Three books for the kitchen shelf - review by Keith Miller

Keith Miller

Ceps & the City

Three books for the kitchen shelf


There is plenty of scope for dissonance in a cookbook: between your memories and my expectations; between your devising dishes in a lavishly equipped professional kitchen, then serving them to paying customers, and my making them for loved ones at home. The short (or not so short) passages of travelogue and cultural history, the snippets of memoir and musings on identity that typically punctuate such books don’t just serve to establish the authorial brand and furnish the graphic design department with a handy visual element; they also seek to smooth out some of these dissonances. Or sometimes to assert that the dissonances are what makes the whole business interesting.

In Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many (Fourth Estate 416pp £30), the triangulations that chef Jeremy Lee tries, for the most part brilliantly successfully, to achieve are those that integrate the ostensibly very different pleasures of eating out and cooking at home. Lee’s book is not without its idiosyncrasies: the prose wavers between a sort of Firbankian baroque and a childish joyousness – a favoured adjective is ‘ace’. But it’s many leagues away from the dead-eyed boilerplate churned out by most chefs, celebrity or otherwise, who put pen to paper. It contains plenty of DNA from the author’s professional life: the plain flavours – Lee’s spice rack isn’t exactly groaning under the weight of its contents – and unimpeachable produce of Scotland, the stylish modern European food of Alastair Little (under whom Lee worked) and the Blueprint Café (where he was head chef), the more distinctly British and often discernibly St John-ish dishes Lee serves nowadays at Quo Vadis. But it was researched and partly written during lockdown, when Lee was cooped up at home (‘I turned my flat into a field kitchen’) like the rest of us. So the recipes it contains are sometimes showy – there’s a section on ‘Ashets and chargers’, big plates to be loaded up with what Lee likes to call ‘good things’ – but seldom intimidatingly cheffy. I made his game pie, though I couldn’t get my hands on a hare, and found it pretty straightforward; Lee also has quite a way with chard.

He understands that at a deep level it doesn’t really matter whether you’re cooking for yourself or your family, whether you’ve got friends round or you’re eating out: the pleasures of the table are profoundly enhanced by feelings of fellowship, whether that means laughter or conversation or simple

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