books and their cooks
Summer’s been slow in coming this year. None of the seasonal heatwave, flip-flops and shorts I’ve been patiently waiting for. Which is a bore because I’d like to have got into our little garden and done some damage to the kiwi vine that seems to be taking over the roof. Still it’s been a busy season so far. A couple of acquaintances have had books published (something you discover when you get a deal, is that everyone else has a book coming out too), I had a great pop-up for 24 last week in Peckham, I’ve been to the Hay Festival and a ball in the Cotswolds. This afternoon I spent ten minutes on the phone talking to a researcher from MasterChef (would I?) and I’ve written a feature for the South London Press on the culinary treats of Camberwell.
One of the questions the BBC girly asked me was if I was competitive and if I thought I could win Masterchef. She should have asked me if I thought I could watch it. Long gone are the days of mercilessly laughing at the elongated drawl of Lloyd Grossman. Now it’s almost painful witnessing the emotional turmoil of the TV kitchen casualties. I told her that I had a book coming out (did I mention that?) in October, suspecting that it would disqualify me from the programme. Let’s hope so. Or that the producer reads this. Because I think if I was offered the chance, purely for the challenge, I’d be tempted.
Two books came out this month, which I want to promote because they are clever and handsome titles with an original outlook on cooking. Vanessa Kimbell’s Prepped! is clever, yummy mummy fodder. Her rather brilliant premise is that if you cook a certain dish, double the quantities and use half for another dish. Vanessa gives you all sorts of choices and ideas for this and once you’d worked on her dishes, you’d soon have a go at your own. What flows through the book rather brilliantly is her curious and fragrant syrups, flavoured variously with ingredients like elderflowers, rhubarb, vanilla and cardamom. This book is fun, copiously illustrated and you can almost smell the sugary aromas of the lavender roast chicken emerging from its pages. I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth but who could resist broccoli with hot vanilla vinaigrette?
Another is James Ramsden’s Small Adventures in Cooking. I’ve been following James because his quirky and frankly, quite silly videos on YouTube, in search of ingredients around London are exactly the irreverent oddities that we need to cauterize the flow of too much painfully pious, TV cookery. James also hosts a much-admired supper club called Secret Larder, too often sold out for me to get a seat. The book is another compendium of recipes (I would say that) but they are simple, original and autobiographical, which is how I like my food. You can find his engaging, observant voice, hidden among them. And it’s a voice that will appeal to young, urban foodies who want to experiment with the many interesting (and cheap) ingredients to be found on any London high street.
Talking of food writers, I watched Nigella being interviewed at the Hay Festival and must say that she came over as an honest, authentic cook. When asked about being coquettish, she smiled and said rather sweetly that, on camera, she was actually talking to her late sister Thomasina. She admitted the truth about cooks. We’re all basically greedy. And even if we don’t want to eat lots, we want to eat first.
Tonight I’m taking the Belgian for supper to our local Kazakhstani restaurant. It’s not his thing but I’m going in the interests of research. I hope he likes belly dancing.
You can already pre-order my book (Cooking without Recipes, Spring Hill, October 2011) on Amazon. Of which Simon Callow writes, “the equivalent of a culinary bra burning’.Articles, Reading