50 posts categorized "Books"

05 May 2009

Eat My Globe

"I love it when a plan comes together." So said Col. John 'Hannibal' Smith, one of the greatest tacticians of our age.

Plan's can be complex things, things of beauty even, rarely however are they as simple as Simon Majumdar's: "Fuck it. I'm off to eat" - I paraphrase, but that's basically what it boils down to. 

Instead of winning a battle, Simon's plan resulted in his first book Eat My Globe.  According to my current reading material, simple is good, and frankly Simon's plan seems splendid to me. There is obvious clarity of thought and purpose, with a definable and importantly, achievable, goal.

His book is not great for those dieting, those prone to hunger, those prone to lust, envy, greed. Frankly, I wouldn't advise reading it unless you are doing terrible things to a perfectly charred steak or bottle of single malt.

I knew the book was about food, and I knew that it was about Simon's travels around the world.  If nothing else I'd read all about it on his excellent blog, Dos Hermanos.  However, I was expecting the book to be about what the yanks might call 'fine dining'.  I expected that when in Chicago he'd be tucking into Alinea not Hot Doug's, I expected at least a mention of the Fat Duck in the UK and elBulli in Spain.

Instead the book is predominantly about meals with families or street food.  Almost directly as a consequence, it's a book about people and an absolute delight as a consequence.  Don't get put off thinking this is all about high falutin' food, it's not.  It's about great food, greatly enjoyed - with the odd exception of Brazil.

I did have some frustrations with the book, there seemed to be a few typos, but I guess that is a result of this being the first edition. Also in places Simon goes into great detail about how he ended up doing what he was doing, whether it was pre-planned or serendipity, but in other places he's remarkably vague.  For example, whilst he waxed lyrical about spending time with Adam Balic in Australia, he skips around who his two dining companions were at Chez Panisse.  Given that this book is largely about people and his obvious excitement to be eating at Chez Panisse, the ommission was glaring.

But these are minor niggles and essentially this is a beautiful (if hunger inducing) travelogue.

My last gripe is simply that the book I want to read is Simon's view on food (and people) everywhere. I want him to see more of Brazil than just Salvador because I reckon he'd love it. I want to hear his thoughts on Damascus Gate, I want to know if there's a good meal to be had in Utah and I'd be really interested in his perspective on elBulli.

It seems that the likes of Matthew Fort, Jay Rayner and Nigel Slater better take heed of that nipping at their heels.

20 April 2009

The world's coolest cookbook?

Image and link to Len Deighton's The Action Cookbook

This does look promising.

11 March 2009

Phat fat

I can barely contain my glee (or whatever the no doubt more apt German/Yiddish word is) that on the day crap like this is written, I get a call from Foyles telling me my copy of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes is ready to collect.

Butter is not the root of all evil. It is not the reason we're careening towards an obesity epidemic. Eating crap, most of which has sod all to do with anything as fresh or natural as butter, is to blame. But laying into chefs - even painfully annoying celeb chefs - who are trying to get us to eat better food, is far easier than blaming poverty, bad legislation, naivety and stupidity.

Would the do gooders please sod off or add something useful to the debate.

25 February 2009

The Fat Duck Cookbook - not quite as big

Bafty cruggers those publishers.  Whatever Jeff Jarvis might say about the doomed middlemen and the end of the publisher, you can't fault them for their marketing smarts.

Bloomsbury were responsible for publishing one of the most beautiful books last year, Heston Blumenthal's The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. It is stunning, I've waxed lyrical about it before and can't recommend it highly enough as something that looks good and is a fascinating read.

The only problem is, there's no way you're going to cook from it.  It's enormous and expensive - currently £100, not the £60 I snagged it for - it is not a cookbook you want splattered with your culinary efforts.

But, and this is where they show their cunning, Bloomsbury are publishing The Fat Duck Cookbook for £26.25.  It is a pared-down version of The Big Fat Duck Cookbook.  According to the publisher it is still in hard back, but without the slip case, guilded edges and ribbon.  It's due out in October.

So those of us who've forked out a fortune on the original and covet it but won't let near it anything more culinary than a glass of wine, can now buy this version and pretend that one day we might actually cook from it.  As I say, sheer genius - I mean that with only the merest hint of irony.  I'll be buying it without question.

11 December 2008

What to buy

With the magazines full of what to buy your nearest and dearest food obsessive, I thought I might as well get in on the game.

If you're serious about cooking, the best way to improve it is by learning from the experts.  I loved my day with Dan Lepard, he's repeating the sourdough course in January.  Or, how about a master class with two Michelin starred chef Eric Chavot, at The Capital.

I like the idea of Square Mile Coffee's six or twelve month coffee subscriptions.  For a one-off charge of £45 or £90 respectively, they will send you every month a 350g bag of coffee beans.  This is one for the coffee connoisseur: they only send out beans, and the beans are roasted for filter brewing rather than espresso.  Or a cheaper option for the coffee lover is a tasting event.

During the course of the year I got a bit too excited about the raft of high quality books due to published and generally I haven't been disappointed.

Although, unfortunately you can't get The Big Fat Duck Cookbook for £60 any more, it is available at £80, a decent discount to the £100 coverprice.  If you ask me it's great value for money.  I emphasise the word me in the last sentence.  I know a lot of people think I'm insane for saying that.  But for me, it is well worth it.

I'm slightly sceptical about A Day at elBulli and not sure I'd have bought it if the great man hadn't signed it with a little dedication to Silverbrowlette.  Grant Achatz's book Alinea has done a better job of living up to the hype, although the website associated with it, Mosaic, has underwhelmed.

A great bargain at the moment is Thomas Keller's new book Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide which Amazon are selling for £20, a whopping 60% discount to the coverprice.  You can get Keller's seminal tome The French Laundry Cookbook for £20 as well.  A little more expensive at £28 is Bouchon. It's bouef bourgignon recipe is still my favourite.

This year saw the publication of the softback edition of Made in Italy: Food and Stories one of my favourite books. It's great value at £12.99.

Aiden Byrne's Made in Great Britain was a bit lower profile than some of the others published during the year, but is beautiful.  I imagine it's the type of food available at his new gaffe.

Another great purchase this year has been Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts. I haven't yet got round to writing up about my tarte tatin, but suffice to say it was one of my proudest culinary achievements this year.

For more ideas take a look through the little shop I've setup with Amazon where I've even created departments for your shopping pleasure: essential reading; my full library; Jewish cookbooks; food writing and kitchen kit.

01 December 2008

Learning from cookbooks?

The Economist offshoot Intelligent Life has an interesting take on the vitality or not of French food.  A story told through the recipes of The Complete Robuchon and Fernand Point's republished Ma Gastronomie.

I've been giving a lot of thought to the role of the cookbook recently, what will all the hoo-ha around Ferran Adrià's latest last week and my childish excitement and subsequent love affair with The Big Fat Duck Cookbook.  

I'm still mulling my thoughts over, but as the Intelligent Life article indicates, they are more than about food, they are historical documents written from one very particular angle.  I know this isn't the most profound insight, but taken to its logical conclusions there are some interesting outcomes.  For example, I wonder whether in twenty years time, the likes of me will be more excited by Jamie Oliver's works or Heston Blumenthal's. 

In many ways I owe Jamie more than I owe Heston.  True, Heston was responsible for my best meal to date, but it was only because of the influence of Jamie's first book that really got me thinking about food technically.  I would guess I'm not the only one to be so influenced, although some may choose to keep quiet about it.

But which is more important and which will have more longevity?  I assume Heston, given that Jamie cooks in the vernacular, unlike Heston, Fernand, Adrià and Robuchon.  But maybe Jamie is more important because his influence is greater even if he hasn't done anything to progress the culinary canon.  He may have entrenched it, but others have introduced innovation and moved things on.  It's a though I want to return to.

Whilst I'm on the subject of important books, for those not twittered-up, I spotted that Thomas Keller's latest, Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide is currently on sale at a 60% discount on Amazon.co.uk

25 November 2008

A night with Ferran Adrià

This is cross-posted on The Guardian's Word of Mouth blog. The post over there also includes a video of Jay Rayner with Ferran Adrià.  I seem to be unable to embed it here, but here is the link.

It would be trite and a little too convenient to describe Ferran Adrià as "...a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Nonetheless, there is something about the man that is hard to pin down. It's not just that he's chef patron of elBulli, repeatedly ranked the world's number 1 restaurant, you want to know more. Can all the hype be true? I wasn't the only one hungry for answers. Over 900 of us filled the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night to hear him interviewed by Jay Rayner.

The premise for the London visit is Adrià's new book A Day at elBulli and except for the gratuitous flogging and signing at the end (I succumbed), the book didn't make much of an appearance. If there was a theme to the evening, it was that Adrià was at pains to make clear that what he does is no more scientific than almost any other cooking.

He kept referring to a new language and that to create a new language you need a new alphabet, new grammar, new tools and processes. He argues that his style of cooking is this new language and that, with every new technique, he's building up the alphabet.

He once again refuted that his style of cooking, or that of Heston Blumenthal, could be described as Molecular Gastronomy. Instead, he was keen to demonstrate that his food had deep roots. He argued that his cooking is a progression from the food and culinary techniques most of us practice at home. He clearly sees progress as vital, but is desperate that it isn't seen as elitist.

During the evening he showed a series of videos demonstrating his techniques. One of the most popular was the combination of coconut milk, a Thermomix, a syringe, a kids balloon (blue) and the obligatory iSi whip. The result - a coconut made of coconut milk - sounds a bit flat in black and white, but looked stunning on the screen. As did an espuma stuffed tomato juice balloon and the jelly and sorbet strawberries which, though they sound horrific, looked outstanding.

And that's the risk with his type of food. It often sounds and even looks ridiculous and so it is an easy target for the critics, but as Adrià pointed out, there are many horrendous mistakes made with pizzas and omelettes and these rarely warrant column inches. He argued that chefs who wanted to experiment shouldn't worry about mistakes as long as they remained "humble and honest".

He was into his humility. He seemed to get dewy eyed reminsicing about his lunch today at Manze's. Yes, that Manze's, the pie and Mash shop. It turns out an Evening Standard journalist thought it would be a good idea to take him there. He described Manze's as "fantastic" because of its honesty and history (if Manze's have a PR team, this has got to be their wet dream.)

So all in all, it was a great evening. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Adrià came across as warm and humourous, even in translation, and yes, very intense. He clearly feels the focus on the science is a distraction and wants people to understand what lies behind his food. I think he did a great job of explaining that. Then again, from the repeated moans and groans of pleasure at the videos, he may well have been preaching to the converted.

There was a Q&A session at the end. I was tempted to ask a question but frankly felt a little intimidated. I had two thoughts on my mind. First, what impact would the economic downturn have? Second, where was he having dinner afterwards? I've no idea his thoughts on the first question. As for the latter, the bigwigs at Phaidon, his publisher, took him to The Wolseley. I hope he had a better time than others have recently. I'm not sure where in London I'd take the world's greatest chef. If he hadn't had eels for lunch, possibly The Golden Hind or St John?

Where would you take Ferran Adrià for dinner?