It’s good news that Julian Barnes has won the Booker Prize for his novella ‘The Sense of an Ending’, but his masterpiece, as every Slow Food follower knows, is ‘The Pedant in the Kitchen’, written in 2003. It’s a small book with large print, which is a recommendation in itself, but it’s also funny and wise and tells you more about cooking than any book by Jamie Oliver or Delia Smith ever will.
There’s a chapter on Heston Blumenthal, written before this great man became a star, in which he discusses his cooking techniques and this is what he says:
“His emphasis on slow cooking seems to me salutary and admirable. And by slow he means very slow. I was cooking oxtail the other day and in the usual way found myself checking half a dozen recipes for how long to give it. Alistair Little: two hours (you’re joking); Fay Maschler: three; Frances Bissell: four (getting warmer). I think I gave it five, and two subsequent re-heatings of forty-five minutes each only enhanced the tail’s fork-meltingness. Mr Blumenthal probably has a recipe that involves giving it the full cycle of the moon”.
Julian Barnes’ favourite cookery writers are Jane Grigson (who he calls “infinitely wise”), Edouard de Pomaine, whose book, ‘Cooking in Ten Minutes’, was published in 1948, and Marcella Hazan, the author of ‘The Essentials of Italian Cuisine’. These books are perfect for me because they show how to cook fast food in a slow way. Here’s Marcella Hazan:
“There’s not the slightest justification for the currently fashionable notion that “fresh” pasta is preferable to factory-made dried pasta. One is not better than the other, they are simply different. They are seldom interchangeable, but in terms of absolute quality they are fully equal”.
I’ll read ‘A Sense of an Ending’, but there’s no chance that it will give me as much pleasure as ‘A Pedant in the Kitchen’