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The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater Hardcover – October 19, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Few writers could get away with what London Observer columnist Slater does here: jotting down what he eats and recording recipes for the homemade items over the course of a year. Slater, though, has the writing chops to make it work—as proven in his memoir Toast. His style is lazily thoughtful, but also honest and unfussy: January 9 sees a "gray, endless drizzle" that makes it "the sort of day on which to light the fire, turn on the radio and bake a cake." The recipe for Double Ginger Cake that follows, however, highlights this book's sometimes problematic Britishness when it calls for both golden syrup and stem ginger in syrup, available, a footnote claims, "in some supermarkets and specialty shops." Slater's food isn't British in the stodgy sense. Indeed, he smoothly incorporates the flavors of other cultures into his cooking to make Indian-influenced Spiced Roast Potatoes with Yogurt and Mint, for example. Yet local references and recommendations, such as a tip that the best hummus may be purchased "at the Green Valley, just off the Edgware Road," will frustrate readers in the U.S. As George Bernard Shaw once said, the British and the Americans are two peoples divided by a common language. Sadly, much of this wonderful book is lost in translation, or lack thereof. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Cooking in harmony with the seasons' produce has inspired the talented London food writer to share his culinary diary across a 12-month cycle. Each date records the foods he produces for himself and for his friends. For those special dishes whose ingredients and preparation aren't obvious, Slater provides recipes. These range in complexity from a simple herbed chicken stew to an eggplant, tomato, and lemongrass curry. Fresh fruits and vegetables star throughout, and he relies on locally raised organic goods wherever possible. Experienced cooks will have little trouble interpreting some of the vague directions or translating native British produce to American kitchens. Photographs also help guide cooks. Slater disparages the idea that consumers demand out-of-season goods, calling it a myth generated by supermarkets. Yet even he can't resist the lure of fresh fruit in the depths of winter. His diary's January 4 entry notes that he crowns his breakfast oatmeal with blueberries. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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I once described to culinary journalist and writing teacher, Dianne Jacob, the author of `Will Write for Food', that I thought there were three major styles of recipe writing. The first and most common these days is the model created by Julia Child in `Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. Everyone from James Beard on down rewrote his or her stuff in this style soon after this book came out. The second style is the `haute cuisine' / celebrity chef style epitomized by Joel Robuchon, with the assistance of Patricia Wells. These recipes are read less to prepare these dishes than to garnish insights on new cooking techniques and unusual ingredients. The third is what I described as the Elizabeth David style of recipe writing as this great writer did in her earliest books on Mediterranean, French, and Italian cooking. Ms. Jacob said she didn't think anyone wrote recipes like Elizabeth David (except, perhaps, Elizabeth David). I submit that if in no other way, then certainly in this style of culinary writing, Nigel Slater is the truest incarnation of Elizabeth David's style of recipe writing.
As he explains in his excellent book, `Appetite', he is all about a minimalist approach to recipe writing, to advance the greatest culinary pleasure of being able to cook without a cookbook, or, at the very least, with only the barest suggestions from the author on how to go about doing things with some ingredients at hand. This is the most attractive aspect of several current popular culinary writers, not the least of whom is Slater's compatriot, Jamie Oliver, who seems to worship the ground on which Slater walks.
This book is also a great study in the cardinal precept of Tom Colicchio's `How to Think Like a Chef' which states that recipes do not develop from an interest to make a tart or a roast or a ceviche or whatever. They arise from what the chef has on hand. This book is an essay on that principle in a way which makes the principle real for the average amateur cook who works exclusively at home.
One of the greatest revelations you will find in this book is the surprising truth that even distinguished culinary writers will often eat through the day by simply picking out of the fridge and that Slater often goes for two or three days without actually cooking a `sit down' meal. This rings so true that those of us who routinely watch Rachael Ray saying that she cooks full two and three dish meals every day, or almost every day at home in the Adirondacks seriously believe she is exaggerating just a bit.
The title of this book must be taken completely literally. It is so much of a diary that about 40% of the text in the book is more like the material in a memoir than in a cookbook. It is not unrelated to `cooking', as it describes the circumstances under which certain dishes come about. The primary circumstance is the season, or more exactly the month or time in the season. So, the book is organized by month rather than by quarterly season.
Another very important sense in which this is a `diary' is that it has very much a sense of being an unfinished work in progress. Slater is nothing if not eloquent in his writing in his other books. That is why I am so surprised to find plainly awkward, unpolished writing in this book. This leads me to believe that unlike much of his other work, this book has not seen the pages of a newspaper with its platoon of copy editors poring over the text to clean up awkward writing.
This awkwardness may make one stop and reread passages here and there, but it will clearly not detract from the pleasure of reading this book for dyed in the wool foodies. Another thing which may limit the interest of the book to food fanatics is that like `Appetite' and unlike some of his more popular books such as `real fast food' and `real cooking', all measurements are done in metric units.
In the end, if you enjoy writing about food, this book is simply a great find. It is one of those rare books which puts you into the cook's head and lets you see work in progress in a way I simply have never seen anywhere else, even in Colicchio's important book or in better writer / chef collaborations such as Bittman / Von Gerichten and Welles / Robuchon.
Very highly recommended for foodies.