Thursday, 13 September 2012

Two cookbooks to watch out for (Koffmann, Howard)

I've got my eye on you...

There's a number of upcoming cookbooks I've got my eye on at the moment.

For one Sat Bains, the iconoclastic two-star Nottingham chef, has his maiden effort out next month. I've been tracking this one for a while - it keeps on getting pushed back but judging by the list price it looks like he's going the culinary monolith route. It should be fun.

And speaking of culinary lunatics, Pierre Gagnaire has also got his 175 Home Recipes with a Twist coming out soon. I've got high hopes for this one; there seems to be a trend now for culinary mad hatters to tone down for the rest of us (although I still question how much the Modernist Cuisine at Home will really be for those of us without an immersion heat/blender/rotary shaver).

Also I'm hoping Pierre makes up for execrable Reflections on Culinary Artistry, which was basically collection of cod-psychological musings masquerading as a cookbook. At least with a title like "175 Home Recipes..." you know what you're paying for...

But for me, the real excitement is closer to home.

Pierre the Bear

Pierre Koffmann, former three-star denizen of La Tante Claire (now Gordon Ramsay's flagship) was one of the godfathers of 1980s food. Along with Marco (Pierre White) and Nico (Ladenis) he helped put London firmly onto the global culinary map. Nowadays he's reverted to a more cuddly image, fronting Koffmann's in the Berkeley. But make no mistake this guy was a beast in the kitchen. I had wonderful supper at La Tante Claire just before it finally closed down and and still remember the pot-au-feu of foie gras. Ever since then gently poached has been my preference for serving hot foie gras hot (the delicate flavour comes through so much better than sauteed and you don't lose half of it as fat in the frying pan).

And he's also quite well known for his stuffed pigs trotter. If imitation is the sincerest for of flattery then this is the daddy. Off the top of my head I can think of two other chefs who've published versions of this (Marco Pierre White White Heat, Jean-Christophe Novelli Your Place or Mine) and a third who's published a homage (Gordon Ramsay Three Star Chef).

Pierre Koffmann, and piggy friend.

But that's by the by. More importantly he's back on our bookshelves this Autumn with a reprint of his first book, Memories of Gascony.

I first read this book at university. The great thing about Oxford (apart from the truncated 8 week terms) is that the Bodleian Library has a copy of every book ever published in the UK... Including cookbooks. A privilege I happily abused to summon up hard-to-find or out of print books, such as a wonderful collection of Joel Robuchon recipes and the novelisation of The Princess Bride (OK, not a cookbook but equally unrelated to my degree course).

Another one I summoned up from the bookstacks was Memories of Gascony. This is one of two books written by Koffmann (its sequel, La Tante Claire, alas remains long out of print) and even then was pretty hard to track down. This volume, the first, deals with his youth and upbringing in Gascony. My memory of the details remains patchy but I can vividly remember his strong-minded grandmother, tales of rustic Garbure (a French peasant stew) and the prized recipe for the pigs trotter. Its one of the best books at evoking a time and place all of itself.

Anyhow given its been off the market for so long (I was disappointed to find that even Koffmann's own restaurant didn't have a copy in its otherwise impressive display of cookbooks) its great news its coming back. Let's hope they also reprint La Tante Claire as well.

Squaring the Circle

Philip Howard is another unsung hero of London's culinary scene. For over two decades he's calmly presided over The Square, that most low-key of London fine diners (and notably one of the few which opens on Sunday evenings, if you ever fancy a treat to round off the week). He's probably most famous for not being famous. I suspect this is the only UK chef of two stars or above never to have graced Saturday Kitchen.

That's a shame because in my mind he is one of the great chefs and great teachers of his generation. Its notable how many chefs & managers from this place have gone on to greater things, from Bruce Poole of Chez Bruce, to Brett Graham of The Ledbury through to David O'Connor, now presiding over Medlar.

Like Pierre's pig trotter, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In this case its his landmark Lasagne of Dorset Crab with a shellfish cappucino. If you ever had a dish of pasta layered together with a delicate chicken, shellfish or rabbit mousse then this is where it comes from. In London alone you can find direct copies at Galvin La Chapelle, rabbity riffs at The Ledbury and a slightly repackaged version at Medlar (where its by far the most popular dish [Edit: 17,162 sold so far according to =the restaurant!]).

Now along with managing to not appear on TV and not get into the papers he has so far also managed to not produce a cookbook. Thankfully this will change this month with the launch of The Square: The Bookbook (Volume 1: Savoury). If it's anything like Phil it'll be a quiet classic.

And if he doesn't include the recipe for Lasagne of Dorset Crab, I'm going to bloody kill him.


  1. Philip Howard is showing signs of giving in to the media - he made an appearance on Great British Menu.

  2. Crab Lasagne page 217

  3. Yes I had a gander through the book in Waterstones yesterday and noticed that.

    One thing that struck me - the dish in the restaurant is served (or at least used to be served) with fine shreds of basil on top as a garnish. I always thought that was an important finishing touch. I think the version in the book doesn't have this (although basil is listed in the sauce ingredients).