Cooking For Friends

Publisher: Harper Collins

Date Published: 2008

Pages: 272

‘As a chef, I work at a thousand miles an hour, but when I’m at home I want to slow down.’

My Father received this book for his birthday, but although he cooks like a madman he doesn’t actually use cookbooks and he hates Gordon Ramsay with a passion (present FAIL!). We don’t own any of his books or watch his TV shows, so this is my first intimate experience with his franchise. ‘Cooking For Friends’ is meant to be a look into what Gordon prefers to cook at home for his family and friends.

The introduction comes across as contradictory, disingenuous and strangely random. He makes a point of talking about his family life, despite a very public affair. I have no idea whether Ramsay is or isn’t a good parent, but it seems a bit rich yapping about how ‘his kids do the washing up’ (eg. ‘keeping it real’) while he is apparently doing his part by chasing skirt. He also makes a point of complaining about trendy food and venerating traditional British dishes before including a recipe for Pear Tart Tartin (perhaps the most ‘Frenchest’ and triendiest dessert at the moment in the restaurant world).  

The intro also begs the question – why does Ramsay attempt to create this cozy ‘I’m good fella after all’ atmosphere? The man is world renowned for being a very mean twat – it’s why some people actually love him and why the rest of us hate him. It’s unneccessary, and indeed counterproductive, for him to try to convince us that he is a good human being/father underneath. The people who like him never needed him to be good and the people who don’t like him understand that it’s all bull. The PR people who wrote these paragraphs should be taken out and given a beating.

On to the recipes themselves, which are divided into the usual categories:

  • Hot and Cold Soups
  • Pasta and Grains
  • Fish and Shellfish
  • Meat and Poultry
  • Pies and Tarts
  • Vegetables and Salads
  • Puddings and Ices
  • Chocolate and Coffee
  • Basics

The title page for each section lists the recipes, which I haven’t seen before and is quite helpful. The edge of the right hand page also has the recipe title for easy location while flicking through the book. The layout of the recipes keeps the explanation and the instructions separate. This is extremely important when in the middle of cooking, but isn’t necessarily noticed when browsing. The instructions themselves are clear and to the point. The colour scheme is centred on calm, varying greys, which is a stylish, solid and satisfying choice for a cookbook. It’s very relaxing on the eyes. The photography is crisp and planned, but not offensively so and also features a lot of grey.

Not every recipe has a picture, which is disappointing. This would be forgivable (it isn’t mandatory for recipe books to have images for everything, though it seems to be expected now) if Ramsay didn’t have portraits of himself staring strangely at the camera (see the cover for a preview – you get this about eight more times) or attending a cliched ‘al fresco’ lunch with friends (how European!).

I imagine that Ramsay’s response would be that people are purchasing this book because they like him – it is a celebrity cookbook after all. There is some logic in this justification. It is up to the reader to decide whether they prefer the chef’s cooking style or the chef’s image and lifestyle when choosing cookbooks. Or more to the point whether they prefer actual recipe images or Gordon’s head.

There is the occasional flash in the pan that shows the brilliant culinary capabilities of the man. The soup section in particular shines out – the ‘Jacket Potato Soup’ featured in the image seems astounding and the ‘Broccoli, Stilton and Pear Soup’ is very elegant. Of great potential deliciousness are ‘Corn-Fed Chicken Legs With Braised Peas and Onions’, ‘Goat Curry’, ‘Raised Game Pie’ and ‘Wild Mushroom Tart With Parmesan and Walnut Pastry’. They risk sounding a little fancy, but are grounded in the fundamentals of fantastic flavours.

However, the recipes are mostly classics with Gordon Ramsay quirks added. He includes his own version of Laksa for instance – why would we need a millionth version of that recipe? All good food revolves around the classics of each culture. But if the author can’t bring something new to the table (literally) then should they produce a book of recipes?

For this book to be enjoyed, one has to remember that Gordon Ramsay is a feckless arsehole. You must ignore all his written material except for his recipe instructions, because anything else has no worth. The production design team that put this book together is of great talent though. The recipes are solid, but not exceptional, and that even a Ramsay fan may find that his other books offer more.

♥♥ – 2/5

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