Magazine article The Spectator

Round the World in Ten Gorgeous Cookbooks

Magazine article The Spectator

Round the World in Ten Gorgeous Cookbooks

Article excerpt

New books by Raymond Blanc and Pierre Koffmann retell the truth that British food came back from the brink. If it were not for the émigré chefs, I hate to think what we would be eating in British restaurants now. Fishfingers à la King, with pea jelly ring? Such horrors existed, or let's say they were perpetrated, in the 1970s, by Sainsbury's recipe cards, the Good Housekeeping Institute and in the books of that serial offender

Robert Carrier.

An embarrassment of showboat dishes are in Anna Pallai's 70s Dinner Party: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly of Retro Food (Square Peg, £9.99). Stuffed grapes, potato salad log (don't ask), cherry pineapple bologna -- this is actually a sausage main course; tomatoes stuffed with aubergine and kiwi. Kiwi? It is a book of photographs and wry, very funny captions. It takes pride of place in my loo, a reminder of what did not happen.

Koffmann and Blanc, both French, are very different. Koffmann trained in France before coming to Britain in the 1970s, while Blanc, the grandson of a famous French woman chef, taught himself to cook. Both men are brilliant, both influential not just for their cooking but because they have since trained at least a couple of generations of British chefs -- so saving our food culture from being Robert Carriered.

Pierre Koffmann, the superlative draughtsman whose heart is in the provinces, refines for us the bones of French cooking in ClassicKoffmann: 50 Years a Chef (Jacqui Small, £30): terrines, boudins, pots-au-feu, cassoulet and his famous stuffed pig's trotters, but also escabeche, brandade,

oeufs-à-la-neige and mousse-au-chocolat madeleines, which I cannot wait to try.

Raymond Blanc's book Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons (Bloomsbury, £50) is huge. He has been writing it for a decade and it is all about his life, recipes and the restaurant in the Oxfordshire manor, once the home of Sir Richard Camoys, whose son led the English rearguard to defeat the French at Agincourt. Blanc relishes his own invasion and has made the house -- and the village of Great Milton -- famous.

If Koffmann draws beautifully with food, Blanc is the impressionist painter. The recipes in his book, numerous and varied, are lovely. Crab with grapefruit and ginger (which works, where tomato, aubergine and kiwi never could), veal sweetbreads with girolles and watercress, red fruit soup and Champagne... For someone interested in cooking as a career, this book and Koffmann's are essential. And for home cooks, there is plenty in both that's doable.

Somewhere in the wonderful Ducksoup Cookbook: The Wisdom of Simple Cookin g (Square Peg, £25) by Clare Lattin and Tom Hill lies the stimulus of good chefs like Blanc and Koffmann. This is a book about the good food of now, from a popular small Soho restaurant that takes the best European ingredients and deconstructs them into pared-down arrangements. Salt cod, blood orange, fennel and chilli; chopped raw hanger steak, pickled radish and salted ricotta; black figs and toasted sesame ice cream. Beautifully produced, with strange, hand-folded pages to separate the sections, it would be a wonderful book to give anyone who loves shopping for food.

New British food, heavily multi-cultural, marks an exciting era. But there was a style, before hideous recipe cards, that was utterly delightful. A blend of country-house cookery and London hotel fare, it is the sort found in Tom Parker Bowles's Fortnum & Mason: The Cook Book (4th Estate, £30). …

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