I have written a cookbook that has just been published by Toast. The obvious question that must be addressed is: does the world need another damn cookbook? Shouldn’t there be a moratorium on cookery writing until we’ve actually cooked some of the recipes? Nigel, Nigella, Nigelissima, bust.
It makes its appearance at a time when the tables of cookery books in bookshops are in danger of buckling under the strain of large volumes of food porn, and TV programmes unrelated to cookery are becoming extinct. Fantastically extravagant claims are being made for food – spiritual, artistic, philosophical. Restaurant menus are full of purple prose, and we’re offered the opportunity to gorge on aged beef and underage veg.
A backlash against foodism is under way. The excellently stroppy Guardian journalist Steven Poole has written a diatribe called You Aren’t What You Eat, which brilliantly skewers foodie pretension and foodie rhetoric. Predictably, he has spiky support from the great Jonathan Meades, who takes particular delight in Poole’s attack on a classic piece of foodie bollocks from Anthony Bourdain, writing about the chef Thomas Keller: ‘You haven’t seen how he handles fish, gently laying it down on the board and caressing it, approaching it warily, respectfully, as if communicating with an old friend.’ But the fish is dead! says Meades. Is Keller a medium? Or a necrophiliac fish-fiddler?
I can only defend my cookbook on grounds of lack of pretension. It’s a formalized version of a hand-written recipe book I’ve kept since I was a child. For me, cookery is about enjoyment, hospitality, sociability. I do a job (composing) which is mostly solitary, and which I find difficult and elusive. Cooking is an opportunity to do something comparatively easy with comparatively quick and reliable results. It’s about pottering around the kitchen listening to music, about trying to cook good food with inexpensive ingredients, about reading lots of different recipes for the same dish, about occasionally experimenting with something left-field like pickled melon (wonderful), but more likely about making pasta carbonara for the nth time while trying to decide whether to use egg yolks or whole eggs (the jury’s out). And then it’s about enjoying the results, and the chat.
I should have been put off by my first effort to give a big dinner. Soon after I arrived at university – too soon – my naughty friend Nigel (no, not that Nigel), who had, seductively, already spent time in prison somewhere in the Middle East, and I decided to give a party. We invited about 100 people, significantly more people than we actually knew. Names appeared on the guest list by osmosis. Nigel was front-of-house, which meant effectively that he did bugger all except to hunt down some dope, and I was in the kitchen – or rather in several kitchens, because no one we knew had a kitchen big enough. I made duck with cherries from the Cordon Bleu Cookbook – an insane choice since it meant i) spending a fortune on ducks ii) sidelining any vegetarians iii) making an enormous quantity of demi-glace sauce for the first (and as it turned out only) time. Demi-glace sauce is a sophisticated kind of brown sauce that takes practice. Considering my lack of experience, it was like trying to play a Beethoven piano concerto when you’re on Grade 5 piano. The ducks were distributed around town to various friends, and I ran around like a headless chicken (duck) between them, checking on their progress. I remember a network of scuzzy gas cookers with ovens groaning with unevenly cooked poultry. Fat everywhere. Heat like the engine room of a ship. Who knows if the dish was a success, because the party was overrun by gatecrashers, and the food was eaten almost exclusively by people I’d never met and would never see again.
For more on Orlando’s own book Orlando Gough Recipe Journal click here.