If there is one thing I enjoy reviewing almost as much as food, it would be books. It’s probably a carry over from writing all those college papers on books especially those written by dead guys. I have no qualms accepting offers from publishers and publicists to review books. That was how I was able to obtain copies of Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World (the two entries were lost though in last year’s database disaster) and Gerladine Hartman’s Not Just for Vegetarians — I was contacted by their publicists. I even cooked some of the recipes from their cookbooks and posted them here. It’s partly to show that when I say I like a cookbook, I mean the recipes are for cook-able meals and not just for prettifying the dining table.
Unlike books, however, I have serious reservations about accepting free meals or sample food products for review. Why? Let me just rehash here a comment that I posted in the Unlawyer‘s blog:
“There are products which, whether in the form of samples or otherwise, the substance will not differ. Example: books, magazines, musicâ€¦ Whether one is given an advance copy, or a free copy when the product is already publicly available, or if one buys as a regular customer, the product stays the same. They cannot be embellished.
But there are products and services that can be embellished when the business owner wants a good review. Hotels, resorts, airlines, restaurants, food products are only some of them.”
For better context, let me refer you to two entries that I posted in two other blogs. The first, in Bare Naked Media is entitled All expenses paid; the second, About endorsements in The Sassy Lawyer’s Journal. You don’t have to read them though I really wish you would. It would help tremendously in understanding my reviews policy.
That said, let me tell you about Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, my free copy courtesy of the Dutton and Gotham Books (Penguin Group in New York).
I received my copy by courier last week but I didn’t have a chance to start reading it until yesterday.
I don’t usually read book introductions but as I browsed The Kitchen Diaries‘ three-page introduction, something caught my attention and I just had to read everything. Let me quote: “The photography is done in ‘real time’. So when it says October 2nd or April 9th, then that is when the picture was shot. After I have cooked each meal and it has been photographed, we sit down and eat it while it’s still hot. Then I wash up. The pictures are taken at home, so if you recognize plates and pans from my books Real Food or Appetite, then it is because they are things that I have come to love and cherish. Whether it’s a vegetable peeler or a palette knife, it works for me and has become part of my life.”
Sounds familiar? Just like food blogging, eh? And The Kitchen Diaries was written as a journal covering a period of one year. If you’re a food blogger and connoisseur of cookbooks like I am, you appreciate honesty. And you appreciate the fact that the recipes in the cookbook were personally prepared by the author and that the photos were of the actual meals instead of carefully arranged ornaments courtesy of some high-priced food stylist. As far as I am concerned, the photo of the cooked meal is proof that the recipe works. And if the photo has been embellished, then, the author’s credibility becomes suspect.
Beyond the photos, there is one other reason why the recipes in The Kitchen Diaries represent real food for me. I’ve cooked similar versions of some of the recipes before and my family loved them.
Steamed fish, for instance, is a classic and very basic dish. But it can be done in so many ways. Nigel Slater has his steamed sea bass with ginger and cucumber (page 78) while my versions of steamed fish are here, here and here.
Then, there’s his Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and ginger (pages 24 and 25); I have my kangkong (water or swamp spinach) in oyster sauce.
He even begins his clear, hot mussel soup recipe with “The point is that this is a clean-tasting broth, hot and aromatic…” To which I say: exactly!
I’d like to think that Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries is an attempt to redefine cookbook writing. It is more about sharing rather than trying to impress. The message is: Cooking great meals is not the sole domain of professional chefs — we can all do it if we wanted to.
I even appreciate more that there was (mostly) no mention of countries or regions of origin of the dishes. It’s like saying food is universal and a great meal is not about being academically correct about the history of dishes nor ingredients. What can be cooked in one part of the world can be cooked in any other — it’s just a matter of modifying to adopt to the native ingredients of a locale. After all, cooking great meals is about knowing how to make the best use of what you have.
Am I endorsing Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries? Nope, I am highly recommending it though. On a scale of one to five, I’d give it five stars. Love it! :)