Good Reading : August 2005
54 goodreading Undecided on what to buy my friend for her birthday recently, I wandered into a large bookstore for inspiration. A keen cook, she is often telling me of her capers in the kitchen, so a new and exiting cookbook seemed to me like the obvious choice. Gazing around the cookery sec- tion, so huge that it could’ve been a shop itself, the sheer volume of cookbooks made me wonder, just what has food become? It was only seconds until I got my answer. ‘Are you looking to buy some food por n sir?’ the cheeky male assistant asked me. Food porn! I’d never heard of that before, but how right he was! When I looked back at the shelves, food porn made perfect sense. Like clicking the wrong icon on the computer, every book I picked up bombarded me with tempting, mouthwatering images. A young couple next to me browsed nervously at the selection. Colourful, glossy pictures of things they longed to do but never dared attempt: cuisine bending over backwards on a plate, cavorting itself into positions that they could never get it into. AlooktotheleftandIsawThe Naked Chef stripping food back to the bare essentials, whilst a glance to the right and Nigella Lawson is lick- ing whipped cream off her fingers. And that’s just the start, each book I pull off the shelf seems to be even more explicit – the food photo - graphed up close and in such detail that my imagination runs wild. But how can I choose when all that food por n screams take me, make me? I look around to see the assistant smiling knowingly at me. Somehow that does the trick and I pull myself together and remember why I had walked into this glutton’s paradise in the first place: I wanted to buy a cookbook for my friend, one she would use all the time, not occasion- ally or worse still, never. So how do you choose the right cookbook for someone when con- fronted with such a large choice and range? Which chef ’s recipes are the best? Which are the easiest to follow? The simplest? What do you do when they all claim to be ‘simple’? And ‘quick’? What is simple and quick to me as a trained chef might not be the same for others. How many recipes would my friend actually cook from that book? Would she attempt the duck confit and chocolate fondant? Or only go as far as the bruschetta or pumpkin soup? To me, what makes cooking sim - ple, or at least simpler, is knowing the fundamentals. Once you have this knowledge you have a better under - standing of recipes. Much of the mystique that sur rounds food soon vanishes when you lear n the stand- ard stages in how to make casseroles, soups, sauces and pastries, how to fry, poach, grill, roast, bake, steam, braise and stew. Remembering my friend’s stories of her adventures in the kitchen, I’m pretty sure she’s got the basics but I don’t think she’d appreci- ate a book that is full of recipes only a chef could make. Nor would she want a book that was full of hard and fast rules, never do this, always do that and don’t put a cloth over your shoulder! A rule both Jamie Oliver and I ignore, I’m pleased to say. The main rule I’ve lear nt is, apart from the fundamentals, there are no r ules. Just lots of egos. I know how my friend feels about egos so I decided keeping it simple yet sophisticated is the way to go – earthy, wholesome flavours, simply cooked meat and fish, and short, uncomplicated recipes. Donna Hay has a real talent for that, and is one of my favourite food writers at the moment, non-technical, moder n and tasty, with non-scary recipes and beautiful visuals. So it was Donna Hay’s book I bought for my friend and she says she loves it, even if she can’t get her spaghetti to curl round in a neat pile like Donna does every time. I daren’t tell her that Donna only does it with a little help from her food stylist friends, but that’s another story! cooking interruptus last word Trying to choose the perfect cookbook for a friend JAMIE WILLIAMS finds himself distracted by the seductive images of the food. A look to the left and I saw The Naked Chef stripping food back to the bare essentials, whilst a glance to the right and Nigella Lawson is licking whipped cream off her fingers.