Tuesday, October 10, 2006

And on the eighth day, J read cookbooks!

At the office waiting for me accusingly in their little cardboard jackets were two more. Two more cookbooks! The new Jamie Oliver one called 'Cook with Jamie' and Tom Aikens' first one called simply 'Cooking'. And they couldn't really be more different. First of all the photography and styling of the two books are complete opposites. You'll have to forgive me here, after being totally immersed in food photography for a week I am somewhat obsessed. I caught myself staring really hard at two pears, an apple and a plum in the kitchen at work today. I think my colleagues thought I had some odd desire to consume all the remaining fruit but no, it was all about the colour and the shapes and the shadows. I stopped short of grabbing my little Leica but if I find a decent white plate to artfully arrange them on I may not be able to resist next time.

David Loftus has photographed the food in the Jamie book. He is a prolific photographer who I think has done all Jamie's books. The style suits the cooking, it doesn't look contrived, it almost looks casual as if the stylist got accidentally locked out of the studio and they went ahead anyway. The pictures aren't glossy and have a gritty realism. Jamie says that this should have been his first book as it's more of a structured 'how to cook a la Jamie'. You see more of the preparation than his previous books and I'm pleased to see that the profits go to the Fifteen Foundation that supports the young ne'er do wells that get put through catering college and may become the Jamie of tomorrow.

A strange thing happened again, I opened the book randomly and the page fell to Oozy Egg Ravioli and yes, it's that elusive recipe again the egg yolk cooked inside a ravioli only revealing it's golden core when your fork penetrates it's pasta jacket. In his recipe he uses a wall of ricotta but he said his inspiration came from a dish he had in Piedmont seven years ago, and they used mash potato. I can't believe how long I've searched for this recipe and then find three in a month. (And eventually, as you can see here, I got around to recreating it...)

I was quite relieved that the Tom Aikens book doesn't have this recipe; it would just be a little weird if I start finding it everywhere I look! The photography is so entirely different, there are less of them and they look so precise. For some reason the book doesn't look like a British cookbook, there's something unusual about it and I can't put my finger on it. It also has the certain aroma of an American magazine, when you first open it. I like this book, there's something enticingly exotic about it.

You get the impression that for Jamie it's about the quality ingredients, the taste, his family, his friends, the restaurants and his students - it's a whole Jamie lifestyle possible helped by his original shows showing him mopeding around his favourite foodie emporiums and sliding down the banisters in his old Clerkenwell flat and then of course there were the Sainsbury adverts. For Tom though, I think it's all about the food. You see several shots of him bundled up in coats and scarves standing around outdoor markets staring penetratingly at various potential ingredients. He alludes slightly to his 'enfant' terrible past but doesn't discuss the reasons behind leaving Pied a Terre and working for private house kitchens for three years. And even though he cites his ex-wife Laura as being the driving force behind him setting up and establishing his present eponymous restaurant, you really get the impression that he never actually leaves his kitchen, ever! Okay maybe to stare at food in markets but for no other reason.

I'm convinced these books would have a different soundtrack also; can a book have a soundtrack? I think Jamie would have a lively guitar band playing as he bashes up handful of herbs in his mortar and pestle and Tom would either have something extremely obscure like an impenetrable German electronic band or total silence. He does mention working in the kitchen of Pierre Koffmann where the chefs only spoke French and later with Joel Robuchon inParis where they were encouraged not to talk at all and just listen for orders. They had to hear everything first time as they weren't permitted to go back and verify the checks again! Pretty harsh, I think. He also talks about working at Joel Robuchon's where the worse job was preparing the famed pomme puree as the lengthy process (including passing the mash through a sieve so fine that you couldn't see through it) could take upwards of 2 hours! Now I want to try his mash potato even more!

I know this book looks fascinating and I cannot wait to finally get to dine 'A la Tom' but I've barely had a moment to read it. Cookbooks don't generally lend themselves to slipping in the bag to read on the tube so I've decided I need to somehow find an eighth day of every week and just dedicate it to catching up on all the fabulous cookbooks that are piling up around me.

Hmmm, that might work!

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