God I love cooking. I mean, I really, really love it. You’d think nearly twenty years in and out of kitchen, burger bars, cafes and pizza joints would have put me off it, but I still get a real kick out of making something, putting it in front of people and watching their eyes light up.

It started way back when I was wee, when I was washing dishes in a restaurant called ‘Hendriks’ in the Mount. I remember being amazed by the marinated fish, and loved making the curried eggs. Shrimp cocktails were a joy. We had a pot-luck-lunch thing at school when I was in 7th form, and I baked a Grand Marnier cake. The teachers looked at me like I was “a poof”. God bless closed minded small towns. I still work to shake the years of ingrained prejudice.

Anyhow. I was given this cookbook for my recent birthday, and it’s a cracker. Bourdain is very much a ‘character’, as anyone familar with him will know, and that comes through in the cookbook. What distinguishes this cookbook from the million other books out there, is that he writes the book with the user in mind.

If you’re at all experienced in commerical kitchens then you’ll be aware that preparation is the most vital part of cooking. A decent meal is at very best sometimes prepared on the spur of the moment. All those dinner parties you’ve been to where the chef just “magically produces” a fantastic dish? Bullshit. They’ve been in there slaving for a day or more.

Mise en place is the fundamental tenet of decent cooking. The idea is that you do all the background cooking (stocks and sauces for example), then you do all your immediate preparation (chopping vegetables, cleaning meats) well in advance of the actual cooking.

What this leads to is less stress when it comes time to the cooking bit, and a better product because of it. There’s no “FCUK, gotta run to the dairy to buy [something you should already have]”, and consequently the kitchen is a much more enjoyable place.

What Bourdain does is divide each recipe into different types of preparation, and it makes for much better reading. One of the things that has always annoyed me about Jamie Oliver (for example), is that he uses pretty expensive ingredients, but doesn’t let you know that. He also doesn’t tell you when something is relatively hard to find. Bourdain spells all that out, which in combination with the staged preparation approach, means you’re not scratching your head wondering how in the hell the dish you’re trying to make is both cooked, and more importantly, assembled.

I’m looking forward to using this book. First recipe? choucroute garnie. In english? Types of pork with sauerkraut. Then I think I’m ready for cassoulet.

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