There are no original recipes. This belief I held long before a copy of The Plagiarist in the Kitchen dropped onto my door mat. As a food writer it can be dispiriting to realise someone else devised a recipe before you but this is the way of the culinary world. If you think certain ingredients taste good together, it seems logical that someone, somewhere will agree with you and will have worked out the best way to combine them. You only have to look at the cookery books from the past 300 years or so to note that plagiarism in this genre is rife, no matter how much the author protests that it is his or her ‘own receipt’.
What is the essence of the book?
Author Jonathan Meades calls this an ‘anti-cookbook’ adding ‘Anyone who claims to have ‘invented’ a dish is dishonest or delusional or foaming’. What he presents here are 125 of his favourite recipes which he has ‘stolen’ and modified to suit his own tastes. It’s an eclectic collection with recipes like Lancashire Hotpot (borrowed from Anthony Burgess) sitting along side French classics like cassoulet. Meades does give credit to his sources where they are known, (‘Pineapple Braised in Beer – I once overheard someone talking in a restaurant about having had this in another restaurant’). What really brings this book together is his anecdotes behind the recipes.
About the author
Jonathan Meades is a writer, journalist, essayist and film-maker. From 1986-2001 he wrote about restaurants for The Times, so he should know a thing or two about food. Apparently, this is the only cookbook he will ever write.
Who will like it?
If you are the sort of the person who enjoys actually reading cookbooks (rather than having a quick inspirational rummage for tomorrow’s dinner) then you’re bound to love this book, even if you never cook from it. I’d even go as far to say that you don’t have to be a die hard fan of cooking to appreciate this book.
Who won’t like it?
Meades can be gloriously caustic at times (‘get treatment for squeamishness…vegetarianism is curable’) so I can see how his tone may grate with some readers. If you are looking for a book that reinvents the culinary wheel then this isn’t it (although the recipes are for the most part practical). If you already cook then there are no recipes in here that you would find a revelation. Nor are there any food porn shots to drool over.
What do I like about the book?
Fortunately, I love reading books about food. If they happen to contain recipes, so much the better. In this instance it is the narrative that makes this book. It is an absolute joy to read – witty, unashamedly opinionated and never dull.
A nod should also be given to the publishers, Unbound. To quote their website ‘Unbound is a crowdfunding publisher that gives people the tools, support and freedom to bring their ideas to life.’ I think this is a great platform for aspiring authors and it’s good to see someone of Meades calibre supporting such an initiative.
Is there anything I’m not so keen on?
No – I love it. I could see this becoming a cult classic. Perhaps in 100 years cooking enthusiasts will be reading this instead of The Physiology of Taste by Brillat-Savarin? Who knows.
Would I cook from it?
Possibly. The recipes appear sound enough but as I’ve already said, there’s nothing new here. I’m happy to appreciate this book as a piece of literature rather than a practical guide.
Where can you buy it?