Cook – A Year In The Kitchen
With Britain’s Favourite Chefs
Edited by Rebecca Seal
Guardian Books – £25.00
With Cook – A Year In The Kitchen With Britain’s Favourite Chefs, editor Rebecca Seal is endeavouring to be all chefs to all wannabe chefs. As Jay Rayner writes in the Introduction: ‘’The book you are holding […] is a fail-safe collection, a compendium, even, of all the moods you might ever have. Sometimes when it comes to satisfying appetites what you really need is all the best ideas in one place, not overly ruled by one chef’s taste, or one type of ingredient, or one form of cookery.’’
In other words, this book is a kind of Greatest Hits.
And like many Greatest Hits, some really hit the mark while others fail rather miserably. Reason being, so much depends on what’s included, what’s not included, the mastering and the production, not to mention the actual artist(s) involved. If we’re talking about a Greatest hits by The Clash for instance, then great. As almost every thing they wrote was terrific. If however, we’re talking about a Greatest Hits by The Brotherhood Of Man, then it’s really not so great. As almost everything they wrote sucked the royal muscovado.
This book falls somewhere betwixt really hitting the mark and failing rather miserably. Might this be because the actual concept, in cookery terms at least, is way too ambitious for its own good?
Pertaining to please all of the gastronomical gunslingers all of the time, ensures that only some of them will be pleased, only some of the time; regardless of what renowned chef Nigel Slater has penned in the Cook’s Forward in relation to Observer Food Monthly – from whence these recipes fundamentally stem: ‘’As the magazine has gone from strength to strength, it has become clear that readers need a way of storing their favourite ideas, and I am sure I am not the only one to have a bulging drawer of pages torn from the hundred or more issues of the magazine. It seemed only logical to publish the most popular recipes as a collection. So here they are, the most-asked-for recipes from the magazine’s many contributors, together with many new ideas, in one great volume.’’
Slater’s use of the word logical is rather key here, as many of the recipes herein aren’t particularly logical, simply because they’re not that available at the local supermarket. Matt Tebbutt’s Roasted Pigeon with Braised Chicory and Nettle Butter on page 250, Clive Dixon’s Pheasant Pasty on page 258 and Adam Byatt’s Roast Partridge with Smoked Bacon and Lentils on page 271 don’t exactly contain easy pucka ingredients at an easy pucka price.
Fair enough, it does take all sorts, and there are no doubt a menagerie of cooks who long to venture into said particular province of pheasant and pigeon. I am not one of them. That said, there are obviously countless other recipes herein, which more than make up for the esoteric meals of Messrs. Tebbutt, Dixon and Byatt. Tom Norrington-Davies’s Mackerel with Broccoli and Spicy Anchovy Sauce on page 161 for instance. Totally fab. Likewise, four good things to do with Mozzarella on page 91. Likewise Antonio Carluccio’s Caponata Siciliana (Sicilian Vegetable Stew) on page 149. The list goes on…
With a terrific layout and some gorgeous photography by Steven Joyce, Cook is one of those cookery books that one will only delve into on occasion. As such, it’s not really the real deal. It’s designed more for discussion and the coffee table.