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…
#7 The Kitchen Diaries
“The sun is so hot I cannot cross the stone slabs of the terrace in bare feet. I have absolutely no intention of cooking anything much in this heat. Instead I boil some new potatoes in their skins, drain them and cut them in half. I fry them cut-side down in olive oil in a shallow pan till their surfaces are crisp, golden and encrusted, then I drain them on kitchen paper and serve them with the remains of yesterday’s mayonnaise and a couple of bottles of very cold beer.”
That back-cover blurb communicates all that I enjoy so much about this book. To read that diary entry on a hot summer evening, I doubt there is anything I’d rather consume more than those new potatoes and beers. I’ve read several other passages in this way, feeling totally compelled to follow such recommendations to the letter. Indeed, I think Slater is probably the most persuasive British food writer in print. Much of that, I believe, comes down to him being such a fine writer.
It’s not just the recipes, but his impulses towards food that are so persuasive. He does more than merely tell you how good something is to eat. He tells you why you probably want to cook it and tells you what to expect once you have. He tells you that tomorrow is likely to bring rain, and that it might only be bin ends left by the time you make it to the bakery after your weekend lie-in. You can almost forget you’re reading the days he’s already lived and believe instead he’s forecasting tomorrow’s dinner and weather. The genius of the diaries is that they provide a format for Slater to do that which he does best –write. Here is life, laid out in all its simple, seductive honesty. (I remember reading Derek Jarman’s diaries around the time of buying this book – another fine writer, observer and lover of his own garden.) The diary format allows Slater’s writing to shine, but it also provides the book its crucial structure – that month-by-month backbone via which to explore the seasons of the year.
Lamb chops with lemon and mint and potatoes crushed into the pan juices (May 7th) is one of my favourite things in the world to cook and eat. I know the recipe by heart, but I love to go back and read it from the page each time.
Finally, the book is produced beautifully, from the quarter-cloth binding, to Jonathan Lovekin’s over-his-shoulder photography and Sam Blok’s spare and beautiful design: an all-round triumph.