Published 12th September (Mitchell Beazley, £20.00)
Photographs: Jonathan Lovekin
In the dreary sea of food writing cliche, where tomatoes ‘smell of sunshine’, chocolate is ‘scrummy’ and cakes are ‘moist’, Valentine Warner is a perky, plucky lifeboat. I want to eat what he’s cooked but more than that, I want to read what he’s written. How could you not love a man who describes razor clams as looking ‘like Cuban cigars in an elastic band, pale feet lolling out like the tongues of tired horses.’ Or a cook who claims that if his pickled onion, steak and ale pudding were a person it would be ‘the local thick-wristed, silent giant who whops crickets balls from the village green to kingdom come.’
Applying the test in reverse, if Valentine Warner was transformed into a recipe, he’d be his ‘Dorset Breakfast’ – substantial, surprising, full of good cheer and eccentrically English. His writing is the perfect comic side-kick to his serious food, although it has to be said that at times he reaches for a metaphor beyond my grasp. I struggled with his description of a steak that tastes of ‘bull sweat’ and was utterly baffled by his instruction that potato for gnocchi should be grated on ‘the setting you would do children’s Cheddar on.’ But when the food and the prose are as good as Valentine Warner’s, I really don’t care.
I can’t think of another contemporary food writer who would dare include a deliberately inedible recipe for burnt toast, boiled egg and black tea, concluding with the instruction that you should ‘put everything on a tray, take it to the invalid and remove, uneaten, 1 hour later.’ But reading that recipe gave me as much pleasure as devouring his instructions for more sybaritic pleasures such as ‘cod with mussels and celery’ and ‘ceps and apples in puff pastry.’
There’s a generosity of spirit to this book, a lack of pomposity and a huge joie de vivre. He exhorts us to ‘cook with love, shop like a European and don’t ignore the knobbly veg. Scrape the mould off the chutney, don’t forget to honour the things at the back of the fridge; and above all remember that this book, is, in a sense, no longer mine but rather yours.’ As if comedy, fine prose and divine food aren’t enough – he’s giving us democratic rights to boot! As a manifesto for life, The Good Table gets my vote.
You make the book sound great. Struck me that you have a lot in common with the author and thus that your followers, like me, would enjoy it.
I take that as a huge compliment, Jakey – thank you.
Sounds like a fun book and great writing. I made that breakfast for Mother's Day religiously, every year. And my dear Ma always ate it and never complained.On the subject of food from the back of the fridge did you hear the piece on PM yesterday? Inspired by the Foods Standards Agency recommended changes to best before dates, they got people to compete for oldest thing in their food cupboards. The winner was a piece of Queen Victoria's wedding cake, only to be trumped at the 11th hour by a bottle of wine from the 18C, it was funny.
How lovely of your mother not to complain, but how wonderful of you to make it for her… I did hear PM, but only as far as Number 11… It sounds as though Queen Victoria was robbed!
A cookery book that also acts as a manifesto for life sounds like it should be added to my wish list. Loving 'In at the Deep End' which was bought on your recommendation. Ditching Amazon reviews permanently now!
Thank you, Sally. I'm so glad you're enjoying Jake Tilson's book. I think you'll enjoy Valentine Warner's too.
I had not heard about this book before but reading your review made me just put it on my wishlist! Sounds like a fun book to have. I love cookbooks with just that little extra..
I agree with you. There are so many dull ones around – this one isn't.