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`the kitchen diaries' by `Britain's best-loved food writer' (according to the clear stickie on the book cover), Nigel Slater is truly one of the most unusual culinary books I have seen since I began reviewing all sorts of different cookbooks, cooking science books, culinary memoirs, and culinary history books. The one similarly unusual book that comes to mind is the great `Honey from a Weed' by Patience Gray in that both are culinary diaries. The salient difference between the two is that Gray's book covers the cuisines of four important culinary locations, while Slater's guiding light is the food available through the various months of the year. Oddly, in spite of the great quality of both books, neither is a very good guide to the food from their inspiration. Both are meant less as a reference for looking up recipes and more for the kind of book you simply sit down and read from cover to cover.
I once described to culinary journalist and writing teacher, Dianne Jacob, the author of `Will Write for Food', that I thought there were three major styles of recipe writing. The first and most common these days is the model created by Julia Child in `Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. Everyone from James Beard on down rewrote his or her stuff in this style soon after this book came out. The second style is the `haute cuisine' / celebrity chef style epitomized by Joel Robuchon, with the assistance of Patricia Wells. These recipes are read less to prepare these dishes than to garnish insights on new cooking techniques and unusual ingredients. The third is what I described as the Elizabeth David style of recipe writing as this great writer did in her earliest books on Mediterranean, French, and Italian cooking. Ms. Jacob said she didn't think anyone wrote recipes like Elizabeth David (except, perhaps, Elizabeth David). I submit that if in no other way, then certainly in this style of culinary writing, Nigel Slater is the truest incarnation of Elizabeth David's style of recipe writing.
As he explains in his excellent book, `Appetite', he is all about a minimalist approach to recipe writing, to advance the greatest culinary pleasure of being able to cook without a cookbook, or, at the very least, with only the barest suggestions from the author on how to go about doing things with some ingredients at hand. This is the most attractive aspect of several current popular culinary writers, not the least of whom is Slater's compatriot, Jamie Oliver, who seems to worship the ground on which Slater walks.
This book is also a great study in the cardinal precept of Tom Colicchio's `How to Think Like a Chef' which states that recipes do not develop from an interest to make a tart or a roast or a ceviche or whatever. They arise from what the chef has on hand. This book is an essay on that principle in a way which makes the principle real for the average amateur cook who works exclusively at home.
One of the greatest revelations you will find in this book is the surprising truth that even distinguished culinary writers will often eat through the day by simply picking out of the fridge and that Slater often goes for two or three days without actually cooking a `sit down' meal. This rings so true that those of us who routinely watch Rachael Ray saying that she cooks full two and three dish meals every day, or almost every day at home in the Adirondacks seriously believe she is exaggerating just a bit.
The title of this book must be taken completely literally. It is so much of a diary that about 40% of the text in the book is more like the material in a memoir than in a cookbook. It is not unrelated to `cooking', as it describes the circumstances under which certain dishes come about. The primary circumstance is the season, or more exactly the month or time in the season. So, the book is organized by month rather than by quarterly season.
Another very important sense in which this is a `diary' is that it has very much a sense of being an unfinished work in progress. Slater is nothing if not eloquent in his writing in his other books. That is why I am so surprised to find plainly awkward, unpolished writing in this book. This leads me to believe that unlike much of his other work, this book has not seen the pages of a newspaper with its platoon of copy editors poring over the text to clean up awkward writing.
This awkwardness may make one stop and reread passages here and there, but it will clearly not detract from the pleasure of reading this book for dyed in the wool foodies. Another thing which may limit the interest of the book to food fanatics is that like `Appetite' and unlike some of his more popular books such as `real fast food' and `real cooking', all measurements are done in metric units.
In the end, if you enjoy writing about food, this book is simply a great find. It is one of those rare books which puts you into the cook's head and lets you see work in progress in a way I simply have never seen anywhere else, even in Colicchio's important book or in better writer / chef collaborations such as Bittman / Von Gerichten and Welles / Robuchon.
I've just bought Kitchen Diaries (2005) and Kitchen Diaries II (2012). Nigel Slater is my kind of cook as his recipes are straight-forward, easy to understand, and generally use ingredients that are either already in our cupboards, fridges and freezers, or readily available to most of us. I suppose I fell in love with Nigel's cookery skills by watching his television programmes. He has such a relaxed way about him, such an ordinary way of speaking to the viewer, such a no-nonsense approach to cooking, that he convinced me absolutely that 'I can do that'. Which actually remains to be seen, of course. His Kitchen Diaries are like that. They are far more than just recipe books. They are, as they state, diaries. The narrative from the author, Nigel Slater, is almost poetic with descriptions of his garden, the plants, the weather, the shops that he frequents, the produce that he so loves. You can sit and happily read these books as if they were simply delightful novels that paint vivid pictures with words. They are treasures to be cherished. Really.
As sometimes is the case with writers publishing a second book, the recipes are not, in this case, a repetition of the first book with a few changes and really just ripping off the buyer. The paper quality is very good in both books, as are the plentiful coloured photographs (by Jonathan Lovekin) of the dishes. There is not, however, one photograph per recipe which might disappoint some but this doesn't really matter to me as Nigel's instructions are so very clear and there are so many recipes to enjoy that I don't think it would have been feasible to have a photo for each one. If I were to have one tiny complaint it is that the photographs have no caption so you have to match the recipe to the image, but the recipe is not far away and generally it is quite obvious at a glance. Nigel Slater has divided his book up into months although not necessarily one recipe for each day of the month, and there is an index at the back too if you are looking for a recipe that uses a particular ingredient.
The 2005 book has 400 pages and the 2012 book has 544 pages in all. With regard to the 2005 book, I bought the paperback (for the sake of economy) and my 2012 book is the hardback version which has a nice satin ribbon for keeping one's place in the book. Both were at a great discount through Amazon. When I went to purchase them the older book in the hardback version was actually a lot more expensive than the hardback of the 2012 book and I don't mind owning paperback books at all, especially quality ones.
I hope my review helps you make your decision. For me, both versions, 2005 and 2012, are great.
A great book for anyone who loves food and needs some inspiration.
This book is a bit of an ego trip for Nigel, as it is very much "Me, me, me..." - but then, you'd expect that with a diary. Nigel whets our appetite in more ways than one as he begins most of his recipes with: "There were four of us this evening." (Substitute two, six or any number in place of the four) I was left wondering which four, and whether they were friends, family, partners- but we aren't told.
Nigel's achievement in this book is to make our tastebuds tingle: from the colourful descriptions of the vegetables at the farmers' markets, to the smell of the cheeses at the deli, every recipe is an assault on the senses. The recipes themselves are not necessarily ingenious, or even original, but what is conveyed constantly is Nigel's passion for food. The recipes themselves are often simple- in fact sometimes they aren't recipes at all, but just wonderful mouth-watering descriptions of what Nigel put on his plate that day; such as chunky quality sausages with thyme-baked squash.
I especially liked Nigel's innovative recipes for left-overs, which made me more experimental too- more prepared to have a go combining bits of this and that to make a unique supper dish, a la Nigel!
Any criticisms? Well, only the layout- the photographs aren't necessarily next to the recipes, so you dip and dive a bit to work out exactly what is what, but I guess that's intentional - as this is not so much a recipe book as a diary with photographs.
So if you want to be a bit of a voyeur, and pick up some great recipes at the same time, this is the book for you, but don't expect a recipe book divided into meat, veg and puds-'cos this isn't it.
This is not the cookery book I go to for every day use. It is however, my most treasured culinary possession. It is as thing of beauty and a joy forever. Make sure you buy the hardback edition, which has marbled end pages and a cloth spine, just to add that extra touch of decadence to what is already an extravagant luxury. This is more than a cookery book, it is about a way of life. We are privileged to journey through a year in the company of Nigel Slater. His diary extracts are wonderful, and his recipes perfectly complement both the writing and the superb photography in the book. For me this book has to be read in one sitting, and then dipped into over and over again. I also like to read it alongside Slater's memoirs, Toast, which talk of his childhood and his important emotional relationship with food. Together they add a whole new dimension to the works and thoughts of this man. Food wise the recipes are fantastic. I was having a problem with Nigella's Brownies because I couldn't get mine to cook through properly. I tried Slater's recipe and haven't looked back. They are fabulous and I always get a standing ovation. Other highlights are the pumpkin and tomato Lakhsa and the duck and star anise stew.
My favourite time in the kitchen growing up was when my mum would open a Nigel Slater cookbook (Real Cooking). As she cooked from it, I would endlessly slide it across the counter and read each page lovingly, dipping into a world of scrubbed-clean kitchens and perfect winter meals, seasonal ingredients and the joys of leftovers. My love of the book totally unmarred by how often my mum had to snatch it from me to read the next step in the recipe she was following, I have amassed quite a collection of his book.
The Kitchen Diaries is an artist at the peak of his craft. It is a book about the love of food, and the way that good food structures a life well lived. Each recipe is accompanied by a note on the time of year, or the celebration therein, or the changes in the garden or the season or the sky. Along with both volumes of Tender, it is a book I would try and save from a fire, thus indicating both my love for it and my complete lack of common sense.
Nice if you've got a supermarket over the road ! - all the extra bits you need to make the recipes, you tend to think , is it worth the extra cost? Well presented, brief and to the point , it's a handy bible for those budding chefs who have loads of time on their hands to make these delicacies. Saying that, I have found the recipe for onion soup excellent and so easy to do with fresh onions off my plot . The book is nicely set out with pictures and descriptions of each menu with a little quote at the end. I think I now have all the spices, flour, caster sugar, etc required to do these recipes - some are quite unusual and I must have a go at them.
Well what can I say, I discovered Nigel Slater by chance late one evening while perusing the stations on television. The whole episode had me glued from start to finish, simply because Mr. Slater makes the cooking experience for the viewer a piece of art. He drew me in with his descriptive nuances, the environment he worked in and the rainy English afternoon. Loved it, had to research him further and voila! Purchased this gem which I am slathering over, page by page a magical ride for me. I enjoy cooking very much and when I can feel, smell and almost taste what’s on his stovetop, well then you’ve got me!