Books: Cookery

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Has there ever been a more emetic TV performer than Gary Rhodes? Smug, preening, bereft of irony, he sauces his culinary efforts with a creamy deluge of superlatives. Yet - and it sticks in the craw to say it - the shock-haired sprite is a restaurateur of some significance. The contradiction between his laddish screen persona and his gastronomy is made plain in Gary Rhodes: Fabulous Food (BBC Books, pounds l7.99), which largely consists of rather demanding restaurant recipes. It is intriguing to conjecture how many of Gazza's fans will feel an irresistible urge to essay Roast Foie Gras on Potato Pancakes (requiring 12 oz of duck foie gras, currently retailing at pounds 17.50 per pound) or Braised Piece of Beef with turnip puree enriched with an "optional" addition of 1-2 oz bone marrow ("soak in cold water for 24-48 hours").

At least The Ivy: the restaurant and its recipes by A A Gill (Hodder, pounds 25) makes no secret of its provenance, though Gill insists that the eclectic menu at this thesps' nosherie is like "Melody FM eating or those compilation albums of your 100 best love songs". This unflattering comparison is borne out by recipes which range from the author's favourite Roast Poulet des Landes (chicken with foie gras) to Shepherd's Pie.

In fact, the recipes take something of a back seat, occupying only 63 of its 208 pages. The rest is taken up with lavish photospreads and Gill's vapid musings: "Noel Coward doesn't eat here, Laurence Olivier, Margot Fonteyn, Marlene Dietrich and Dame Nellie Melba don't eat here, but they did". Annoyingly, Gill repeatedly stresses how hard it is for ordinary mortals to get a table.

Still, it is easier to dine at the Ivy than the venue which inspired one of the oddest cookbooks ever published. Including an illustration of a hardtack biscuit saved from a lifeboat, Last Dinner on the Titanic by Rich Archbold and Dana McCauley (Weidenfeld, pounds 9.99) features recipes from the 12-course dinners - Canapes a l'Admiral, Barley Soup, Poached Salmon, Filet Mignon, Roast Squab, Asparagus Salad, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, - which sustained the ill-fated passengers. No wonder it went down.

One chef who has pulled off the feat of writing a practical and irresistibly seductive cookbook is Peter Gordon, whose Sugar Club Cookbook (Hodder, pounds 20) pursues a single theme rather than attempting to be all things to all men. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Gordon is a New Zealander specialising in the ultra-fashionable mix'n'match of the Pacific Rim. His signature dish of Grilled Scallops with Sweet Chilli Sauce and Creme Fraiche is the stuff of heaven, and surprisingly easy to put together.

Prospective purchasers should be warned that it's advisable to have a good oriental supermarket within reach. Even in these food-obsessed times, you don't find galangal (a fibrous member of the ginger family) on every street corner. His recipe for Kangaroo Tail & Olive Stew may also present a slight problem - but you can substitute oxtail.

The solid, no-nonsense treats in Two Fat Ladies Ride Again by Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright (Ebury Press, pounds 17.99) demand little in the way of exotica, - unless you count the mushroom relish required for Devilled Kidneys. This book is rather like watching these relentlessly jolly gels with the sound turned down - by no means a disadvantage.

Much of it is upper-class comfort food c.1956, often oddly named. Oxford John is fried slices of leg of lamb and Eton Mess, squashed strawberries with crumbled meringue in cream. All tempting enough, except the meals for which the buxom pair suggest recipes don't seem to exist any more. Does anyone still eat the impossibly soporific breakfasts which incorporate Omelette Arnold Bennett and Mustard Bloaters?

The genius of Nigel Slater is that he writes better than anyone else about the actual business of cooking. In Real Cooking (Michael Joseph, pounds 18.99) he warns what will happen if you follow his technique for grilled chicken: "The smoke is the thing. Copious quantities fill my kitchen and therefore my living room when the oiled chicken hits the red-hot iron."

Slater's recipes are simple, precise ("The mixture should not really bubble, just occasionally `bloop' at you") and substantial: "But it is a tiny little thing, the quail. One per person seems mean, though two smacks of greed. Serve two." If his prose occasionally tries too hard, as in his description of squid as "druids in the rain", it is a small price to pay for such good sense and enthusiasm.

In South Wind Through the Kitchen: the best of Elizabeth David (Michael Joseph, pounds 20) culinary celebs truffle out their favourite bits of Davidiana. It's unlikely that you'll do a great deal of cooking from this book, but her inspirational magic is potent as ever. The perfect foodie bedside book.

Marcella Hazan by Marcella Hazan (Macmillan, pounds 25) adds another bulky volume to her four classic texts on Italian cuisine. It may be blasphemy to say so, but I find her Italo-American prose less than entrancing and her recipes tend to be stodgy and old-fashioned. Stick to Anna Del Conte.

The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden (Viking, pounds 20) will come as a revelation to anyone who has had the generally disheartening experience of dining in a Jewish restaurant. In this encyclopaedic work, Roden explores the diverse styles of Ashkenazi and Sephardi cuisine.

Dishes such as the Aubergine Flan of Turkish Jews and Minty Carrot Chicken from the Baghdadi Jewish community of India prove that there's life beyond gefilte fish. Even pork gets a mention in the index.

Christopher Lloyd's Gardener Cook (Frances Lincoln, pounds 20) is an amiable saunter round the orchard and vegetable patch. The sage of Great Dixter notes that figs are the most "luscious and exotic" of British fruits, and sea kale is "as beautiful as any vegetable we grow". He even throws in a selection of recipes as good measure. It's good to get back to earth.

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