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