Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Week in, week out always Simon Hopkinson

There is something so intrinsically cosy about Simon Hopkinson, I always imagine him pottering around his rather gadget free kitchen probably in a nice comfy pair of cords calmly putting together a lunch for his friends occasionally slurping a glass of something wonderful and then unceremoniously emerging from the kitchen with a sublime dish served on a vaguely chintzy platter. I can’t see Simon rushing around getting flustered and shouting but instead insouciantly lifting the lid on some aromatic treat, dipping his spoon into the creamy/meaty/winy juices to confirm that perfection has been achieved and with a final sprinkle of just picked herbs from his garden and as he often says – served at once.

I can picture him ambling through the market in Uzès in Avignon in search of a few choice ingredients to whip up a tasty salad to eat later under the shade of an outstretched almond tree or having a sudden culinary epiphany whilst thoughtfully chewing a morsel of lamb that lacked “a little piquancy”. And it’s not surprising as his writing is astonishingly evocative, he weaves a tale around some gastronomic incident and then follows through with a handful of recipes that illustrate his point and totally leap off the page. It is no accident that Simon Hopkinson is an inspiration to so many of the chefs I admire and no surprise his ‘Roast Chicken and other Stories’ was voted as ‘the most useful cookbooks of all time’ by food writers, chefs and restaurateurs. We are so used to his eloquent prose but not being an avid reader of the Independent magazine between December 1994 and the spring of 2002, I haven’t often seen Simon’s recipes brought to life with some stunning photography. But that’s really the whole idea of Week in Week Out as the hugely talented photographer Jason Lowe had captured Simon’s work in his weekly columns and on reviewing this images many years later it became apparent that they wouldn’t look lost in today’s cookbook offerings. I have tried in my slightly obsessive way to identify the original photographs versus the ones that have inevitably supplemented it today but it’s tricky, there’s clearly a different styling to many of the photographs that grace the food magazines and book today but they have such a vibrant jewel-like quality and it can’t just be the super glossiness of the pages.

I am most grateful that the lovely C of Quadrille tipped me off that this brilliant book was coming to fruition way back in May, and I am delighted to see that Simon has credited her in Week in Week Outs acknowledgements, so we are both much obliged it seems!

The only downside perhaps of this magnificent book is that more commonly Simon Hopkinson’s tomes are slightly larger than a novel size, one that I can easily slip into my bag and savour on meandering journeys home but in the case of Week in Week Out I would have to resort to a rucksack to tote it around, and that is never ever going to happen! This is a fabulous book, I know this will be a firm favourite and could well be the next most useful cookbooks of all time but it is way more than just a collection of recipes it is an evocation of a better world, one where the eggs always have the “hue of Kia-Ora”, the Dijon mustard is always “freshly decanted from a Maille brass spigot” and that new potatoes are always the “tender and sweet Cornish nuggets” from Trevonne Farm near Padstow in Cornwall.

There are just too many astounding recipes in this book to single out but I will list a few as an aide-memoire of the ones I really must try first – Potato gnocchi with garlic and basic cream, Tiny new potatoes with caviar and chives, Lapin à la Dijonnaise, Roast duck with cider, cream and apples and the Cold ham soufflé.

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