The Pedant in the Kitchen, By Julian Barnes
The recipe for clarified meaning
Lisa Markwell is the editor of The Independent on Sunday. She was previously executive editor of The Independent, i and The Independent on Sunday and has edited the features pages, and both the Saturday and Sunday supplements. She writes comment pieces for the papers and restaurant reviews for the New Review. Lisa has worked across a variety of newspapers and magazines and can now tick off every publication cycle from daily to quarterly. She is an enthusiastic foodie, mother of two teenagers and drives an electric car. She is writing a book about adoption.
Sunday 09 September 2012
There's something curious about people who say they read cookbooks like novels; that they love to have one on the bedside table, ready to "dip into". Doesn't that just make them want a midnight snack? A cookbook by a novelist, however, is quite a different prospect.
Julian Barnes's musings on cookery form the perfect bite-sized anthology for literary/foodie folk. First published in 2003, and now reprinted (perhaps to capitalise on Barnes's Booker Prize triumph) with an introduction from The Independent's Mark Hix, The Pedant in the Kitchen is as crisp and tart (yes, yes, puns intended) a piece of writing about food as one will find anywhere.
Barnes nurtures an obsession with food, particularly the preparation of it, and when he turns his attention to recipes, whether praising the good ones or criticising the lazy and bad ones, it makes for compelling reading. Too many modern recipes are slapdash, he says, with their "glugs" and "drizzles". "Why should a cookbook be less precise than a manual of surgery?" he challenges; and "Why should a word in a recipe be less important than a word in a novel? One can lead to physical indigestion, the other to mental." Well quite, although one suspects that most of us are more forgiving of a clanging adjective than Barnes.
He refers often to "The Pedant", a character who rages against recipes that call for "a wineglass of …" or to "Instruct your butcher …", perhaps because he knows that some of his vitriol is, well, overcooked. Sometimes it is Barnes as himself who recounts culinary difficulties, such as his father's well-intentioned beetroot sandwiches, or his own struggle with a Nigel Slater recipe for pork chops.
Did I mention that it's funny? Barnes hams up his own cack-handedness in the kitchen delightfully, and there are some pretty decent tips for the amateur cook who likes to entertain (although the term "dinner party" is banned in the Barnes household) and who doesn't like cumbersome gadgets and arduous prep.
There is, too, a poignancy. The book was, and is again, dedicated to She For Whom The Pedant Cooks. Fans will know that Julian Barnes's wife, Pat Kavanagh, died in 2008. I hope The Pedant continues to cook; a sequel would be most delicious.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Malaysian cyclist could face disciplinary action after 'Save Gaza' gloves protest
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
- 4 McDonald’s removes chicken nuggets from the menu in Hong Kong amid major food scare
- 5 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
Guardians Of The Galaxy, review: Marvel-lite movie feels half-hearted
Fifty Shades of Grey film stills
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia