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The Pla­gia­rist in the Kitchen

Jonathan Meades (Un­bound, £20)

if you al­ready know and love Jonathan Meades, he needs no in­tro­duc­tion. if you don’t, imag­ine Nabokov crossed with The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar. he made food writ­ing what it is now and paid a heavy price for it— lit­er­ally. over the 15 years he was the Times’s res­tau­rant critic, he put on 5lb a year (about an ounce per res­tau­rant, he es­ti­mated).

he stepped down in 2001 (and lost a third of his body weight), but has con­tin­ued rail­ing against culi­nary pre­ten­sion, par­tic­u­larly ‘self im­por­tant, thick, en­tirely hu­mour­less’ celebrity chefs and their book deals. ‘it’s all theft,’ he says. ‘Any­one who claims to have “in­vented” a dish is dis­hon­est or delu­sional or foam­ing.’

The Pla­gia­rist in the Kitchen is his ‘anti-cook­book’: a col­lec­tion of 125 of his favourite recipes, all proudly un­o­rig­i­nal. ‘Noth­ing needs “a twist”,’ is his view. ‘The best a cook can do is to im­prove on what’s there— that usu­ally means strip­ping out re­dun­dant in­gre­di­ents.’ so we get Tomato sauces 1, 2, 3 and 4, two bat­ters (‘Ba­sic’ and ‘Even More Ba­sic’) and a recipe for mashed potato that’s ‘re­ally a sus­pen­sion of pota­toes in but­ter and cream’. There’s a lot of deep-fry­ing and cheese.

Along the way, Mr Meades cat­a­logues his pet hates: ap­ple sauce (‘iffy’), veg­e­tar­i­an­ism (‘cur­able’), shep­herd’s pie (‘an ac­cred­ited health haz­ard in can­teens, schools, hos­pi­tals’). how you wish he would come out of re­tire­ment and go to town on the peo­ple sell­ing £20 ‘ironic’ hot-dogs in Lon­don.

This re­view, like the mashed potato, is re­ally more of a sus­pen­sion of quotes than any­thing else. That’s in­evitable when you’re writ­ing about Mr Meades: the best and most sen­si­ble thing to do is to let him speak for him­self. A note at the be­gin­ning of the text says this ‘is the only cook­book he will ever write’. shame. Emma Hughes

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