I’m often asked if I have a favourite cookbook. As there are so many that come into the MiNDFOOD office for review, particularly now with PR agents trying to spruik their latest celebrity chef’s new tome, it takes something highly visual to jump out at me. A beautiful cover image or type will often stop me in my tracks and tempt me to pick it up and flick through the recipes to see if anything appeals.
No matter how much a book publisher has spent on the production of a cookbook, it’s the ones with a classic recipe with a twist, or a great narrative running through it, that appeal to me most. A cookbook that teaches me something new about a different cuisine, or includes a new destination, is also a drawcard.
It’s about great visuals and not just delicious-looking food. More and more, I’m seeing lifestyle images of people eating, cooking – or not cooking as the “raw” movement grows – and enjoying food. Or in the case of celebrity chefs, they can be seen in a garden, on a farm, in an orchard, or dropped into a location, seemingly “mingling with the locals”.
Anything to do with health seems to be the current buzz. Over the next year or so we will see, as we have already, many celebrity chefs offering up their versions of “healthy” food. Then there are the home cooks, food bloggers, food stylists, food photographers, restaurant chefs, TV presenters, sports stars, reality TV stars, all “experts” in all things cooking, all battling it out for shelf space or media recognition so they can sell their cookbooks.
Not all cookbooks will be used once they are bought, but simply put on a shelf at home, alongside others thought useful at the time of purchasing. They become part of a “graveyard” shelf of cookbooks, only looked at if there is an open home, when potential buyers glance at the shelves. Some cookbooks may be given as gifts and never used. Others may, if they are lucky, carry recipes that become family favourites and are referred to constantly.
I’m currently reading, and enjoying, Rosie Belton’s Wild Blackberries, which was released this year. It’s all about recipes and memories from a life well lived in New Zealand and travels around the globe. It has no glossy photos, or tricked up production.
My favourite chocolate cake recipe comes from the tried and true Edmonds Cookery Book, a cookbook I have bought many times. My favourite cheese muffin recipe comes from an old Alison Holst cookbook that was sent to me one Christmas when I lived in London more than 23 years ago. The book is falling apart, there are limited photos, now all dated, the page the recipe is on is spattered in old, dried-up ingredients and I love cooking from it. I also cook from the MiNDFOOD Summer and Winter cookbooks, because the recipes work and they are easy to follow.
So for me, a favourite cookbook needs to be a book I enjoy cooking from regularly, not a book that has the latest reality TV “chef” gracing the cover, who overnight has become an “expert”.