Food & Drink: And once more with Freeling - Food + Drink - Life and Style - The Independent

Food & Drink: And once more with Freeling

Number One Son kindly brightened my Christmas by giving me the two just-reprinted (in the United States) cooking classics by Nicolas Freeling, The Kitchen Book (1970) and The Cook Book (1972). But then I suffered a crisis of conscience.

Freeling, like the characters in his admirable crime novels, is a tough man, a trained cook who worked his way up from the bottom, and he is not sparing in his opinions. He is particularly deadly about food writers, genteel cooking 'schools', kitchen gadgets, 'experts' and snobs. 'You cannot teach cooking out of a book any more than you can carpentry . . . No good writer on food gives formal recipes,' he states, quoting Le Figaro's James le Coquet to the effect that 'a recipe has a hidden side, like the moon'.

Hence my crisis. Would I fall under one of his many interdicts? On the basics, Freeling is indubitably right: practice is what makes the good cook - practice, knowledge and the ability to improvise. The aspirant cook, he says, should be left in a kitchen with a cooker which does not work very well, a few beaten-up pots and some leftovers: 'In the fridge, two grilled pork chops, three eggs, some cold boiled potatoes, a dried-out piece of cheese and half a packet of butter. In the rack, half a cabbage, two wilted carrots and an apple. In the cupboard, a tin of sardines, a packet of spaghetti and a few tins of herbs that have lost their labels . . .'

I am a latitudinarian in such matters. I think there are many paths to salvation, and many useful ways (keeping in mind Freeling's dictum that 'a kitchen book should create an appetite') to write about food.

But all truly good food writers are people of long experience. The best books about food are retrospective, and to some degree nostalgic. They often describe meals long ago eaten and unlikely to be replicated.

One may come to writing about food from the direction of the professional cook or that of the informed eater. The professional cook is not always an eater, the eater is not always a cook, but each must have a love of the anecdotage of the kitchen and the dinner table. They must be sharp observers of human nature and of appetites of all kinds.

To be a chef requires a knowledge of human nature; it also, as Freeling eloquently points out, demands hierarchy. There has to be someone 'in charge'. The saucier may be brilliant but profligate; the vegetable man may drink; the tournants, in charge of roasts and grills, may be prodigiously lazy; each may loathe the others as much as they do the customers.

Even for the solo cook, method has much to do with human economy: you are now creative genius, now desperately bored, and your task is to subordinate the different parts of your character to efficient food preparation.

The same is true of the eater, who has to deal with appetite, anticipation, choice, time, appreciation, distraction and conversation. The professional cook has the advantage in technique, consistency; the amateur eater comes at the same craft from the opposite end and his experience of eating is likely to be greater. But, specialist or generalist, the object is communication; the subject, the pleasure and pain of cooking.

And we all have our surly side. Unlike the wonderfully funny Ludwig Bemelmans, Freeling does not so much celebrate the past as distrust the present he grew into. He was brought up as a cook under 'the system', which was the epitome of French cuisine. The system had to do with the management of the preparation of food, and all those who worked within it considered, equally: efficiency, economy, cleanliness and, if possible, profit.

This could not last in the post-war period, with its new, less knowledgeable customers, its corner-cutting chefs, and its accountants. Kitchens lost their eccentricity; we all lived amid motorway gastronomy, homogenised food, homogenised manners. Cuisine bourgeoise died, and Freeling memorably marks its passing, quoting a marvellous line of Bemelmans about the new kind of restaurant manager, whose face was 'like a towel on which everyone has wiped his hands'.

Freeling chastises food writers who claim authority and who seem all- knowing. But those who begin writing about food as eaters do know: they know what they have eaten and what they feel about it. And recipes are not wrong per se; it is just that too many cookery-book writers do not take into account the variability of ingredients, pots, and cookers.

That is why the best writing about food - and Freeling is one of the very best - is no more than suggestive, and always humble.

The Kitchen Book is available in paperback (Andre Deutsch) at pounds 7.99.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week