Archive for the ‘Cookbook reviews’ Category

Where Chefs Eat- A guide to chefs’ favourite restaurants

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

A serious book

Who Will Buy the book Where Chefs Eat? The foodie equivalent of the people that buy Wisdens and Bradshaws perhaps, or the people that buy those Schott Miscellanies, the design of the latter being rather a strong influence here. In fact it’s a shame this book came out post Xmas as its sales could have been high in the pre Xmas week from desperate people grabbing it off the ‘take-one’ display in the mistaken belief that it was a humour book suitable for Uncle Bob.

But the book has sold very well anyway, at one point even outselling The Hairy Dieters, which must have caused some expletives from the biker boys ‘oop north. It could be considered a rather poncy southerner kind of concept this kind of thing, after all.

Over 400 chefs worldwide were asked eight key questions about restaurants – ones they wish they’d opened, the best for breakfast, late night eating, high end dining and so on. The returned forms were presumably converted into punch cards and fed into one of those giant IBM computers, the kind that features large tape reels rotating first one way and then another, and with a weighty thump the book emerged out of the rear end.

So how do you use it? Well not in the way you might expect, by looking up somewhere you’re going to and seeing what places the enlisted chefs recommend, as there is no actual index by city or town. Instead you need to look up the country section, then look at the country map, and from the map identify any pages that will be of use. Some cities do get their own dedicated entry in the index, Barcelona for example, but others you might think might deserve special billing, such as Rome, don’t.

There is an index by restaurant name but perhaps if you already knew the name you wouldn’t need a chef to help you discover it? The real value must be for the restaurant owners quickly flipping through the book, desperate to see if they’ve been included, before the shop assistant catches them.

There is an index by chefs which is more useful, as they are the stars here after all, and having negotiated the search and found that a restaurant is rated highly by Chef XXX, you can then easily find out just who Chef XXX actually is. Chef twitchers meanwhile can go straight to their top of the pops chef names and compile a restaurant list to let them to follow in chef’s sainted clogs.

Of course few normal people, when pressed, can actually name even five working chefs and odds are they would mostly think of Ramsay, who isn’t in the book and Blumenthal who is, despite being more of a James May of food these days. But if you’ve heard of Harald Wohlfahrt, ‘in 2005 he was awarded the German Order of Merit’ then you can now find out what he likes for breakfast.

Some selected restaurants, like the chefs, are given short summaries, ‘Why not make a meal of it and stay the night as this restaurant has rooms?’ cheekily suggests one. Indeed and why not avail yourself of the well-stocked minibar while you’re at it? It is however good to know that De Pastorale ‘is one of the more famous restaurants in Belgium’ as, rather like famous Belgians, it’s often rather hard to think of any at all when put on the spot. This could be crucial information if you ever compete on Pointless or actually, and obviously inexplicably, do find yourself in Belgium.

The book also exists as an iPhone and iPad app and that would seem the best medium for it as it’s presumably searchable by keywords. It also means that it can be updated easily because restaurants, and indeed chefs, have a habit of disappearing or just falling out of fashion almost overnight. You wouldn’t want to arrive at the legendary De Pastorale only to find it had been turned into a mobile phone shop with chef now serving up Unlimited Text contracts.

This guide is perfect for those given to food fantasising – compiling gastro trips and dreaming culinary dreams. If you’re a restaurant spotter, don’t believe in Michelin stars, take critics’ recommendations with a large pinch of salt, or simply don’t like taking chances, then Where Chefs Eat should be Just What You’ve Been Waiting For.


Nuovo Mondo: Modern Italian Food. Stefano De Pieri and Jim McDougall

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

New World

Pity the poor Italian chef, he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Day after day he pumps out great food that is wolfed down by happy patrons but does the Michelin inspector come calling? Does he heck as like.

Italian food is many things but it is rarely pretty on the plate. Packed with flavour, seasonal and local it may be, but no one ever really pointed their Canon Blogmatic at a plate of pasta. But wait.

Nuovo Mondo is a collaboration between Stefano de Pieri, Italian originally of course, and Jim McDougall who was born an Aussie. Together they set out to create dishes that break moulds. Stefano admits he is a conservative chef, marinaded in tradition. Jim, once his apprentice, is brimming with new ideas and together they set out to surprise each other, to create new dishes together and argue amicably in pursuit of the exciting.

The results are seldom complicated but they are visually arresting and read like a dream. You can clearly see the Italian DNA in every dish, but Aussie ingredients, irreverancy and desire for brightness and colour are also clearly there.

Fried bread with a parmesan mousse, potato terrine with anchovy and rosemary, crudo of tuna with frozen white balsamic, cucumber, lime and caviar. And these are literally just for starters.

Mains continue to surprise with duck meatballs and farfalle in a broth, truffle macaroni and cheese, crayfish ravioli with Yuzu butter, the last one of many recipes that bring in the flavours familiar in Australia, less so in Italy. Yabby tails in saffron sauce, braised chicory and fregola seems to meld the two food cultures perfectly while there is still room for Stefano’s Rabbit Papardelle with Sage and Speck and Jim’s deconstructed Tiramisu.

You don’t have to be based in Australia as these two chefs are, to make the recipes. We have it all here in the UK, even if we may have to get some things in jars or frozen. What we can really enjoy is Italian food that is very different to just about anything being served in the country right now.


Keep taking the tablets -the QOOQ on test

December 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Shiny gadget love

QOOQ, it’s not easy to pronounce, it sounds like you’re violently clearing your throat. ‘It’s Cook actually,’ explains one of the team at QOOQ HQ in Paris as he demonstrates the device. ‘In French Q is a K sound’.  Ah well that explains it. Shame no one in marketing thought that one through, though.

Anyway, it is indeed as he says a very French product with software and the physical device proudly made in that country. What is it? Well it’s a tablet, like an iPad or Surface or any of the other must-have devices we see flooding the stores. Unlike them though this is a focussed device, focussed on cooking. Read more…

The Art of Pasta

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Clever eh?

The art of pasta for me is mostly getting it al dente. Many’s the time I’ve airily told our guests, ‘This is how we like our pasta cooked, I hope you do too,’ knowing full well that it’s over/under cooked and simply trying to make  guests feel they may be wrong to like it any other way.

This book has higher ambitions. Lucio’s restaurant in Sydney likes pasta, likes art and likes to mash the two together. So here you have 160 very good-looking recipes accompanied by artwork from Luke Sciberras and photography by Anson Smart.

You know the book means business because it comes shrink wrapped to ensure no one lays a passata stained finger on its pages before you do, as well as boasting a tasteful cotton page marker.

Head chef Lucio Galletto has written the book, with David Dale and Executive Chef at Lucio’s Logan Campbell. Together they set out to reinterpret classic pasta dishes and push some boundaries with new ones.

You get Lucio’s signature pesto, a ‘sauce’  he reckons is the best in the world as well as the lively Calabrian pesto, plus carby treats such as beetroot ravioli with poppy seeds and melted butter, and linguine with orange pesto and aubergine. Good to see ‘guitar’ maccheroni from Abruzzo which I once ate actually in Abruzzo and still have fond memories of.Then there’s rabbit cannelloni with Jerusalem artichoke sauce and beetroot gnocchi with pancetta and goat’s cheese too.

Pretty good pasta

Simply laid out – fresh pasta, dried pasta, filled pasta, baked pasta, and gnocchi – along with a quick lesson in pasta making, the book makes you stop and drool rather a lot as it ambles through the seasons from light spring dishes with asparagus to classic winter warmers like a fool proof ragu.

It’s a delicious book, an answer to anyone that thinks pasta is boring. It makes you want to fly down to Sydney to try Lucio’s award-winning food at source, but this is the next best thing.

There is definitely an art to pasta because, while it can never aspire to or want to be ‘fancy’ food with intricate cooking and presentation, getting a great pasta dish onto  the table means the art of mixing simple yet fantastic ingredients and, of course, carefully watching that boiling water.


Canapés -Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s what your fingers are for.

‘Ooh canapés, how posh!’ it’s a line from Abigail’s Party and if it isn’t it really should be. How many times have those of us of a certain age been offered canapés, normally not nearly enough of them, and what’s more impossible to eat without redecorating the carpet?

Canapes my mother always called them, steadfastly refusing to honour the acute accent and silent ‘s’. From the pineapple chunk on a cocktail stick, to the life threatening vol au vent, canapés were the 70’s on a plate.

Maybe it’s time to think again, after all there’s nothing wrong in theory in lots of pretty nibbles, and the splendidly named Victoria Blashford Snell, along with co-author Eric Treuille may be the people to lead a revival.

They first wrote this book in 1998 but since then tastes and trends have changed and more options are on the menu. Even so V B-S sticks to her avowed policy of keeping the canapés easy enough to make and eat while still looking good and delivering a bit of a ‘wow’. Read more…

Salt Sugar Smoke: The Definitive Guide to Conserving, from Jams and Jellies to Smoking and Curing- Diana Henry

September 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Diana Henry is, for my money, the best of our newspaper food writers. Her style is clean and simple, highly readable and to the point. Her book on leftovers Food From Plenty  is one of the most stained in our house, indicating how often it gets used. This book again takes a fascinating subject and runs with it.

Preserving food is one of mankind’s oldest struggles. No matter how good the summer, how healthy the animals, winter was always a time when we lived on what we had stored. In our cupboards and around our muscles. This is why I don’t fear winter, I am well insulated. Back in the day we salted, we smoked, we made jams and we didn’t rely on the often fickle power of electricity. Freezer melt down anyone?

Preserving saves seasonal vegetables in glut to be enjoyed as themselves later, but it also magically transforms things into something else. Relishes, chutneys and mustards for example. And who doesn’t like a home pickled onion? The apple-crispness is a sensatiion shop bought ones never seem to have, perhaps because they use the shortcut of brine and not packed salt, as my father always used to insist on. Read more…

North African Cooking by Arto der Haroutunian

What I like about Arto der Haroutunian’s new book is not the fact that I can’t spell his name correctly without at least three attempts, nor that every recipe is mouth-wateringly good. What’s great is that there are no pictures.

Pictures of course bump up a book’s price, but for me the real sin is that they dumb down a cookbook. Pictures serve to lure in the casual cook, the bookshop browser, but they lie.

Sometimes they clearly feature ingredients not mentioned in the recipe, other times they show the dish in a state of art-directed beauty no one but the photographer and stylist can ever achieve. They are about as honest as advertising

A good cookbook lets the aspiring chef see the dish in the mind’s eye and of course in practical terms, you get more recipes in when the photos are left out.

Arto’s book is of course not in fact new, he died in 1987, and this book was first published in 1985 at a time when food in the UK wasn’t such a big deal. There were only 4 TV channels, one food programme and in general food remained a middle class pastime and restaurants rather posh.

Few cookbooks today would risk a long and thoughtful intro discussing North African history, culture, literature, art and food. Reading it is an education into food origins and how dishes evolve as people take them to new lands; whether as conquerors or as conquered. The Muslims in Andalucía for example.

So here we have a collection of dishes in twelve chapters and 300 dishes. From chorbat (soups) through salads, the ubiquitous grilled meats, couscous and tajines, everyday dishes, pickles, pastries and desserts. Dishes from what are today Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

The ingredients are simple, short and generally easily obtainable, certainly more obtainable now in multicultural Britain than they would have been back in 1985. You can smell the spices coming off the page and revel in Arto’s descriptions of what you’re cooking and why.

Everything is a revelation and such a change from the ‘modern European’ style of cookbook which endlessly rehashes the same old things in the same old way. Outside of their homelands the majority of these dishes are barely known let alone served but are easily within the reach of the amateur cook.

It’s a generous book, like the people whose cooking it celebrates, it makes you long to take off for North Africa and revel in real food untainted by fashion or fad



Ken Hom -100 Easy Chinese Suppers

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Happy with in his wok

Ken Hom looks much the same today as he did the day he brought Chinese cooking into our lives back in 1982, except he has a few more lines on his face. His first cookbook, Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery was a mega-seller at the time and it’s still in print today,

He lives now  mostly in his adopted Thailand, but  he is in fact American by birth, along with stints at his home in France. Despite being semi-retired and recovering from cancer treatment, he popped up on Saturday Kitchen recently. It confirmed him as one of the nicest chefs around and still one of the most skilled. Read more…

Classic Vegetarian Cookery: Arto der Haroutanian

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Bean there, done that

Like many people my flirtation with vegetarianism ended with the waft of a bacon roll. Working in advertising I was frequently on film sets at ‘sparrow fart’, as times before dawn were called, and when you’re hungry, cold and hungover a bacon butty is irresistible.

There was also the dawning realisation that the girlfriend, who was the real veggie, was frying everything in order to make it tasty and I was ballooning in weight. This was the 1980s you understand, we knew more about Rick Astley than we did about eating a wholesome diet.

It was clear though even then that the tastiest vegetarian meals came from the East or Middle East. Those cultures had long traditions of eating vegetables as something more than a boring side dish and could do things to them that made them stars in their own right.

Classic Vegetarian Cookery has been unavailable for almost 20 years, the author Arto der Haroutanian can now be seen to have been ahead of his time. An Armenian by birth he was brought up from the age of 12 in the North West of England and was a painter of international distinction, as well as the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants where Armenian cookery featured. Read more…

Cox Cookies & Cake Cookbook

If you haven’t handled a book with a squishy cover since the nursery, then the Cox Cookies & Cake cookbook may come as a bit of a surprise. It’s wonderfully tactile, very squeezable and rather erotic.

Which is not surprising really as cakes have always been a bit ‘naughty but nice’ and recently have moved into the realms of soft porn.

Anyone who has ever ventured into Cox Cookies & Cake shop in, where else but, London’s Soho will have marveled at the creativity on display there, with beauty and bestiality equally on offer.

With a foreword by Sir Elton John and David Furnish, this book was never going to be anything but high camp but the cakes also speak for themselves.

Wondrous cupcakes such as Mexican Chocolate Cupcakes with a chilli-flavoured frosting. Summer Flower Cupcakes and Orange and White Chocolate Chip Cookies are just some of the 75 recipes, on glossy black backgrounds, created by Eric Lanlard and designer Patrick Cox. Read more…

Categories: Cookbook reviews