Of the festive season feast of foodie books, Barry Shelby reckons River Cottage’s Fearnley-Whittingstall is the tastiest. Plus we run through a selection
of this year’s other big hitters of culinary literature
ht: mu xnuu We truly' m . I | E ' = a t
he beauty of Hugh
that he can write — unlike the majority of celebrity chefs. He has developed his own ‘voice'. which is consistent. whether in the printed page or recited on the flat- screen TV. Similar to the late John Peel. when you read a passage by H F-W. you can practically hear him speak the lines.
That‘s no small feat and it makes this tin-illustrated collection of his previously published journalism — in everything from Punch to (IQ Active — a joy to read most of the time. H F-W enjoys playing with language. Even if it doesn‘t always succeed. his delight with English is ultimately infectious. The boy can be clever. as well. The premise to his review of the esteemed Tante Claire in London is to see if they would do what the customer asked. specifically cook his beef — horror of horrors! — well done. They do. ‘But charred thought it was. you could not say any attempt had been made to sabotage the dish. and thereby teach me a lesson.‘ he writes. ‘This very well done-ness of this steak was — for want of a better phrase — very well done.‘
100 THE LIST 16—30 Nov 2006
There are occasional lapses. particularly in more recent restaurant reviews. They display the impoverished language under which food writing too often suffers: rubbish cliches such as ‘meltingly tender.’ for example. But H F-W also demonstrates why a knowledge of cooking can improve a food review with a touch of unforced gravitas that too many hacks. whether AA Gill or ‘Diner Tec‘. lack. His critiques carry weight because he can suggest alternatives to ingredients and execution.
The book also suffers from a bit of bad editing. lnexplicably. a
nearly ten-year-old review of
Connaught and its now long-gone nostalgic approach to cuisine is in the section of the book devoted to local. organic and seasonal food. Elsewhere. in two consecutive essays. dated less than one year apart. his son ()scar is variously three-and-a-half years old and ‘soon to be six'. Go figure.
There are only a few recipes. but these are the least appetising part of the book. Much more toothsome is H F-W‘s retelling his French in-laws discussion of the death of their local cheesemaker
NO OTHER CELEBRITY CHEF WOULD OFFER
A REAL HASH BROWNIE RECIPE
(titled locally produced to die for") or his distaste for the sobriquet ‘foodie’. ‘lfl accept that it is genuinely descriptive of a certain type of person.‘ he postulates. ‘then I may have to face the fact that I probably am one.‘ Perhaps. it is such self—
effacement that reminds me of
Peel. as well.
And H li-W. despite the double barrclled surname. remains reasonably convincing in his role as the down-sizing. back to the earth cooking crofter. Yes. this is at least part performance. But no other celebrity chef‘s cookbook would offer a real recipe for hash brownies. even if it was originally part of the Indy on Sunday's legalise-it campaign and appears here mainly to confirm H li-W‘s half-hippie credentials.
Hugh Fearlesst East It All by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
The Taste of Britain Laura Mason and Catherine Brown 0000. The Taste of Britain is a Culinary Domesday book. A weighty tome that diligently catalogues some 400 foods. recipes and dishes from across the different regions of the UK. it seeks to describe foods with a geographical identity. France and Italy have it in spades. of c0urse. but what ab0ut here? Believe it or not. we do. We find entries from the _ familiar (Aberdeen Angus .4 cattle. rhubarb. apples) to the y particular (Melton Mowbray Pies or Forfar Bridles). There
are a host of intriguing entries — the Cumnock Tart (a sweet version of mutton pie usmg apple or rhubarbi. or Bara Brith (Welsh teacake) — as well as Chitterlings (pigs' intestinesi or Stiffkey Blues
(a type of cocklel.
It is both a deeply valuable survey and a delightful trea8ure trove. Published in a way that gives even greater dignity to the authority of the authors' research and meaSLired prose. a book such as this gives us confidence that Our food traditions are indeed valid. appealing and diverse. (DB)
I Harper Press. £25