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6 posts from July 2010

30 July 2010

The future of cookery books: iPad or Kindle?

Amazon yesterday announced the launch of their new Kindle.  The claim is that this one is now smaller, lighter, faster and easier to read than the previous version.  Obviously it's up against the iPad.

As prices stand at the time of writing, £149 for the most expensive Kindle versus £429 for the cheapest iPad, the Kindle wins the day if you just want to read.  I know that there's a ton of stuff the iPad does that the Kindle doesn't, which is why many people I'm sure will see that £280 difference as a worthwhile opportunity cost for going for the iPad.  But, what if we're looking at it purely from the cookbook perspective?

What if all you're using your device for is a kitchen tool, so that you can save those sagging shelves and replace the books with some nice artwork or a swanky 3D TV?  What then is your best option?

I ask the question as someone who has a fetish for cookbooks.  I love reading them, the prose, the recipes, the method, the photos.  Going electronic feels very wrong. 

I'm not just a browser, I also regularly cook out of them.  My argument to Mrs S is that that justifies the fetish.  But if I'd just splashed out on a $421 tome even I would be a tad concerned about getting it smattered when cooking.  Of course, I'd still need the tactile pleasure of the book itself, so would probably be tempted to buy both the hard copy and the digital version.  I could see though that this might start to get rather expensive.

By blindly dismissing digital editions, I'd be tilting at proverbial windmills.  Publishing is hard at the best of times, but cookbooks are notoriously tough sellers.  It's only down to the success of the likes of the Nigellas and Jamies, that publishers can print the decent but less popular books.  So going digital, with its inherently lower costs is attractive.

The Kindle is a reading device and more or less that alone.  It is great if all you're doing is looking at text.  But cookbooks are usually so much more than text and the iPad is so much better suited to richer content.  For example, this video is a demo of what you could do with recipes online.  It was developed by William Hereford (and all the rights are his) "as a kind of experiment combining typeface typical of magazines with video which has been shot and edited to feel like a still photograph."



It's very beautiful, of that there is no doubt.  But I'm not sure it's how I would want to interact with a cookery book.  I like to read the long-form version, where I can see ingredients and method all in one place.  But if there was an option to see someone cook the dish, well that is a very attractive idea.  Imagine being able to watch Thomas Keller or Heston Blumenthal preparing every dish they wrote about. 

I crave a stage in a restaurant to learn from these chefs how to cook.  Without any kitchen experience, that's not happening soon.  But being able to watch, time and again, them cook all the dishes in their canon, well that is a a tasty proposition.  You would learn their knife techniques, you would see their methods, you would learn why the photos in the book rarely look like what you put on the plate.

This isn't just a pimped-up version of their TV programmes.  I'm suggesting a combination of a book with long-form recipes, but also the options to go into detail about how they make the dish.  They could chuck-in interviews with suppliers if they want, but I want to see them cooking. 

It would expensive for sure, the chef's time, the design, the production costs for the video and editing and coding, but - and here's the biblio-heresy - so much more valuable to me than a cookbook. There is the obvious question of just how much value would it be to me, what would I pay for it?  I suppose it depends who the chef is.  If it was Jamie, massively over-exposed, probably nothing.  If it was Blumenthal or Keller or David Chang at Momofuku, then quite a lot.  And I'd pay a premium for beautiful style like Hereford's video above, in the same way I did for The Big Fat Duck Cookbook.

The business model is interesting to consider. Would it follow the current cookbook model where the populist items cover the cost of the niche longtail? Or are the populist titles so over-exposed that consumers would have little interest in Jamie in yet another guise?

I'm guessing the economics will err towards the former. Tablet/mobile devices are undeniably popular and mainstream. People will use these devices to consume the sorts of things they previously consumed in hard copy or online. They'll keep watching and reading the one-name-wonders, they'll just be doing it through a new medium.

I assume there are chefs already beavering away in film studios, days on end spent making dishes they haven't made in years, as publishers get ready to ditch print entirely.  If my assumption is wrong, I'm sticking a sodding great copyright symbol on this post and holding the idea as my own. 

So back to the start, if you're looking to make a decision on whether to buy an iPad or Kindle based on how you'd use it in the kitchen, the iPad wins out.  Not necessarily for what you can do with it today, but for the future potential.  I'm really quite excited. 

29 July 2010

Christina Patterson on Jews and Muslims

This post has nothing to do with food.  If you're looking for the normal treats, can I suggest you read my hilarious anecdote about a recent dinner.

This post is about what I perceive to be something that looks a lot like racism.  Specifically Christina Patterson's article in the Independent, The Limits of Multi-Culturalism.  I found on first reading, her article utterly abhorent.  I had similar feelings on second, third and fourth readings.  Which is why I admire Miriam Shaviv's take-down of her article.

But on reading the comments this morning, I started to wonder if in fact Christina has done more for Muslim - Jewish relations in a few hundred words, than a multitude of worthies have over many years.  This is an article that has both communities up in arms. 

Patterson's depiction of her way as the only right way is deeply disturbing.  She positions religious Jews and Muslims as 'other' and swiftly elides 'other' into 'bad'.  She puts to good use many tropes of the worst kind of racists: broad generalisations (all Jews drive the wrong way around supermarket car park it seems), appropriating their language (see the frequent use of the nastiest of yiddish words, goy) and defence of the poor ignorant child in the clutches of the evil parents (Jewish and Muslim children adhering to concepts of modesty). 

I'm not going to comment on her accusations of female circumsicion in the Muslim community because I know nothing about the topic. I do know that no such thing exists in Judaism.  Yet Christina tries to obfuscate the issue:

There is, I'm sure, nothing in the Koran to indicate that hacking off a girl's labia is an all-round great idea, just as there's nothing in the Torah to say that Volvos should always be driven with a mobile phone in hand, and goyim should be treated with contempt.

But is this a bluff? Is she really trying to ensure that in our joint horror, relations will flourish.  All too often the British press divides Jews and Muslims.  Both groups regularly feel their views are misrepresented in the media.  It seems to me we should be able to find common cause in agreeing all the traits of racism are alive and well on the pages of The Independent.


This is supposed to be a review of Paradise, an Indian restaurant in South Hampstead. 

With a name like that you're setting high expectations.  Whereas calling a food business that specialises in gluten, wheat and dairy free products OK Foods is an excellent example of expectation management.  

Back to Paradise.  I'd heard so many rave reviews from friends and family, I had to try it.  Might there be a Tayyabs lurking in a bucolic corner of North London?  No, unfortunately not. 

But it is a perfectly decent Indian.  The food was very nice, but pretty standard curry house fair.  The room is airy, the wallpaper is modern flock, the staff are lovely and attentive and the food is tasty.  My vegetable biryani was a very close approximation to one I had at Dishoom last week - and that's no bad thing.  This was a good or at least solid meal.  

That's all I have to say on the meal.  The restaurant is fine, but it's a long way from a must visit.  So why bother with a write-up?  Because I want to parlay into an amusing vignette. 

It's one of those stories that the subject thinks is brilliant, and the rest of the world yawns.  It's my blog, so prepare to stifle.

Father of Silverbrow and I were standing next to our table, waiting for the staff to finish clearing the previous diners' detritus before we sat down.  My eyes wandered across the room to the door, where a tall blond man seemed to catch my eye, smiled and mouthed "four" whilst holding up four fingers to his chest in a Tic Tac moment.

I realised it's none other than spinner almighty, Alastair Campbell, with family in tow and looked behind me to see who he's talking to.  There's no-one there.  I looked back at him and this time, assuming he's speaking to a dullard he says quite loudly "I'd like a table for four please".

The penny drops.  Quick as a flash I point out I'm not actually a waiter, but am also waiting for my table. 

Hilarity and laughter follow.  I gave good tweet, invoking both a current advertising campaign and a bit of self deprecating humour.  I remain desperate for him to reply apologising for the incident (he may have said sorry in the restaurant but we'll overlook that, I want it in writing) so I can claim to be the only man in London to get Campbell to apologise for anything.

I told you it was a brilliant story.  Wakey wakey.

Google Maps

Paradise, 49 South End Road, Hampstead, London, NW3 2QB, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7794 6314

12 July 2010

A question for my RSS subscribers

If you do subscribe, can you please let me know if you receive one notification in your RSS reader when I post, or multiple?  I seem to be receiving more than one and I can't figure out why.

If you don't subscribe, you really should, it makes reading online so much easier.  Barring, of course, this little hiccup.

Whilst I'm on the subject, if you've got any other feedback you'd like to leave, please feel free to click on the big red button over on the right and let me know your thoughts.  For those of you who have already done so, I really appreciate it, I've found your insights exceptionally helpful.


As with Sima, I'd heard about Lilith, a French influenced restaurant in Tel Aviv, on Daniel Rogov's food forum and had read with interest his review.  He clearly enjoys the place and regularly refers to it as an excellent restaurant that happens to be kosher.

I appreciate some might be a bit perplexed at this. It is fair to assume that in Israel, given the sheer quantity of kosher restaurants, many must be excellent.  Sadly making such an assumption is incorrect.  There are many good kosher restaurants in the bottom and mid-range but the country's cup does not overflow at the top.  I'm not sure why, other than Tel Aviv is at the forefront of the country's dining scene where it's easier to find something porcine than it is to find a kosher restaurant.  I am absuing only a modicum of poetic license.

Which is why I was excited at the prospect of eating at Lilith, I want more than anything to find a really good restaurant that just happens to be kosher.  Unfortunately, my expectations were not met.

The room is lovely (once you walk through the office block to reach it) the service was impeccable. But the food was generally a real let down.

It started well enough with some deliciously smooth babaganoush and a stunning fruity olive oil. But those high notes were short lived.

I started with the chicken's livers.  I was intrigued to see what a supposedly very good kosher restaurant would do with an ingredient at the (stereotypical) heart of Jewish cooking. 

It was quite amazing.  They managed to both overcook and undercook it.  The overcooked lobes were chalky, the undercooked ones were slimy and made me feel rather queasy. The toast the livers were sitting on was burnt.  The accompanying caramelised banana was quite a pleasant touch, but not sufficiently so to rescue the dish.

For main course I could not ignore the special of duck confit. I cannot remember ever having eaten it and assuming the starter was an aberration I figured this was going to be special.  I've heard so many people wax lyrical about this gallic speciality and have read recipes avidly.  I find it hard to believe it's meant to be as uttlery tasteless as the version I tried.

In addition to the confited leg, other bits duck were on the plate, including a lobe of something doing a poor impression of foie gras.  The meat sat on top of two asaparagus spears that were beaten into submission by overly sweet purees of various fruits and pumpkin. The asparagus vs sauce concept underscored some wide-of-the-mark thinking in the kitchen. 

Mrs S had pasta.  It wasn't bad, it was as I recall perfectly fine.  But it was vegetarian, the ingredients were good.  I don't really have a lot else to add.

Dessert of sorbets was similarly dull.  Which is a bit of a disgrace, along the lines of the chicken liver massacre, because with the prohibition of mixing meat and dairy, desserts are the hardest course for kosher meat restaurants.  Sorbets should be their ideal dessert, it should be simple for them to take some beautiful fruit, make a syrup, combine, churn and freeze.  Instead we received some mildly flavoured crushed ice.

And I'm gutted, because I wanted to enjoy this meal and revel in its deliciousness. Yes the room is beautiful, the service was good and the clientele were glamorous.  But none of that makes up for disappointing food. 

Google Maps

Lilith, 4 Weizman, Tel Aviv, Israel
Tel: +972 (03) 6091331

What others think

Daniel Rogov - All of which gives no cause whatsoever for complaint as Lilith remains the very best kosher restaurant in the country and certainly of interest to sophisticated diners even when kashrut is not important. (UPDATE I've amended this reference and link following RotemAR's comment below.)
Frommer's - Lilith combines quality ingredients with a kitchen that's always interesting but not overblown with forced inventiveness.

02 July 2010


Gizzard is not a lovely word.  There's an onomatopoeic quality to it: it sounds gristly, surely it's not going to be good eating.  The same must be true of spleen. I'm no anatomist but doesn't the spleen do something fairly important with blood? So again, not something you crave to see on your plate.

But what if you fry them, maybe add some hearts (depends whose heart of course), a bit of liver, some diced lamb.  That's sounding a bit better.  And then fried onion, the sine qua non of Jewish anti-cardio/Ashkenazi cooking.  And then, and then some spices that no-one can ever quite pin down.  Well then you have a dish that makes for great eating.  And so it was when we had dinner at Sima.

Silverbrowess is not as obsessed with food as I am and frankly finds my 'hobby' more than a little frustrating at times.  Especially when we are on holiday and I plan entire trips of several thousand miles around meals I would like to eat.  So for the sake of marital peace I've calmed down a bit. I've got wise to the fact that she wasn't delighted to spend her 30th birthday in a car driving down to Cornwall for lunch that we were two hours late for - but that was fantastic

Now, I do it all surreptitiously.  I plan and organise where I want to eat (Google Maps' My Maps feature is perfect for anal restaurant planning) and forget to mention it to Mrs S.  Then when the inevitable question of breakfast, lunch or dinner rolls around, I can nonchalantly suggest somewhere, as though I've just picked it out of thin air.  Whereas the truth is that my anticipation at eating there has been building for weeks, I'm about to pop and here's my chance to get my way.

It was during such planning, in particular on Daniel Rogov's Israeli focused food & wine forum, that I had been alerted to Sima and the restaurant's particular speciality, the Jerusalem Grill. 

Although Rogov advocates eating the grill in a pita with chips out on the street, being with Mrs S and Silverbrowlette meant sitting in the back of the restaurant, with other families out for some reasonably priced grilled meat. 

Instead of chips we had mujadarah, a Middle Eastern rice dish laden with lentils and fried onions (again).  We also had some sides of salads.  You need a little bit of fresh stuff to cut through the fat of the food.

The Jerusalem Grill was sublime, easily as good as billed.  There was a depth of flavour I'm having trouble describing in words.  People think that offal is an acquired taste and the ferrous, bloody quality of this offal overload is thankfully a long way from bland.  The meat was balanced with the sweetness of the onions and some subtle heat from the spices.  Mrs S is not the generally drawn to offal but had little difficulty helping me seeing off the very large plate of food.  Which reminds me, the portions are massive and with the obligatory salads that all restaurants in Israel serve when you sit down, plus a couple more we ordered, one main course between two really is enough.

A word on Sima's location.  It is next to Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem's main food market.  On a Friday the place is brilliant bedlam.  As the increasingly religious city of Jerusalem prepares itself for Sabbath, a day when shopping, cooking and much besides is forbidden, Mahane Yehuda is where Jerusalem comes to prepare.  I imagine an early lunch at Sima on a Friday would be pretty special.  I say early because everything shuts down just after lunch in preparation for Shabbat. 

Google Maps

Sima, 82 Agrippas Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972 (0) 2 623 3002

What others think

Daniel Rogov - ...this is marvelous fare and a huge portion of the truly excellent me'urav yerushalmi packed into a pita, and served with small but adequate side-dishes of really good coleslaw, pickles, olives, Turkish salad and a soft drink or beer will cost well under ten dollars, surely one of the best values for money to be found anywhere on the planet.