The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS - Aoife McEl­wain

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


Flavour Th­e­saurus

(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

An­thony Bour­dain

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 hayfes­ti­

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