Voices in Food, Old and New

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Today I walked into Neals Yard Dairy and straight into Harold McGee, author of the seminal book on kitchen science McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture . Despite the extreme heat today, and being blindingly star-struck to unexpectedly find a world-famous food authority doing an impromptu book-signing amongst the cheeses, we managed to have a brief, yet inspiring chat; perhaps not quite two-way, McGee spoke knowledgably and sensibly, I blithered like a deranged idiot. But this is the man who has been talking and writing about food for forty years.

The essence of the conversation is summed up by his parting words, that ‘there has never been a better time to be into good food’. How right he is.  I started this blog a mere three months ago (can you believe it?!) because I felt I just HAD to start writing about food; the thought of returning, post-children, to my old fashion-writing career wasn’t appealing and not just because the intervening years of cooking and children’s leftovers have left me somewhat larger than sample-sized. Once you’ve got kids, you realise how important good food is. If no-one read it that would be a shame but at least I would have released the pressure-valve of feeling and conviction about food that had been building up inside me for so long.

I spoke to McGee about how much things had changed since he first published his encyclopaedia of kitchen science, history and culture and why he added a full two-thirds of new information when he revised the edition twenty years after its first publication in 1984.  Our food culture has changed unrecognisably, for better and for worse; olive oil, balsamic vinegar and cappuccinos (to cite just a few of McGee’s new additions) are commonplace but so is a fast-food culture that has left millions unhealthy and obese.  We all need to get excited by a bit of kitchen science and learn to cook a bit more, and that is most true of the new, young and cosmopolitan generation of twenty- and thirty-somethings (I’m still just in there!) who have been raised to expect new tastes and flavours, new food experiences and all of it FAST and preferably easy.

This is why Quadrille’s ‘New Voices in Food’ series is so timely. This week I received what at first appear to be two fat notebooks, pleasingly rough and ready and full of delicious and varied recipes from two twenty-something cooks.

Alice Hart in her eponymous debut volume Alice’s Cookbook (New Voices in Food) builds her recipes around occasions: lazy brunches with friends, picnics in her trademark camper van, shared suppers and special occasions. Each recipe is designed to fit into the busy social lives of her readers, hands-on cooking times are provided for each dish and menus are adaptable to seasons and availability; a perfect volume for a new generation of cooks.

The second volume by Stevie Parle, one of London’s youngest and most exceptional culinary talents is particularly exciting in its kaleidoscopic journey of the world, inspired by Parle’s travels and entitled My Kitchen: Real Food from Near and Far (New Voices in Food) . This book is clearly written by someone who both is possessed of excellent culinary skill but also has a nice turn of phrase. Anecdotes are woven into recipes; ingredients mix with memories. The focus is seasonal (something I always like in a cookbook) and the book is divided into twelve monthly chapters for each month of the year. This makes it extremely useful. Unusually for a book that trots so rapidly around the globe (a Sri Lankan supper gives way to a Middle-Eastern, then a Ligurian meal) it doesn’t seem bitty. The recipes are absolutely my kind of thing, with straightforward technique advice and tips on what to do with a glut of any one food and an allotment bounty. All in all an excellent book.

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