Books of the year 2013: Food


Are you an anarchist or an acolyte in the way you use cookbooks? Two food experts who face each other across the Atlantic have radically differing recommendations. In One Good Dish (Artisan, £17.99), David Tanis, formerly head chef of the legendary California eatery Chez Panisse and now food columnist on The New York Times, selects his everyday favourites such as Spanish garbanzo bean stew, warm potato salad with peppers and onions or mussels on the half-shell with breadcrumbs and parsley (highly recommended). "I hope you don't follow these recipes slavishly," he concludes. "Improvisation and ad-libbing make life in the kitchen much more interesting."

It's the way that this reviewer tends to cook – a glance at the recipe to get the bare bones, then ditch the book for the pan – but this approach is not supported by Rory O'Connell, teacher at the acclaimed Ballymaloe Cookery School near Cork. At the start of Master It (Fourth Estate, £25), he declares, "This is not a 'chuck it in and see how it goes' book… Use the best ingredients you can find, get organised and follow the recipe." Though it may irk culinary anarchists, if you pursue O'Connell's four chatty pages on grilled sea bass or three on casserole-roast chicken with watercress, the result should be a small masterpiece.

The most handsome cookbook of the year (cover by Michael Craig-Martin) comes from this paper's food writer, but the dishes in The Collection (Quadrlle, £25), Mark Hix's selection of his favourite British recipes, have more to do with robust flavours than aesthetics. Haute cuisine has its place but for my taste there's nothing to beat cow heel and black peas (also known as carlins), scrambled eggs with sea urchin or spiced baked spider crab. The ingredients for these particular dishes may take some finding but if this country were as food-obsessed as the TV schedules suggest, they should be available on every high street.

The reason for the dramatic surge of interest in baking is surely as much social or familial as culinary. This is borne out by Rose Prince's The Pocket Bakery (Weidenfeld, £18.99), which stems from a Battersea-based enterprise intended to provide pocket money for her children and, subsequently, a career for her bright but restless son. The visceral appeal of her sourdough variations (which run to 40 pages), duck and pork pie or sweet olive oil bread with grapes is enough to turn any kitchen into a Pocket Bakery. Compared to the steamy world of celebrity confectionary, The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook by Lynn Hill (Quercus, £20) is a breath of fresh air. The recipes come from "amateur bakers… without a hint of competition" and there are no cupcakes ("a small cake's no good for sharing"). Hurrah! Instead, the sliceable delights of rhubarb-and-custard cake, St Paddy's Day Guinness Loaf, Polish apple cake…

High-flying chefs are prone to giantism in books (if not always in their portions), none more so than Heston Blumenthal, whose modestly-entitled Historic Heston Blumenthal (Bloomsbury, £125) is the size of a pulpit Bible. All but lost among the giant typography, photo-spreads, oversized illustrations and acres of gold pages is a lively vindication of British cookery through 27 dishes between 1390 and 1892. Those who wish to essay the dishes in this edible history should be warned that Blumenthal's recipes require the deeply anachronistic resources of his much-publicised research kitchen. Pretty much every recipe uses sous-vide. A medieval dish called compost requires a Thermomix. Somewhat inappropriately for a sect dedicated to the simple life, Quaker Pudding (1660) demands a steam-injected oven.

For his second book, René Redzepi, maestro of Noma in Copenhagen, until recently No 1 in the World's 50 Best Restaurants, has avoided the lure of the monster tome. Instead, A Work in Progress (Phaidon, £39.95) consists of three volumes. In ascending size, they are: Snapshots (highlights include "Test kitchen knife drawer" and "Delicious dead animals"); A Journal ("Brains just fall apart in an unpleasant way"); and Noma Recipes, which includes such treats as fatty fish liver cooked in butter, dried carrots with grass and hay flavours and, of course, bouquet of greens with black ant dressing (Redzepi concedes that you can use "any other ant with a distinct citrus flavour").

With food books increasingly devoted to recipes that are, for reasons of technology, ingredients or complexity, all but impossible, it seems logical to drop them entirely. This is the course pursued by Nathan Myhrvold, the Microsoft boss-turned-scientific cooking guru, in The Photography of Modernist Cuisine (The Cooking Lab, £80). Huge double-page spreads of miraculously precise close-ups transform a tomato into a bulging red cushion, a sliced carrot into a glowing sun. The dish that apparently involves firing a bullet through several eggs is new to me. Though there are too many gadgets sawn in half, a strategy anticipated by Yoko Ono in the Sixties, flipping through the vast, glowing images is a striking experience. But where's the oyster?

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor