In the first book, a boy after the sea: an untold story
, Kevin Snook presented us with a book that satisfies on every level, so much so that it won the 'Best in the World' for the fish and seafood category at the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. But behind the recipes and the stunning photography, the book has a more serious and soul wrenchingly sad origin, Kevin Snook lost his 19 year old son Dan as a consequence of sexual abuse and drug addiction. Determined to honour his memory while at the same time helping others experiencing pain and suffering, Kevin set up The Dan Snook Trust Foundation
which aims to help troubled people between the age of 15 - 25 years who have been subject to sexual or substance abuse. The full proceeds of both the first and the second book go to support the foundation.
The book itself reads like a Who's Who of cooking with the foreward written by Heston Blumenthal who is the Honary Vice Chairman of the charity. Later in the book, Heston shares his recipe for his famous Sounds of the Sea dish that is served daily at The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray. Meanwhile, Bray neighbour Alain Roux of The Waterside Inn details a recipe for quenelles of pike. In total, twenty six chefs share recipes across over 200 pages of the first book making it a very special cookbook indeed. Separating each of the 'chef sections', there is an array of beautiful black and white pictures celebrating our oceans, rivers and life contained therein and short discussion pieces on the role and ambition of The Foundation.
a boy after the sea 2
continues in the same fashion with more of the world's most famous contributing recipes. Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud are just two of the famous names you'll find here. The photography of both the food and the environment is world class and both books have a strong emphasis on the issues raised by over fishing. All recipes in the book focus on sustainable choices.
With Christmas just round the corner and many people wondering what to buy for friends and family, this book is an ideal choice. A beautiful coffee table book for those who like browsing amazing food and waterway pictures, and a world class cook book for those who prefer to spend their time in the kitchen. And while having this award winning book to enjoy in whatever way you see fit, every time you pick it up, you'll know that others too are benefiting from your purchase or gift.
Reading Kevin Snook's brief introduction in the book and his story at greater length on the Foundation website
, one can't help but be moved to sympathy and compassion for a parent to lose a son in such a fashion. It leaves us to count our blessings and hope that we should never have to experience the same. We're also moved by Kevin's courage to pursue this project despite the fact it must constantly evoke memories of his own family's suffering. It leaves us more than happy to support his efforts; we hope you will too.a boy after the sea 2
is now available in bookshops priced at £35. It can also be ordered through The Foundation website by clicking here.
Amazon as always carry everything and more (click here
). And if you don't own the original a boy after the sea
, that of course is still available through all the above links.
At the end of the introduction to the first book, Kevin says that, 'if we can help and support just one troubled youngster through the difficult times that my son could not cope with, then we have succeeded'. We're sure they'll be able to do that and more. A stunning book, a great Christmas present and a truly worthy cause.
Beyond the book, http://www.dansnooktrustfoundation.com
also carries details of how you can become more involved with The Foundation if you would like to do more.
Few figures divide the world of food like Ferran Adrià: pioneer of avant-garde cuisine or chef charlatan? It will come as little surprise that Colman Andrews, author of the official and ‘access all areas’ biography Ferran Adrià: the man who changed the way we eat, is a big fan. Some people just won’t like that and will likely steer clear of the book from the outset, understandable perhaps because it’s not without bias but for those who want to know more of El Bulli, the book is rich in content.
To be fair though, Andrews does give over a whole chapter to others who are critical of Adrià, most notably Santi Santamaria who was the first ever Catalan chef to gain three Michelin stars for his restaurant Can Fabes (currently rated 79 in the Pellegrino list). He and Adrià have a long running feud that reportedly culminated with the El Bulli chef saying to Santi, ‘Shut up! I’m a genius and you’re a cook!’ but this story is more likely the invention of the press who know a juicy story when they see one than reality.
And so the G-word rears its head, genius. The word is inevitably sprinkled through such a biography with frequent comparisons made by many who know Adrià personally to fellow countrymen Dali, Miro and Picasso. Having eaten at El Bulli recently, we’re in no doubt that Adrià is indeed a genius, but this in turn presents something of a problem for Andrews for as you progress through the book, despite all the access and interviews, he struggles to get a grip on his subject.
You can’t blame Andrews too harshly for this for Adrià is clearly an elusive individual and as ethereal as his famous smoke foam. More than this, Adrià’s genius seems centred on his creative passion and documenting creative genius can only usually be done in a satisfactory way when it is somewhat retrospective. Adrià though is far from finished and in fact feels that he’s on the verge of moving creativity to a whole new level. Consider this, while Heston Blumenthal (another genius undoubtedly) is creating gastro pubs in Bray and opening a new restaurant in London (while The Fat Duck menu goes unchanged), Adrià is closing his only restaurant to transform it into a not for profit foundation. Why? Because even a non traditional restaurant like El Bulli that is the pinnacle of avant-garde cuisine is too restrictive for his creative desire.
While Adrià is undoubtedly a brilliant chef, you put the book down believing that what sets him apart from other chefs is not his cooking ability but his curiosity of the world and his desire to transform this into taste so that we see the world differently as we visualise it through Adrias's own eyes (like we see the world differently through Picasso’s paintings). Almost paradoxically therefore, it’s easy in a discussion of Ferran Adrià to find yourself not talking about food at all, that’s the kind of chef he is.
The book also gives you a strong sense of how unusual Adrià’s path to fame is and how remarkable it is that El Bulli survived at all. Dr Schilling, El Bulli’s German founder originally applied for a permit to open a medical centre on the site and when that was turned down, he decided a mini-golf course might be popular with the tourists; this was 1961 and a beachside bar shortly followed. The mini-golf was a flop but the bar stayed and in time became a grill and then continued a move toward fine dining, achieving its first Michelin star in 1976 (Adrià himself was born in 1962). Despite offering fine dining, El Bulli was so remote, suppliers wouldn’t deliver there and the restaurant didn’t even have a telephone because there were no telephone lines that ran to the location until the phone company was persuaded to lay them in 1977.
And while El Bulli was continuing to establish itself as a haute cuisine venue, a young Ferran was gaining kitchen experience through a series of stages elsewhere. Thereafter, compulsory military service saw him enter the Navy where he volunteered for the Admiral’s kitchen so continuing to learn his trade, though at this point, he had made no firm plans to be a career chef. His decision to stage at El Bulli on a Navy break seems driven by the proximity of the restaurant to a beach knowing that where there’s a beach there are girls in bikinis and an alcohol fuelled nightlife. When his time in the Navy finished, he returned to El Bulli on a permanent basis for more of the same.
Ferran Adria (centre), his interpreter (left) and Colman Andrews (right)
After various staff departures and a brief period as co-head chef, Adrià, at the age of 25, became sole head chef at El Bulli. And shortly thereafter, on a visit to the dining room at Hotel Negresco in Nice, Adrià heard the esteemed chef Jacques Maximin state that ‘creativity means not copying’. Those four words changed Adria's world forever and taking these words to heart, he started the process of moving away from haute cuisine to avant-garde.
The truly remarkable thing though about El Bulli was how few customers would pass through the door outside of high season. Business was so slow in the winter they couldn’t afford to pay the staff. In 1987, El Bulli extended the closed winter period from two months to five months to reduce expenses. However, hand in hand with this Adrià says that ‘since we were now closed for such a long period, we felt obliged to reopen with an entirely new menu. Beginning in March 1988, then, we began to change the menu completely every season.’ So started the process of being closed for half of each year and using the winter months for a period of renewal and extended creativity.
Despite the accolades and the Michelin stars (El Bulli got its third star in 1997), El Bulli’s fame was predominantly a local phenomena until 2003 when the New York Times Magazine
did a 7,000 word cover story focussed on Ferran with the headline ‘The Nueva Nouvelle Cuisine: How Spain Became the New France’. Of this article, Adrià says ‘Before the New York Times
, my success was only in the culinary world. Before the Times
, there was only the restaurant. Since the Times
, there has been the myth.’
So what does it mean to eat at El Bulli? First, there is Adrià’s philosophy which is based on three pillars, ‘technical and conceptual research, the role of the senses in creating and eating, and the sixth sense, the role of reason and reflection on the act of eating.’ Then, there’s the interaction between the restaurant and the diner, ‘When you cook you create a conversation with the diner. With avant-garde cooking, you create a new language for this conversation. To do that, your first job is to create a new alphabet. Then you can make the words, then you can make the sentences. As a diner you have to be willing to try to understand a new language.’ Adrià realises that not everyone will make the effort.
For the meal itself Adrià knows that ‘the element of surprise is important’. He wants his diners to react to his food on a ‘visceral and emotional level’ and he believes that like a magician, you should not reveal your tricks to the guests even though he’s unusually willing to share his pioneering tradecraft with the wider culinary world. Finally, he notes that ‘the concentration you need to eat El Bulli cuisine is very strong. You can’t do it every day.’ From experience, we certainly know that to be true.
Overall, Colman Andrews has written an impressively informative book about Ferran Adrià and El Bulli and whether you’ve been lucky enough to eat there or only dream of it, there’s a lot that everyone can take away from reading this book. His style is solid rather than racy and he skips over much of the trivia that can bog down a biography even if we do learn that Adrià’s mother has ‘warm kind eyes’ and Isabel his wife has ‘sparkling eyes and dark red hair’. He’s also not fawning and the tasting notes that he gives to one of his meals at El Bulli makes clear his dislike of certain dishes (sea anemone for example) even though he’s aware that Adrià’s critics might relish reading this in an authorised biography.
The access Andrews has enjoyed has clearly been extensive and he probably knows as much about Adrià as a biographer can hope to know. As already pointed out, we do hit the wall of how much mortal journalists and writers can ever know Adrià but since it is mortals anyhow who are going to read the book, perhaps it doesn’t matter so much after all. Overall, a good Xmas read for foodies everywhere.
Finally, we must touch on the term molecular gastronomy, a term we learn that Adrià hates and which he feels has been put upon him unfairly, not least because no one really knows what to call his type of cooking. While for the most part, Adrià seems happy with the term avant-garde, on reflection he has a better idea, ‘the name for our cooking is El Bulli’. Thecriticalcouple ate at El Bulli in October 2010, read our review here.
On a slow day in a London publishing house this must have seemed like a good idea, get one of Scotland’s most famous novelists to visit each of the distilleries in Scotland and write it up as a book. As Banks himself points out in the book, the prospect of getting paid a handsome sum of money to go drinking Scotch across the length of the country is an attractive one and so Ian Banks’ first nonfiction book was born (though it has taken me a few years to finally get around to reading it). The idea that a master wordsmith and Scotch lover goes in search of ‘the perfect dram’ is an attractive one if he can pull it off; sadly, he can’t.
He starts with a fair degree of enthusiasm with the Islay malts such as Laphroaig and Lagavulin but something soon becomes very apparent. Writing a book about 100 odd distilieries and keeping it interesting is going to be pretty difficult since i) books of whisky tasting notes are already widely available and make for poor cover to cover reading, ii) the visitor centres/tours of distilleries are pretty generic and iii) whisky itself, while wide ranging in flavour is pretty damn similar in the production process. It would be too much to say that if you’ve seen one distillery you’ve seen them all but once you’re past ten, you can probably stand down.
Accordingly the book veers away from what you think you’re going to be reading – a book on whisky – and becomes a somewhat self indulgent collection of anecdotes of Ian Banks drinking with his mates. We’re introduced to ‘Dave’ and ‘Jim’ and Ian Banks in turn becomes ‘Banksie’ as we are inducted into the group. The trouble is, most tales of things you do with your mates when drunk are funny only to you and your mates and putting it down in even half decent prose for a wider audience is not enough to salvage it unless you’re a drunk with the wit of Dudley Moore’s Arthur.
About half way through the book we get this piece of dialogue;
‘This could be your best book ever, Banksie,’ Dave says.
‘Na,’ I tell him. ‘It could just be rubbish.’
Dave pauses for a moment. ‘Yeah, but it could be your best book ever, Banksie.’
The dialogue ends there, Banksie doesn’t answer because he’s already said what he’s probably come to realise. I wondered why he should have included this piece in the book in the first place but it too is a joke. The joke though is never on him because he’s the one getting paid to write the book and the one getting paid to drink.
What’s sad is that where he could have filled the pages with the stories of the distilleries and the people and the traditions, in this book, Banksie is at the centre of every story but he’s not a comic writer and the stories fall flat. There’s the time when Banksie said ‘lake’ instead of ‘Loch’ and Jim threatened to tell everyone that Banksie had ‘been down South for too long’. We learn too of the time at a hotel where Jim, having ordered a bottle of wine and some glasses from room service, drops them causing a general commotion. Banksie tells us that ‘all of this sounds hilarious from the bathroom; I start laughing quietly to myself and I’m still giggling when the night porter arrives with the brush and pan and replacement glass.’ Yeah, I broke a glass last night too, it was crazy.
What’s more is that even for a major and popular distillery like Talisker, there is less than a page and a half dedicated to the place, and that’s a lot more space than most get. With many getting no air time at all, with 100 distilleries, there can be no more than 70 of the 360 pages of this book actually dedicated to the subject matter. There are commentaries on the Gulf war, most of Scotland’s roads (he doesn’t like the A9 but the B974 is brilliant apparently) and extensive descriptions of his Freelander, BMW M5 and other cars.
I have no doubt that Dave and Jim will love this book, and if you’re a huge Iain Banks fan and want to know what it’s like hanging out with Banksie for a few weeks, this probably comes a close second to the real thing. Personally, I’d rather get car reviews from Top Gear and comedy from Ricky Gervais. As for picking up anything about the whisky industry, if you’re interested enough to even consider reading a 360 page book on whisky then you're probably already pretty clued up on the basics and this book will not deliver much more. I put the book down when two thirds of the way through calling time on this particular road trip for I think I’ll sip my bedtime dram alone tonight having had all I can take of Dave’s, Jim’s and Banksie’s ‘wild and crazy guy’ antics. If only they were that funny.
Bruce, Bruce and Bruce, all professors in the Philosophy Department of the University of Woolloomooloo Australia, were the genius comic creation of Monty Python and in their live shows would, cork hats on head, sing, 'The Philosopher's Song’ which included such great lines as:
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle.
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And René Descartes was a drunken fart.
'I drink, therefore I am.'
so introducing the classic line ‘I drink therefore I am’ to a new generation who might not have known that the original is attributed to the great WC Fields (1880-1946).
The line has now moved so conspicuously into the public domain that it borders on cliché and most authors would be foolhardy to even contemplate using it as a title for book on wine. Roger Scruton though is not most authors and the subtitle of the book ‘A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine’ provides the bridge to reclaiming the comment, for as we’ll learn in due course, Scruton sees Descartes as ‘the most overrated philosopher in history’ and he suggests drinking ‘a deep dark Rhône wine’ when you read Descartes since ‘such a wine will compensate for the thinness of the Meditations and give you rather more to talk about’.
While most authors and publishers seek to take the low road – consider The Dummy's Guide to Whatever – Scruton moves in the opposite direction, even calling one of his books An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy where he states in the introduction that he ‘presupposes no knowledge other than that which an intelligent person is likely to possess already,’ simple things we gather like the complete works of Shakespeare, Beethoven and Wagner’s ring cycle. I can only imagine what horror a tutorial with him must have been like.
His guide to wine is more approachable than this but will still leave the average reader lost at times I suspect – I know I was. What to make of sentences like ‘as Kant brilliantly showed, the person who is acquainted with the self, who refers to himself as ‘I’, is inescapably trapped into freedom’? Yet at other times, we can just share the joy of his learning (we’re told that the Ancient Egyptians for example would classify and label wines by their social function e.g. ‘wine for tax collection day’) or sometimes, just warm to a touching story of his own humanity (yes indeed, Scruton is in fact human).
All of these aspects give the book, like a good wine, layers of complexity leaving a lasting impression on the reader long after you’ve put the book down even if you struggle with the form this lasting impression takes.
Before we finally get to the structure of the book itself, it must be pointed out that Scruton equates wine with culture and civilisation, and intoxication is different to drunkenness noting that wine intoxicates like poetry when drunk correctly through ‘measured desire’. He believes that all the problems of the world could be solved by sitting down and talking them through over a glass of good claret. Against this background he has harsh words on Islamic abstinence and notes that in surah xvi verse 7 of the Koran wine is unreservedly praised as one of God’s gifts, but following the prophet’s Medina exile, surah v verses 90-91 are less complimentary and later revelations cancel the earlier.
But nor does the Western culture of drinking to get drunk escape his critical pen as he notes:
The drink problem that we witness in British cities stems from our inability to pay Bacchus his due. Thanks to cultural impoverishment, young people no longer have a repertoire of songs, poems and arguments or ideas with which to entertain one another in their cups. They drink to fill the moral vacuum generated by their culture, and while we are familiar with the adverse effect a drink has on an empty stomach, we are now witnessing the far worse effect of drink on an empty mind.
The book itself can be subdivided in discrete themes. It starts with a youthful Scruton ‘discovering’ good wine during his Cambridge university days as he is introduced by successive mentors to the best of red and white Burgundy and acknowledges Napoleon’s quip that ‘nothing makes life so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin’.
We then go on a tour of the wine regions of the world, though for Scruton, the world of wine is divided into France and everywhere else. We get a tour of both balanced in those proportions and enjoy both a history lesson and comic sketch book and giggle along the way. Sometimes, Scruton has a humorous anecdote to help on the journey (in America there is a journal called The Modern Drunkard which offers ‘useful advice on the forgotten art of staggering’) while at other times the humour is entirely accidental such as when he claims that ‘reading the literature of New Zealand feminists, animal rights activists and multi-culturalists, I long ago decided I could have no place in the intellectual life of Canterbury’.
When the world tour is over (the ‘I Drink’ part), we move to the ‘Therefore I am’ part as he discusses what ‘I’ means. This is by far and away the most difficult chapter and full absorption is not entirely required for the book to be enjoyed as a whole. After that, it’s the meaning of wine – how for example is great wine different from great art or great music and how can we understand taste? Can we describe it? Then we have ‘the meaning of whine’ where he takes a pot shot at prohibitionists and ‘mad mullahs’ who he feels are as addicted to anger as drunks are to alcohol. The last chapter sees Sartre’s Being and Nothingness become Being and Bingeing as he discusses the misuse of pleasure.
At the end of the book, we get a section on what to drink with what and here Scruton is not going anywhere near ‘pinot with lamb’, rather, one should drink Tuscan wine with Hegel and a New Zealand Chardonnay with Schopenhauer, philosophy’s unrelenting pessimist. Most philosophers you could name and many you couldn’t are briefly discussed here in the contexts of their work and the corresponding pairing.
However, a special mention goes to Sam the Horse with whom Scruton clearly enjoyed a close relationship. We learn by the middle of the book that ‘in my duties as a wine critic, I try out a full bottle on Sam the Horse, stirring a glass-full into his oats and studying his reaction, I can make no distinction between his relishing the wine and his merely enjoying it’. By the back though we learn that despite what has just been said, ‘Sam has his preferences’. We are told that Sam the Horse most eagerly gobbles his oats when laced with rosé, with Scruton suggesting that Sam’s firm favourite is Amethystos from Greece, ‘available at Oddbins’; I can only wonder to know how the producers of the wine and Oddbins feel about that fact.
Overall, this is a satisfying and challenging read and a book that should appeal to wine lovers and wine thinkers. One feels from the book that Scruton himself is a fascinating individual though not without his own issues, painting a picture of a man nursing a bottle of Bordeaux alone in a backwater French farm with only Sam the Horse for company. His sheer intelligence though and scope of learning together with an often brilliant turn of phrase and a gentle but tickling wit ensure a good read. One can only smile at his ‘first principle’ of drinking that despite his rants against spirits, beer and cocktails (i.e. anything that’s not wine) states that ‘you should drink what you like, in the quantities you like. It may hasten your death, but this small cost will be offset by the benefits to everyone around you’. That is most certainly my kind of philosophy.
AJ Liebling tells us early on that ‘the primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite. Each day brings only two opportunities for field work, and they are not to be wasted minimizing the intake of cholesterol’. For that reason, Liebling is out of step with the current time and for that reason alone the book seduces you into his life, lived steadfast true to his ethos while the world around him changed; he little cared.
AJ Liebling was food writer for the New Yorker magazine and the book deals mostly with his time spent in Paris during the period after the Great War. We hear of great feasts and great gourmands. He recounts the story of a friend who going to a restaurant for a ‘sensibly light meal’ of a dozen oysters and a thick chunk of steak topped with beef marrow is instead greeted by the proprietor who has set aside two portions of cassoulet (a rich slow cooked casserole) for him knowing his usual heartier appetite well. Should he turn away the cassoulet and hurt the proprietor’s feelings or forgo the steak? Solution, he ate the two portions of cassoulet first (eating one portion only might similarly have offended his host fearing the cassoulet to be sub-standard) and he then went on to eat the steak. We’re also told that ‘the oysters offered no problem, since they present no bulk’.
It will come as little surprise to most therefore that Liebling, a big man whose girth meant that others found it difficult to walk alongside him on the pavement died aged just 59. His memoirs nevertheless suggest it was a life worth eating.
The book though as you might expect from a New Yorker columnist has greater depth than just a food or restaurant guide as it charmingly chronicles the changes in food fashions and those derived there from. His cultural observations span the rise of vodka (no colour, no taste, no smell), the appearance of medical doctors in dictating dietary habits and that of women’s appetites driven by the shift in the figurine ideal, from curves to sticks.
Liebling himself was considered by women as ‘not handsome but passable’ which is clearly sufficient and when a local once suggested that ‘we Frenchman made love with our brains’ his retort that ‘we others utilise traditional material’ highlights him as an agreeable wit.
But the main evocation is the decline of traditional food to what he terms ‘short order cooking’. Indeed, Alexandre Dumas, writer of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers who was also nevertheless an expert cook, gourmet and author of the Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine noted as long ago as 1869 that excessive haste was beginning to mar [French] cookery. Leibling’s return to Paris in 1939 after an absence of 12 years led him to observe ‘a decline in the serious quality of restaurants that could not be blamed on the war’ which he then traced back at least a further 20 years. Accordingly he notes that ‘what I had taken for a Golden Age was in fact Late Silver’. In turn, that most likely places us today at base metal and the beauty of the book is that it allows us to at least squint at the shine of what Late Silver might have tasted like. Written in 1959, the era already seems lost to Liebling; to us, for whom it never existed, we can only thank Liebling for letting us dream.
The wit flows readily, like the suggestion that society women ‘kissed as if they were sipping crème de menthe through a straw’ but it is ultimately the excess of eating that we read the book to secretly admire. One of Leibling’s own gastronomic heroes, Yves Mirande, is described as ‘one of the last of the great around-the-clock gastronomes of France’. He would describe M. Mirande as dazzling his juniors by ‘dispatching a lunch of raw Bayonne ham and fresh figs, a hot sausage in crust, spindles of filleted pike in a rich rose sauce Nantua, a leg of lamb larded with anchovies, artichokes on a pedestal of foie gras, and four or five kinds of cheese, with a good bottle of Bordeaux and one of Champagne, after which he would call for the Armagnac’. In the battle of man versus food, in this round, man was the winner. Liebling, we salute you.