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The Independent Culture
ON THESE pages next week, we begin a three-part serialisation of The River Caf Cook Book, one of the most eagerly awaited cookery books for years. We will be publishing the best of Tuscan country cooking: recipes for chargrilling, polenta and pasta, roast game and traditional desserts such as zabaglione ice cream and pear tart - some of the dishes that have won nothing but praise from food critics since the River Caf opened in 1987.

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers,the restaurant's owners, are an unlikely success story. Neither had professional training. Ruth Rogers, who is American, is married to architect and Reith lecturer Sir Richard Rogers. Rose Gray, a former art teacher, learnt to cook Italian family dishes after living in Tuscany for some years with her artist husband. She went on to open a club restaurant in New York. Together they have opened people's eyes to a world far from the limited conventions of Anglo-Italian restaurant cooking, introducing food which depends for its effect on the best and freshest Italian produce only.

They imported the best estate-bottled olive oils and balsamic vinegars, sun-dried tomatoes, Reggiano parmesan cheese, home-made pastas and polenta, finding growers of special vegetables, fennel and zucchini flowers, perfumed and peppery herbs like basil and rocket.

Their style of cooking has, from the outset, been unaffected. They made a virtue of chargrilling meat, fish and vegetables, to bring out their natural, fresh flavours. Very soon they had started an Italian revolution, opening the way to a new generation of restaurants specialising in regional Italian food.

The time is ripe, for not only is their food tasty but nutritionists now proclaim the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet: meat in small amounts, plenty of seafood, pasta, rice, polenta, fresh vegetables, fruit.

The opening of the River Caf will be seen as a turning point in the development of restaurant cooking in Britain, for it is home cooking elevated to a sophisticated level. In The River Caf Cook Book, to be published in May by Ebury Press, recipes are returned to the home cook, refined over eight years in the most testing kitchen conditions. The serialisation starts next week; look out for our special book offer.