I’m a firm believer that you can never have too many cookery books. One of my most exciting moments of the last year was finally having shelves in my kitchen. It meant I could have all my cookery books out in one place. A handful of these books have followed me to the UK from Australia. My collection then grew across various rental and owned properties I’ve inhabited along the route to my current home. Some of my books are simply to look at and feel inspired by the beautiful pictures. Others have the odd recipe that might be the starting point for a dish of my own to prepare. A very few are old favourites that I cook from regularly.
There’s something incredibly comforting about turning to the page of one particular beloved beetroot brownie recipe. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve made it. There are a few pink splats and small brown thumb smudges on the pages, the edges of which occasionally stick together slightly so that I have to pull them apart. I can get into an almost zen-like state working through well-rehearsed instructions. It always amazes me that even using the same recipe I can still get slightly different results, which is part of the joy (and challenge!) of baking.
There’s always room for more books on my shelves. I still get excited when new cookery books come out, which makes me a very easy person to buy presents for. Fortunately there continues to be many new and interesting voices entering the cookery book world. At last week’s Culinary Salon event at Divertimenti, I had the opportunity to hear from three of these voices:
Rosie Birkett, A Lot on Her Plate
Rosie is a hugely successful blogger and food stylist, with a background as a journalist. Her book is filled with beautiful photographs and creative recipes that look impressive, but are very achievable for home cooks. Rosie traced much of her early food inspiration back to caravanning holidays in France, eating incredible seafood in Brittany and frites at roadside pitstops. Her dad was also a big influence in shaping her tasting and cooking skills.
Olia Hercules, Mamushka
Originally from Ukraine, Olia confessed to being a very fussy eater until the age of 10, when she became a confirmed
omnivore. As with Rosie, she was a journalist by trade, but decided on a different career direction and trained at Leith’s. This was followed by a stint working at Ottolenghi, before moving into recipe development and food styling. Mamushka is a tribute to the food of Eastern Europe, but with ingredients you can easily find in UK supermarkets. Olia’s recipes are designed to be adapted to the reader’s own life; she suggested to ‘play around’ with them, rather than using the recipes in a prescriptive way.
Shivi Ramoutar, Caribbean Modern
Shivi is an ex-lawyer who took the opportunity presented by redundancy to pursue a passion for food. She now runs a successful Caribbean supperclub In London. Shivi was born in Trinidad, and came to London via the US and Leicester. Her book is a collection of recipes incorporating the spices and range of influences that make up Caribbean cuisine. She is very clear that this means more than jerk chicken. Shivi is also keen to extol the virtues of the Caribbean concept of ‘liming’. This is the spontaneous art of chilling out with food and beer – but it’s a very deliberate practice, rather than being laziness. I think we could all do with a little more liming in life.
My highlights from the panel discussion included:
1. Genuinely healthy eating is not about cutting out whole food groups
Healthy food does not mean cutting out lots of foods and depriving yourself. It’s about cooking your own food so you know what goes into it, using the best quality you can afford, but eating everything in moderation. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat well. Eating seasonally makes ingredients more affordable, and as Rosie pointed out, there’s good flavour in cheaper cuts of meat. Balance was the key word here. It’s about listening to your body and not feeling guilty, as food should be a cause for celebration.
2. One of the great pleasures of food is the gift of feeding other people – but if you want to do it professionally you need genuine feedback
All three writers clearly love food and it has played a prominent role in each of their family histories. Wrapped up in this love of food were family stories, shared meals and special memories. For Shivi, who has lived in so many different parts of the world, ‘home is where food and family is’.
There’s real pleasure in feeding people and seeing them enjoy a meal you’ve prepared. The roots of Shivi’s supperclub were apparent in the stories of the ‘revolving door at home’ of her childhood, where substantial sharing plates were set out, attracting people she’d never even met before. But if you have aspirations of doing this professionally you need honest tasters (and readers of your blog who will give you genuine feedback).
3. Aspiring food writers and bloggers need to be authentic – but remember it will still take hard work to get there
Finding a voice that’s honest and authentic is a major step towards becoming a food writer. There’s a need to be human and to accurately reflect your personality. This is particularly important in a world were social media is so prominent.
Even with this voice, the world of food writing and cookery books is a hard one to break into, so you’ll need to be persistent. Everyone needs to start somewhere, whether it be a personal blog, an Instagram account or hosted dinners for friends, but you will need to keep working at it for things to grow. Just to give a sense of what can be involved, Rosie shared that it took 2 years from the initial conception for her book to be published. However, listening to these inspiring ladies speak, it’s great to see what happens when this hard work pays off.
This month you have the chance to win all 3 books by these great writers; to enter the competition simply subscribe to Food At Heart email updates.