At last, I have found that rare thing, a cookbook I want to read.
My partner has an addiction to cookery books that means we will literally not have enough time in our lives to try out even a quarter of the recipes we have on our shelves. And still he buys more. There are some that we will never ever use to cook (The French Laundry and Faviken are two examples; strictly coffee table books, except we don’t have a coffee table) and others that are dog-eared and juice-spattered from over-use (anything by Nigel Slater or Simon Hopkinson). Cooking on TV is pretty hit and miss. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is a regular guilty pleasure. However in our search for the next must-see mini series on Netflix, we came across Chef’s Table and we binged.
The first ‘episode’ focuses on Massimo Bottura (pictured) and his restaurant in Modena, Osteria Francescana. He’s an affable guy (for a chef) and obviously incredibly Italian, but also he had another dimension. He found inspiration in art, like none of the other featured chefs did. He made beautiful mistakes and had the best anecdotes. He was a family man and we never saw him shout at anyone in the kitchen. He saved parmesan cheese (I’m not kidding) and, for what it’s worth, he has 3 Michelin stars.
His dishes have great names like Hunting the Pigeon, Tribute to Thelonius Monk and Oops I Dropped the Lemon Tart. For all the fun, these dishes truly are edible works of art. So beautiful on the plate but (I can only imagine) even more beautiful on the palette.
The book, Never Trust An Italian Chef , is also a work of art. This extremely cultured man is influenced by art and tradition in a way that other chefs can only dream of. Read the book, you’ll see what I mean. On a first flick through though, one thing was noticeably missing – RECIPES. What the hell? What kind of cook book is this? Are his recipes so secret, so un-cookable, that there’s no reason to include them in his book about his food?
Actually, no. The beautiful full page photographs of each dish (and equally beautiful photos of the peopled environments they are cooked and served in) are accompanied by the story of the dish, an explanation of how it came into being and how they each represent his personal response to culture and tradition, in a way that is utterly captivating.
I’ve never been interested in going to Modena. Until now.
Oh, and if you flick to the rear end of the book, you’ll find the recipes. But I very dare you to try and cook them!
- Clair Chamberlain