FOOD READS It’s not unusual for a food enthusiast to curl up with a good cookbook before going to sleep at night. But hardback cookbooks are too darn heavy to be good bedside companions. Instead, get your teeth into books about food that don’t necessarily focus on recipes but ones that share war stories of working in a professional kitchen or uncover frightening truths about the food industry.
Joanna Blythman is a British investigative food journalist whose latest tome,
Swallow This: Serving Up The Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets
(2015) is an unsettling account of the processes that convenience food and ready meals go through before they reach supermarket shelves. Ever seen a hard-boiled egg in a ready-made salad? Well, that egg probably arrived at a salad packing factory hard boiled in a long tube, like an egg salami roll, ready to be sliced into rounds by a machine and added to your salad. This book highlights the daft, often bizarre processes that our convenience food industry partakes in, and will probably make you think twice about your reliance on ready meals. Read it and weep.
Looking back further in time is Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist who believes that cooking is what made us human. In his book
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
(2009), he argues that it was the act of cooking food over fire that provided our hunter-gatherer ancestors the time and opportunity to have meals together and start planning civilisation.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
by American food writer Michael Pollan also goes into the history of cooking meat in his investigations into the traditions of barbecue. This book is a four-parter, split into sections on cooking with fire (barbecuing), cooking with water (stewing and braising), cooking with air (baking), and cooking with earth (fermentation). Pollan’s other works, including Food Rules and The Omnivore’s Dilemma are must-haves for the food lover’s library.
A classic on the food memoir front is Anthony Bourdain’s
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary
(2000) that still feels fresh 15 years on. You’ll learn more than you’d care to know about what goes on behind the scenes in a busy restaurant. Though he’s a bit heavy on the macho bravado that plagues many a chef, he’s a likeable rogue with serious food knowledge and passion to share.
Another chef’s memoir that reads beautifully is
(2012) by Gabrielle Hamilton, proprietor and head chef of Prune in New York City. Here she shares stories of her childhood spent on a farm in rural Pennsylvania and tales of 20-hour workdays as a chef in the big city.
One of my favourite books about food and cooking is
Blood, Bones and Butter
(2010). This book does include recipes but they’re shared through stories from its author, Niki Segnit. The genius of this book is that it acts as a guide on what flavours work with each other; there’s a handy index where you can look up a key ingredients, say bacon or mushrooms, and find a list of what will work well with it. It’s a great way to break free from the shackles of recipes and learn how to be a more creative, intuitive cook.
If you are the literary type, you might be heading to The Hay Festival in Kells, Co Meath, this weekend. The festival includes a series of talks, workshops and screenings celebrating
literature, design and film. Food gets a look in with a chat about Freeganism and food supply with Brian Eno (yes, that Brian Eno), cheesemonger Seamus Sheridan and social entrepreneur Andy Middleton, chaired by The Telegraph’s Mark Skipworth in Kell’s Theatre on Saturday 27th June at 12.30pm. Tickets are ¤5.
Other food based-talks are provided by Catherine Cleary and Seamus Sheridan, who’ll discuss the history of cheese at the Sheridan’s Cheesemonger in Pottlereagh today at 11am (¤8) and Rosanna Davison who’ll share stories fro her new book Eat Yourself Beautiful at 2pm today in the Kells Theatre (¤6). Find out more at hayfestival.com.