In need of some inspiration to kick-start your kitchen life? Help is at hand: Time Out reviews three top class cookery books.
Kitchen Confidentail Anthony Bourdain
This punchy guide to life behind the scenes at some of the best restaurants in New York is written in clipped, pull-no-punches style by Mr Bourdain, favourite son of the Big Apple and current alpha male of the food-writing set. His basic schtick is to expose the shenanigans that go on in the kitchens of fine dining establishments, and the scummy crews of boozers, nymphos and wasters that staff them. His tales of culinary life on the dark side are informed by a deep and abiding passion for food and his dish descriptions have the power to arouse all but the limpest of taste buds.
For true inspiration turn to his opening chapter in which he describes his gourmet epiphany, the moment he first tried an oyster: ‘It tasted of seawater..of brine and flesh…I had become a man. I had had an adventure, tasted forbidden fruit, and everything that followed in my life – the food, the long and often stupid and self-destructive chase for the next thing, whether it was drugs or sex or some other new sensation – would all stem from this moment.’ Having absorbed this declaration of intent, turn to the practically named ‘How to Cook like the Pros’ for hands-on information and more stomach-churning anecdotes, followed by ‘So You Want to be a Chef?’ to ensure that no matter how involved you get in your food you never make the hideous mistake of turning professional. The stuff of genius.
Toast Nigel Slater
A deepy personal and revelatory work from the culinary mastermind who brought you ‘Appetite’, the cookbook whose celebrated mission statement was ‘to tell you about the pleasure, the sheer, unbridled joy, of cooking without a recipe’. Structuring his auto-biog narrative around foods that trigger off memories (think Proust’s tisane but with a lot more sauce and a lot less church-description), Slater weaves the captivating tale of his maladjusted childhood using the likes of mashed potato, mince pies and Victoria sandwich as his points of punctuation and reference.
Never scared to delve into dishes which fall outside the usual gourmet catchment area (check out the fabulous piece on butterscotch flavour Angel Delight, which manages to balance ingredient analysis with a poignant tribute to his deceased mother), Slater raises the flag for the overlooked but exquisite food experiences of life. His story is gently gripping, a trail of melancholy which wends its way through the food disasters of 1970s Britain (the overpeppered prawn cocktails, the tapioca, the supposedly exotic spag bol) and the emotional disasters of his own life. The silver-penned gourmandism that made Appetite such a success is here in spades: I defy you to read his description of Pommes Dauphinoises without salivating and reaching for the spuds.
A chef for all seasons Gordon Ramsay
You’re all fired up and ready to hit the kitchen: the knives are sharpened, the pots are buffed and the radio’s tuned to cookalong classics. Before ploughing headlong into the curry, pasta and kidney bean-based dishes you’ve been making since late adolescence, take half an hour with a chilled snifter and flick through Ramsay’s magnum opus. This pro footballer turned superchef turned media darling is the biggest name in British cooking and runs a 30 million pound operation employing over 1,000 staff and running a decent percentage of London’s most fêted restaurants.
Despite his Sisyphean workload, he’s found time to put together 200 pages of the most appetite whettingly, guest-impressingly smart recipes to be found in any bookshops cookery section. Using the seasons as a dish-dividing structure, Ramsay shows you how to make the most of fresh ingredients at any time of year, from cod with crispy potatoes and mustard lentils (a winter warmer) to grilled chicken with tagliatelle and morel velouté (a spring, erm, chicken). There’s a funky monochrome back section with point-by-point guides to the trickier food procedures: learn to make gnocchi, slice the perfect steak tartare and butterfly your own fish. All in all a solid starter book for the eager entertainer.
Moro, The cookbook Sam and Sam Clark
Described as offering ‘a heady blend of Arabic and Hispanic dishes that offer warm spices and fiery sauces, slow-cooked earthy stews and delicate flavourings’, Moro is a labour of love by the gastronautical Clark couple. Between its low-key covers lies an Aladdin’s den of innovative food ideas, perfect when you’re in the mood for breaking new dinner ground. Diced with nostalgic images of olde worlde Spain and Arabia, it gives you the lowdown on the tapas, mezze, fresh fish and slow-cooked meat dishes which lie at the heart of their food cultures. While the imagery isn’t the slickest in the world, you can’t help but be caught up in the foodie enthusiasm of the two Sams, and they do have a pleasing habit of peppering their work with truly useful tips. Fire up your barbecue and throw on a brace of pinchitos morunos (Moorish skewers rammed with Spanisha paprika, oregano and bay leaves) and knock up a sopa de guisantes filled with jamon and mint while you’re waiting for them to brown. Maaarvellous.
Indian cookery Madhur Jaffrey
So, you think you make a pretty decent curry? A nice rogan josh with special dal…and poppadoms? I’ve got bad news for you: until you can cook Kashmiri meatballs, Goan style chicken and carrot halva, you’re still very much in the paddling pool in the Indian food stakes. Happily, this pared-down idiots guide from the Queen of Spice herself makes it exceptionally easy to create such dishes in next to no time. Calling on a reassuringly limited range of ingredients, Jaffrey babysteps you through the basics, taking the panic out of parathas and the stress out of sag aloo. Don’t expect a parade of curry-house classics, however – this is echt Indian cuisine, straight from the kitchens of Mumbai. Essential reading for chili-heads and their long-suffering spouses.
Food for getting fit Michel Roux Jr
While we heartily approve of full-fat, calorie-charged über-dinners once in a while (or, indeed, every other night), there comes a time when you want to put aside your oils and butter, your hearty dollops of cream and your untrimmed chops and knock up a tasty dinner that won’t take it out on your aorta. ‘Food for getting fit’ does exactly what it says on the tin: written by a marathon-running superchef with a famous dad, the first 20 pages are devoted to a philosophy of food and endurance, a brave attempt to synthesis the conflicting desires of the gourmet athelete. Filled with reassuring headlines like ‘fats can be good for you’, it rounds off with a list of global marathons to aspire to. The dishes themselves are shockingly tempting for food with such a saintly backbone – we were excited by the rabbit with mustard and pastis and tried out the venison fillet and pineapple chutney with great success. So many cookbooks promise to marry flavour with fitness and fail miserably: we salute the man who urges us to eat pastillas of apple and prunes with salted caramel sauce and then run up Lantau Mountain.
How to be a domestic goddess Nigella Lawson
No food-writing roundup would be complete without at least one work from the prolific and provocative Nigella. Overcoming an uncool father and a criminally ugly name, Lawson has shinned her way up the foodie ranks through sheer force of personality and a tantalising blend of libido and homeliness. Being a domestic goddess, it would seem, involves making cakes. Lots of them. From zesty key-lime pies to to baklava muffins, Nigella’s got the recipes you need to bake your way into your family’s good books. The photography is shamelessly arousing, the recipes are straightforward and the results are belt-poppingly divine. We urge you to invest in this paean to comfort-eating, a key component for any foodie’s library.