Saturday, November 04, 2006

Cookbook personalities...

I have been doing this project for a month now-my first post was 7th October. I vaguely intended to count up how many recipes I'd made from each section of the book, but I am not going to do that because I don't think I see the project in those terms. What I mean is: I am cooking through Jamie's book to have fun and see what happens, not to tick recipes off lists like those awful tourists who tick countries off their list of the world: 'done Thailand, Australia, Singapore, etc'. This book isn't just a collection of recipes - few cookery books are - they usually have their own personalities, and engaging with them doesn't mean just cooking every recipe once and ticking it off. I fully expect to make a lot of dishes again (I've already made the shortbread twice); moreover, to me a cookbook is to read as well as to cook from.

It occurred to me yesterday evening while making mango sherbert (a sherbert is a delicious cross between sorbet and ice cream - and no the recipe isn't one of Jamie's) to take to some friends for dinner last night, that the best cookbooks very definitely have their own personalities. I am not talking about the '1000 Chinese recipes' or '1000 low-fat recipes', or whatever; there is a place for them, but they don't really speak to me. To explain. Delia, for instance - her books are written very carefully, with clear instructions not littered by chatter or parentheses, in a tone that reminds you perpetually that she knows what she is doing and you need to follow her. Delia seems like a teacher, enunciating slowly so that you don't get confused, both chiding you gently and holding your hand through. Nigella, meanwhile, reads like your glamorous older sister who is more beautiful, more domestic, more articulate than you, who you should by rights hate but who is appealing because she has a naughty side (as evidenced by her tendency of dipping her fingers into everything she cooks and her penchant for kitsch). Hugh Fearnley-W is like someone you went to school with and never quite managed to shake off: slightly mad but incredibly well-meaning, eloquently reminding you of where your food came from in a way that makes you slightly uncomfortable even though you know he is right (but come on. We couldn't all make a living from TV and book tie-ins that allow him to live the Good Life). I could go on ad infinitum - there are so many cookbooks out there, all competing to seduce the unsuspecting shopper into taking them home. I want to mention Nigel Slater, though; he has a gift, it seems to me, of writing warmly and honestly about food in a way that makes it clear that it matters to him, but without preaching; Nigel has an endearingly self-deprecating manner combined with a genuine love of real food (as opposed to restaurant-style food) that makes him, to my mind, the best food writer for the home cook to read in bed.

I went off onto this tangent because I was thinking of Jamie and this project. Jamie is the fun celebrity chef with a conscience; he dreamed up Fifteen and pushed Tony Blair on school dinners, but we also saw him hungover in Italy. These two sides of Jamie emerge in this book: on the one hand, he is very serious about where we source our meat and fish, about eating more adventurously, about cooking instead of eating cardboard ready meals; on the other, he sounds incredibly enthusiastic, child-like almost, about his recipes and there are some trademark wacky recipes (like the Moroccan lamb with the couscous crust, which I haven't tried yet, or indeed the honeycomb cannelloni). I am enjoying this project because Jamie's food is good, not too difficult and fun to cook as well as to eat, which is the whole point of this, not to tick recipes off a list and then forget about them.


Kirsten said...

Hi Kathryn! The cannelloni is worth making - we're on day 3 through, I'd halve the recipe next time and find a smaller pan. Going to try the lamb shank recipe tonight.

Resident fishmonger - you lucky thing!

LisaEx said...

Right on!

Paola said...

I totally agree with everything you said and I really enjoyed reading this piece!


PS: You described everyone perfectly!

vonsachsen said...

Kathryn, I enjoyed this post very much! I must say I wouldn´t mind at all reading recentions of different cookbooks written by you. I know you have lots of cookbooks and I like the way you captured the essence of every cookbook/writer.


Anonymous said...

Kathryn, I love your description about all the chefs, especially mentioning of Nigel Slater. Love your blog.