For the best part of two years, I’ve been art-directing and designing for the digital cookbooks start-up, 1000 Cookbooks. Having been on the inside looking around this incredible resource for so long, I rather vainly considered that my own top-ten list was possibly of interest, not least because it’s been formulating in my head for most of the time I’ve been working on this project. So, start with #10 and then take a look at the rest, none of which appear in any order of preference…
#6 The Ultimate Student Cookbook
I suspect the inclusion of a cookbook written for students might not seem so very inspiring or worldly a top-ten choice to some. But consider the premise for this cookbook: to create a collection of recipes which will inspire and encourage novice and amateur cooks to explore food and make good choices in what they buy, how they cook and what they choose to eat. Beckett has a broad knowledge of food and a knack for really getting inside a concept. As a guide for young people looking to feed themselves well, I don’t think there’s a better book available, but for me, the book is the perfect primer and starting point when I need to create a meal for either myself or my family.
I use it as a very quick go-to book for ideas and I trust the recipes to always work. And they always do. So many tastes are covered in this one book that I can satisfy a craving for pasta or potatoes, for fish, meat or vegetables, for breakfast or dinner. I also know that I can use these recipes as foundations on which to build, substituting chicken for prawns in a noodle dish, for example. These are recipes which rely on a modestly stocked storecupboard and fridge (no 20-plus long list of ingredients here), yet which are in tune with many of today’s tastes. Because Beckett’s starting point is to teach, feed and sustain, the book avoids many of the pitfalls which others fall foul of – it doesn’t need to innovate, show off its learning or try too hard. There’s no filler. And there’s also no patronising. I should give mention to the three co-writing ‘student cooks’ who share the author credit – Signe Johansen, James Ramsden and Guy Millon – (two of whom have gone on to become very successful food writers in their own right) who each provide (very good) recipes of their own and add footnotes for twisting or padding out a recipe.
This is a book which I would have loved to receive twenty years ago, when I needed it most. I’m now on my fourth of fifth copy as I have a habit of routinely giving it away to novice or diffident cooks (especially young people) and tell them not to bother buying any other book. Experienced cooks tend to assume to know what they want and will get from a book – we often aspire towards something new and exciting, we flock around flavours of the month, we are serial snapper-uppers of each new crop of well-reviewed cookbooks, and we then have those choices scrutinised (and liked, please, lots of likes) as we post and share with our hordes of opinionated friends and followers. I realise I’ve rarely recommended this book to experienced cooks: I thought it about time to right that wrong here.