning’ over a period of weeks) or want to make your own vinegar, kombucha, miso or garum (a sort of ancient form of Asian fish sauce), then this is the book for you.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? You’ll have no complaints on this score at all. With master recipes for each type of ferment clocking in at about 10 pages each, including those step by step photos, you’ll never be left scratching your head wondering what to do next.

Killer recipes? The book should really be seen as an instruction manual that unlocks the potential of a process rather than a collection of individual recipes that you’d dip in and out of, but that said, you might well find lacto ceps; apple kombucha; perry vinegar; pearly barley koji (grains fermented by inoculation with fungus spores to produce what is essentially a sort of mouldy, umami rich cake that can be used in other fermentation process or added to stews or just fried and eaten) compelling ideas.

What will I love? The book really does do what it says on the tin and guides you through fermentation, taking you far beyond familiar kimchi and sauerkraut. There is a sense of authority throughout, and you get the sense that these people really know what they’re talking about and have depthless practical experience to back it all up.

What won’t I like? Although there are suggested uses for all the ferments (which will be of particular interest to home cooks), there are only one or two examples of how they are used in complete noma restaurant dishes which some readers may find frustrating. That said, the book is well over 400 pages long without sample restaurant recipes so maybe we’ll just have to wait for the next noma cookbook to see how Redzepi uses all this stuff.

 Should I buy it? If you feel the need to ferment and you don’t already own The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, or are a particular fan of noma and René Redzepi, then fill your boots (and fermentation vessels), you won’t be disappointed.

Cuisine: Nordic/International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
The Noma Guide to Fermentation (Foundations of Flavor)
£30, Artisan

Mirazur by Mauro Colagreco

Mirazur

What’s the USP? A premium coffee table book celebrating chef Mauro Colagreco’s three Michelin star Mirazur restaurant in Menton in the Côte d’Azur, currently rated number three on the World’s 50 Best restaurant list.  Colagreco’s unique ingredients-led style is informed by restaurant’s location close to the boarder of France and Italy.

Who’s the author? Mauro Colagreo is an Argentinian-born chef of Italian and Spanish descent and a protégé of legendary French chefs Alain Passard and the late Bernard Loiseau. He opened Mirazur in 2006 and was named ‘revelation of the year’ by the Gault & Millau guide that same year. He won his first star in 2007 with the second star following in 2012.

What does it look like? In a word, incredible. Colagreco’s eye for presentation is unsurpassed and Eduardo Torres’s photographs make each of the 65 dishes included in the book look like Renaissance masterpieces. The Côte d’Azur landscape has never looked more magnificent and the shots of Nice, Menton and Ventimiglia markets that supply many of Colagreco’s ingredients will make you want to move to the south of France, or at least book a trip there.

 Is it good bedtime reading? An overall introduction, introductions to each of the book’s three chapters Méditerranée, Jardins and Montagne, supplier profiles (including an illustrated guide to mushrooms) and a laudatory preface by Massimo Bottura means there’s plenty to pour over to help you wind down after a hectic day.

 Killer recipes? Tortellini, almonds, smoked broth; baby squids, beans, pork consommé; goose barnacles, green beans, sea lettuce; squab, spelt, wild strawberries. 

 How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There are accurate measurements for virtually every ingredient in the book and methods are detailed enough to be followed by chefs familiar with how to use equipment such as a Thermomix and dehydrator.

What will I love?  At 372 pages and standing a foot tall, Mirazur is a big impressive book that does full justice to its subject matter. There are little surprises dotted throughout including Pablo Neruda’s poem Ode to Bread printed on transparent paper that overlays a shot of Colagreco’s signature pleated bread rolls, and a fold out illustrated guide to herbs printed on matt paper that contrasts with the high-quality glossy stock used for the main body of the book. The idea that Colgreco’s cooking is borderless (the book quotes Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl who said, ‘Borders? I’ve never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people) is a particularly attractive one in the current political climate of rampant nationalism.

What won’t I like? Apart from two double page black and white portraits, Colagreco is almost entirely absent from his own book, represented only by his dishes and recipes. The text is written by his wife Laura (who, at times, wanders perilously close to poetic pretention; about the Côte d’Azur, she says ‘Many describe the environment like a body transported by the surprise of two feelings in front of the marvels of nature and their singular disposition’), and the food was prepared by two members of the Mirazur brigade, Antonio Buono and Paulo Corsi. While it’s refreshing to read a cookbook that gives so much credit to a chef’s suppliers and the terroir he works within, it would have been nice to hear Colagreco’s own voice, either in the form of an interview or in recipe introductions which are sadly lacking.  In addition, there are no pictures of the restaurant itself which seems a bizarre omission.

Should I buy it? At £70 (although you can find the book heavily discounted online), Mirazur is quite the investment, but real effort has been made to elevate it above the level of souvenir. Colagreco is one of the most individual chefs working in the modern progressive genre and anyone who aspires to join him in the rarefied heights of gastronomy would be rewarded by reading this book.

Cuisine: French/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Mirazur (English)
Catapulta, £70

Estela by Ignacio Mattos

Estela

Ignacio Mattos’s downtown Manhattan restaurant Estela has a cult following among British chefs. James Lowe invited Mattos to cook at his Shoreditch restaurant Lyles in 2017 and Matthew Young, formerly of Elroy and Mayfield’s, is a fan. Before opening Estela in 2013, Uruguay-born Mattos worked for Judy Rodgers at Zuni Café and Alice Water and David Tanis at Chez Panisse in San Francisco. In the book’s introduction, he sites Francis Mallmann, the godfather of elemental open fire cooking, as his ‘main mentor’ and with whom he cooked outdoors in New York during a snowstorm and on top of a mountain in Mendoza.

In the brief introduction, Mattos talks about his culinary travels that have allowed him to explore everything from Italy’s cucina povera to modernist cooking in Spain; from classical French cuisine to the Afro-Brazilian cooking of Bahia, Brazil. That global perspective is reflected in the ‘Estel Essentials’ chapter that lists Italian bottarga, Southeast Asian fish sauce and Japanese furikake seasoning among Mattos’s favoured pantry ingredients.

In less intuitive hands, such broad open-mindedness could result in fusion-confusion. Mattos however has an ace up his sleeve with his underlying ethos of ‘layering, tension and balance’ that brings harmony to disparate elements through the considered and subtle use of vinegars, citric acids, spicy heat and savoury items such as fish sauce or juiced green garlic that bring his dishes to a ‘happy place just at the borderline of too much’.

It’s an approach typified by a signature dish of sushi-grade fluke that’s cured in sugar and salt, diced and mixed with Arbequina olive oil and mandarin olive oil and served with sea urchin roe, yuzu kosho (a paste of chillies fermented with yuzu juice and zest and salt) and white grapefruit zest. Other stand outs from the collection of more than 133 recipes include lamb ribs with chermoula and honey; cured foie gras wrapped in grape leaves, grilled and served with chicken jus seasoned with soy and ponzu, and steak served with black sesame bearnaise and turnips.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes a book like Estela to prove you (delightfully) wrong. Mattos has a particular and distinctive take on what can make up the menu of a ‘neighbourhood restaurant’, a viewpoint that will provide a wealth of inspiration to chefs no matter what type of establishment they are cooking in.

Cuisine: American/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Estela
$35, Artisan

In My Blood by Bo Bech

BoBech_CoverGeist3D_kvadratisk_180806

What’s the USP? Recipes, essays and musings that tell the story behind the creation and running of the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant Geist.

Who are the authors? Danish chef Bo Bech (the surname is pronounced ‘Beck’) made his name with his avant garde cooking at the Michelin-starred Paustian in Copenhagen in the early 2000’s and then opened the more casual Geist in 2011. He has appeared on a number of food TV programmes in Denmark and is also the author of ‘What Does Memory Taste Like’.

Killer recipes?  Pot roasted cauliflower with black truffle; turbot with fennel ravioli on gruyere; white asparagus heads with chocolate and stilton; lamb hearts with smoked red grapes and sorrel; potato mash with brown stone crab and salted butter.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? For the most part, Bech’s dishes are based around just a few ingredients and methods are explained in enough detail to be easily understood, certainly by professional chefs. There are however a number of instances where quantities are either vague or not given. In the recipe for crispy artichokes with suckling pig and black truffle, you are told to ‘heat a pot with grapeseed oil’ but no indication is given of the size of the pot or amount of oil while the gravlax recipe lists fennel pollen in the ingredients but doesn’t mention it in the method.

Is it good after bedtime reading reading? The recipes are punctuated with 15 fascinating ‘Stories’ that include everything from a facsimile of a note from a brainstorming session before the restaurant opened to ‘The Rage’, a short essay where Bech explains how his anger with certain ingredients (such as poor quality salmon) feeds into his creative drive and ultimately results in new dishes (fennel pollen gravlax served with a sauce made from the curing brine mixed with apple juice, mustard and bronze fennel).

 What will I love? In addition to Bech’s own expert food photography, the book is illustrated with beautiful watercolours and pencil drawings and printed on 120-gram paper stock which gives the book a very distinctive and luxurious look and feel.  The ten cocktail recipes, that include kombucha gin, unripe peach; and mezcal sour, gentle smoke of Mexico, are every bit as imaginative as the food.

What won’t I like? Bech has allocated eight of the book’s 344 pages to the reproduction of the full transcript of the commentary of The Rumble in the Jungle, the 1974 Foreman/Ali fight which plays in the restrooms in Geist. You will either find this endearingly eccentric or puzzlingly absurd, depending on how indulgent you feel towards the author.

Should I buy it? Bech is a chef with a truly individual creative voice which comes through loud and clear in both the recipes and the ‘Stories’. His minimalist plating style looks stunning on the page, every dish a work of art, and his writing gives real insight into what it means to be a chef in the 21st century, from both a creative and practical perspective. Well worth buying if you are interested in cutting edge cooking or in the business yourself.

Cuisine: Nordic/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
In My Blood by Bo Bech
DKK300 (about £36, plus shipping)from chefbobech.com/books

Pollen Street: The Cookbook by Jason Atherton

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What’s the USP? After a string of books aimed at the home cook including Gourmet Food for a Fiver, Jason Atherton finally delivers the cookbook his peers have been waiting for; a collection of recipes from his flagship Michelin-starred London restaurant Pollen Street Social.

Who’s the author? Jason Atherton needs no introduction, but for readers who have been hiding under a rock for the last decade, Atherton is the chef that created and launched Maze for Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd, one of the group’s most successful concepts. In 2011, Atherton launched The Social Company which now boasts 15 restaurants worldwide from Hong Kong to New York and Dubai to Shanghai (with no less than seven of the group in London). He was also the first British chef to work at el Bulli and get paid for it, which is no mean feat.

What does it look like? From the cover reproduction of Ben Ashton’s Taste of Britain: The British Isles in Winter, an original artwork commissioned by Atherton to hang in Pollen Street Social restaurant, to John Carey’s beautiful food photography, Pollen Street is as classy and well stitched together as one of Atherton’s signature Saville Row suits. The pricey special edition is ‘luxuriously boxed and bound’ but is essentially the same book.

Is it good bedtime reading? At 400 odd pages, there is certainly the room for lots of Daniel Clifford-style revelations (which made that chef’s recent book Out of My Tree so exceptional) but Pollen Street is sadly lacking in engaging stories. There is just a single page introduction from Atherton and no introductions to the recipes which gives the book an impersonal feel, further accentuated by a series of short articles on Atherton’s favoured suppliers which are written by the suppliers themselves and which therefore inevitably read like marketing material that could have been cribbed from their websites.

Killer recipes?  There are outstanding dishes in each of the eight chapters (headed canapes, starters, shellfish, fish, meat and game, poultry and game birds, sweets and petit fours) including a ‘fish and chips’ canape of confit potato topped with taramasalata and salt and vinegar powder; a starter of pressed Norfolk quail with taco of the confit leg and truffle; St Austell Bay lobster with yuzu jam and savoury seaweed custard, and a classic game pithier with grouse, pheasant and wild mushrooms. Even the appendix of basics features a cracking recipe for pearl barley risotto that’s finished with mushroom puree and Madeira cream.

What will I love? That depends on your perspective. The recipes are presented in all their complex glory; no shortcuts or simplifications for home cooks here. Atherton recently said in an interview with the iPaper that he didn’t necessarily expect anyone to cook from the book, “I’ve not dumbed it down. Those are the recipes and some of them are damn bloody hard. Do you have three days of your life to waste making my mushroom tea? Probably not.” A recipe might run to six pages (including a double page spread photo) so that you get enough detail to attempt to reproduce Atherton’s tightly controlled, precise modern cooking in your own kitchen, if you’ve got the time, energy and funds (believe me, it ain’t going to be cheap to make these dishes).

What won’t I like? Although Pollen Street delivers Atherton’s high-end food, it delivers very little of the man himself. Who wouldn’t love to hear a blow by blow account of his time with Ramsay and how and why it all ended; about his days with Nico and Marco, Koffmann and Adria (all of whom have written glowing tributes to Atherton for the book) and how he has built an international restaurant empire. Maybe next time.

Should I buy it? Jason Atherton is unquestionably one of the most successful British-born, post-Ramsay chefs currently working today and a book of his flagship restaurant recipes is a must-buy, providing a vital record of mainstream modern British fine dining in the early 21st century and a benchmark for all ambitious chefs to strive towards.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Professional Chefs/ competent home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Pollen Street
£50, Absolute Press (Special boxed edition, £250)

From the Earth by Peter Gilmore

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What’s the USP? One chef’s obsession with heirloom vegetable varieties explored in recipes, detailed ingredient profiles and features on specialist growers.

 Who’s the author? Peter Gilmore is one of Australia’s leading chefs. His restaurant Quay overlooking Sydney Harbour has held Three Chef Hats in the Good Food Guide (the Australian equivalent of three Michelin stars) for 16 consecutive years and was listed for five years on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. He is also executive chef of Bennelong in the Sydney Opera House which holds Two Chef Hats.

What does it look like? Even by the uniformly high standards of modern cookbook production values, From The Earth  is something special. The book’s large format adds extra impact to Brett Stevens’s full page shots of Gilmore’s exquisitely presented dishes and the artfully arranged vegetable portraits that you’ll want to frame and hang on your wall.

 Killer recipes? Tartare of wagyu, fermented chilli, redmeat radishes; salad of violet de Provence artichoke; braise of Gagon cucumber, green-lipped abalone, shimonita onion; salad of raw trentino cabbage turnip with caper vinaigrette.

 What will I love? This is no veggie bandwagon jumping exercise. Gilmore has been a dedicated cultivator of rare heirloom varieties for more than a decade and really knows his stuff. He is passionately pro-biodiversity and anti-genetic modification but restrains himself to a few words on the subject in the introduction saying, ‘this book is not about the politics of food’ and lets his imaginative and creative dishes do the talking.

Ingredient profiles have been expertly put together by Gilmore’s wife Kathryn, who spent ‘countless hours researching each featured vegetable, referencing and cross-referencing information on species, origin and history’. All that work shows in the detailed and fascinating finished product. Want to know about the history of radish cultivation? Look no further (the Egyptians got there first in 2000 BC apparently).

 The four grower profiles that include provide an interesting insight onto Australia’s specialist produce scene and are illustrated with photographs that show the Aussie landscape in all its rugged glory.

What won’t I like? By its very nature, From The Earth presents all but the most dedicatedly green fingered chef with the problem of sourcing the raw ingredients for many of the recipes. You may not be able to easily get your hands on Cherokee White Eagle corn, Gete Okosomin squash or Kyoto red carrots but you will want to cook the delicious sounding dishes so, as Gilmore points out, you can ‘use the recipes as a starting point to experiment with all sorts of varieties’ while you grow your own crops or convince a supplier to do so for you.

Should I buy it? Informative, inspiring and stunning to look at, From The Earth is a fresh take on  vegetable cultivation and cookery that could well have an impact on how you serve vegetables in your restaurant. It’s also a lovely, aesthetically pleasing object that will be catnip to all cookbook enthusiasts. How can you resist?

Cuisine: Australian/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
From the Earth: World’s Great, Rare and Almost Forgotten Vegetables
£ 35, Hardie Grant

Rogan: The Cookbook

Rogan Jacket

What’s the USP? A cookbook that many chefs in the UK and around the world have been waiting for; the print debut of Simon Rogan, one of the most highly regarded British chefs of the last decade.

Who’s the author? Simon Rogan needs no introduction as the two Michelin-starred chef/patron of L’Enclume in the chocolate box village of Cartmel in the Lake District which he opened in 16 years ago and where he also runs the more casual Rogan & Co. Rogan opened Aulis, an 8-seater chefs table and development kitchen in Soho in 2017 (a sister to the original Aulis development kitchen in Cartmel), closely followed by the second coming of Roganic, originally launched as two year pop up in 2011 and now a permanent restaurant in Marylebone. Rogan was the opening chef of Fera at Claridges hotel and relaunched The French at the Midland hotel in Manchester. His style of cooking, that draws heavily on locally foraged ingredients and organic vegetables from his own farm just outside Cartmel and the use of cutting-edge culinary equipment such as rotary evaporators, has been hugely influential.

What does it look like? At 28.5cm by 24cm, Rogan will stand proud of many other cookbooks on your shelf, and at over 300 pages, it constitutes a weighty tome. The look is very ‘green and pleasant’ in the Blakeian sense of the phrase with lots of double page spreads of stunning Lake District scenery and Rogan himself at work on Our Farm, harvesting turnips and radishes or out foraging on the shoreline at Grange-Over-Sands that’s close to L’Enclume.

Is it good after service reading? Rogan espouses his culinary philosophy in an extended introduction (‘in these days of overconsumption on a global scale, I believe we need to step back and appreciate what our local area offers us’) and tells the story of developing his farm. Articles on key ingredients such as Herdwick lamb, scallops and Tunworth cheese are dotted through out the book and recipe introductions include useful and interesting information such as ‘Meadowsweet flowers have an extraordinary honey almond scent that makes a wonderful flavouring for mousses and yoghurts’.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? As long as you are happy to go picking things like ox-eye daisies (they grow everywhere in June, from ‘roadside verges as well as in domestic gardens’ according to Rogan), mugwort and ramson leaves, then you’re golden. Rogan specifies varieties of veg such as Simane onions, Aquadulce broad beans and pigeon cabbage which, unless you cultivate them yourself, you may have problems tracking down, although you can get away with substituting more common types. Just don’t let Simon Rogan find out.

What’s the faff factor? Some of the dishes are dauntingly complex for the home cook; a scallop starter involves three preparations served in separate vessels including raw scallops with cider vinegar gel, a bouillon made from the scallop skirts and gooseberry tart with scallop roe. Others, such as roast cod with kelp butter sauce are far more approachable and could be knocked up for a mid-week dinner.

How often will I cook from the book? There is no question that Rogan: The Cookbook is aimed at serious home cooks (and, it goes without saying, professional chefs) and for the most part will be the sort of book you reach for when you are in the mood for a bit of a project.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There is the odd ‘drizzle of rapeseed oil’, ‘lemon juice, to taste’ and ‘pinch of chilli flakes’ but for the most part, accurate weights and measures are given and the methods are clear and easy to follow.

Killer recipes? Rogan has included some old L’Enclume favourites including the ridiculously titled Chick O Hake (hake loin wrapped in chicken skin and served with chervil root puree); roasted carrots with ham fat; Cubes from Land and Sea with eucalyptus hollandaise (a combination of lobster, sweetbread and girolles that critic Victor Lewis Smith once described as looking like ‘the inside of a Dalek’) and the grilled smoked salad over embers that he prepared for the Great British Menu TV series in 2012.

What will I love? Rogan feels like a labour of love, the distillation of sixteen years of knowledge and expertise developed during the evolution of L’Enclume (plus Rogan’s career beforehand that included several years at the three Michelin starred Lucas Carton in Paris) and the food looks distinctive, beautiful and extremely appetising.

What won’t I like? If you want your food to taste as good as Rogan’s, ideally, you’ll need to move to the Lake District and open an organic farm, or at least start an allotment there. The good news however is that many of the dishes are perfectly achievable without going to such extreme lengths.

Should I buy it? This book may have been a long time coming, but it’s worth the wait with much to read, techniques to master, ingredients to discover and ideas to explore.  A new classic and a must own.

Cuisine: Modern progressive 
Suitable for: 
Professional chefs/Confident home cooks 
Cookbook Review Rating:
5

Buy this book
Rogan
£30, HarperCollinsPublishers

Cook from this book
Radish stew
Smoked lamb shoulder
Quince tart with gingerbread ice cream