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
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
arts + entsBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
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

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    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

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices