I love flicking through cookery books. I’m a complete sucker for them, always have been. I’m a curious cook (that is, someone that enjoys playing and investigating in the kitchen, not someone that’s a bit odd when he puts on an apron (although that accusation has also been quite fairly laid in front of me. That does not necessarily mean I have to eat it)). I believe in reading round the subject. Post-austerity cookery books of the 50’s are especially good value, their garish colour schemes never quite disguising the fact that the lovingly photographed spam fritter is just that, and therefore in-flippin-edible.
I enjoy cookery books that bring something more than recipes to the table. My enthusiasm for Nigel Slater knows no bounds, and it’s not just because his relaxed and improvisational way with a meal perfectly suits my own. He brings so much of himself to the page that the process of cooking becomes more… conversational, I suppose. Plus, he has a way of slipping dirty jokes and innuendo into the recipes, in a way that just adds a certain naughty charm to proceedings. Anyone that doesn’t believe that cooking is all about sex should try reading some of his dessert ideas.
Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is another book that I go back to time and again for inspiration, although it doesn’t actually contain any recipes at all. Rather, it’s the passion and the attitude that he slathers across the page that I sometimes crave. Part autobiography, part cautionary tale (it is thanks to Bourdain that I will never order fish in a restaurant on a Monday), part business plan, part manifesto – all great. He writes crime books too, with the same elan and skill. The book was transferred to a lacklustre TV show, that failed in my mind because there wasn’t half enough Bourdain in it. His greedy enthusiasm for everything edible renders the book almost lickably good.
However, if cornered, my favourite food book comes from the mighty, and sadly missed, Keith Floyd. He was the first TV chef I took seriously, and certainly the one that inspired me to cook with a glass in hand. One for the pot, one for me. His American Pie is an extraordinary travelogue. Floyd tears across the States in a big red Caddy with a crazy blonde PA in tow telling a story that is in equal parts crazed, elegiac, evocative and drop-the-book funny. It’s a bonus that it just happens to have an addendum filled with some extraordinarily good recipes. I will admit to not being brave enough to try to make chitlins or collard greens his way (offal and I have never seen eye to orifice) but his small section on the great American slumgullion has informed my cooking from it’s formative stages. Again, it’s that slightly experimental approach. I like all these ingredients. Let’s chuck ’em all in a pan together, and see what comes out. It’s worked so far. Well, I haven’t poisoned anyone yet…
I’ve found a couple of pieces online recently that have nourished me in a similar way. Roger Ebert, the famed movie critic, has posted a wonderful piece on his recollections of food. It’s a piece that’s Proustian in it’s detail, and heartbreaking in it’s central conceit – following a series of operations, Ebert can no longer eat or drink. The memory of food is all he has left. Although there is a wonderful moment where he talks the doctors into putting some coke into his IV…
Then there’s this, from Stuart Ian Burns, AKA Feeling Listless. Slipped into the middle of his musings on frozen pizza and Costco steak, there’s a moment where he talks about a Pan du Chocolat he ate …well, half-ate, at the Musee d’Orsay Café in Paris. It’s beautiful and frankly … heartbreaking.
There’s plenty more food for the soul out there. Any suggestions?