Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Simply the Best
By Tamasin Day-Lewis
Cassell Illustrated (W&N Illus)
Tamasin Day-Lewis’ cookbooks are as readable and engrossing as fiction. The former television documentary producer has written two other cookbooks, West of Ireland Summers, and The Art of the Tart, both of which have received high praise, along with two other books of non-fiction. Her regular columns in newspapers and magazines have attracted a strong following in Britian, primarily for her clear and interesting writing, along with her passion for high quality, organic, seasonal, and locally produced ingredients. Day-Lewis’ latest book Simply the Best is almost more of a read than it is a guide, reproducing her popular Daily Telegraph Weekend Cook column articles, and providing information, stories, and anecdotes, while championing the small scale producer of gourmet food. If you don’t live in the south of England, the usefulness of the many of the references, along with the extensive Suppliers and Organizations list are probably going to be wasted, although some of the foods Day-Lewis writes about seem almost good enough to incite emigration. The overall thesis of Simply the Best is that the cause of small producers, artisan craftsmen: producers of fine quality, organic produce is something that needs to be pursued, and this is probably true worldwide.
The book is divided into sections based on the seasons, with brief essays at the start of each, which contain bits of reminiscence about about Day-Lewis’ childhood, her experiences with foods, her feelings about and philosophy. Between each season are the columns, each addressing a different food, or local producer, followed by recipes either inspired by her experiences or by the artisan she writes about. There are handmade cheese companies, deer farmers, eel smokers, baby asparagus growers, bread bakers, fishmongers, trips to Italy for hand crafted olive oil, honey, slow food, and truffles, fresh country markets, handmade chocolates, small but perfectly run shops, trips to Ireland, exquisite restaurants, and guesthouses, and home cooked meals. Each story is self-contained, and quite interesting, full of personal images and colourful detail. The book also contains tributes to some of Britian’s best cooks, including George Perry-Smith, to whom the book is dedicated, a dinner party with Claudia Rodin, and a visit to Richard Corrigan’s kitchen.
The recipes aren’t difficult per se, although most involve some care and attention to detail, and the ingredients may not be as readily available to the average cook unless they are fairly well heeled, well travelled, and living in Devonshire. However, you can still make Osso Bucco Milanese with normal veal, rather than with Swaddles Organic mother reared calves, a cheese and chive souffle with walnuts without Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese or Jersey milk, Killary Bay Mussel Chowder with ordinary mussels, rather than those purveyed by John Kilcoyne, Mussel Man, or Summer Pudding with Devon Raspberry Liqueur with any old raspberry liqueur. Of course the end product might not be so sublime, but there are local artisan producers everywhere, and you might just find an equivalent in your own backyard. In the meantime, you can just read the book for its prose. It is fairly dear, but the beautiful photos by David Loftus, one of Britain’s best food photographers, the mouthwatering innovative recipes, and the fascinating stories which go with each chapter.