Ireland's top chef pick their favourite cook books

Three top Irish chefs, Rory O’Connell, Trish Deseine and Ross Lewis, talk to Joe McNamee about the cook books they can’t be without.
Ireland's top chef pick their favourite cook books

RORY O’CONNELL

La Cuisine Spontanée, by Fredy Girardet (first published, 1982)

“Fredy Girardet was a Swiss chef whose restaurant had three Michelin stars before he retired in 1996, it was often called the ‘greatest restaurant in the world’.

“I’d heard about it from guests when I was cooking at Ballymaloe House. I bought the book in London, sometime in the 80s, I would have been in my mid-20s.

“I’d been cooking six or seven years, writing menus at Ballymaloe House and would have been teaching in the school as well.

“I found the book very straightforward, not a huge amount of ingredients, as was the way at that time. There weren’t a lot of things on the plates. It was definitely in the post nouvelle cuisine tradition, it was contemporary to its time but some of the dishes are timeless. There was no ambiguity involved, anything I cooked from it was obviously delicious, no seeking any subtle nuances of taste, the flavours were absolutely right.

“The last time I opened it was probably about six months ago. When I’m stuck with what to do with an ingredient, it is one of my ‘go-to’ books, along with Simon Hopkinson. Depending on the part of the world the ingredient or cuisine comes from, I always ask myself, what would Fredy do?

“It might be just a combination of ingredients without using the recipe but it is invariably just right. I look at it several times a year since I bought it. There are very few photos and kids looking at it now would think it was incredibly simple food, judging from the pictures, but he was one of the most revered chefs in the world. Sadly, I never got to eat there, which is a shame, really.

“One recipe that stood out was scallops with chicory (endive) with white port, it was just perfection, to put those ingredients together. Then there were things like a grapefruit sorbet and candied kumquats which I’ve done ever since or that have become elements of perhaps more complex dishes.

“I tried and tested all the recipes when I bought it but there are some I wouldn’t do any more; a salmon and sole terrine just seems ‘too much’ these days!”

* Rory O’Connell is a cookbook author, TV presenter and co-founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School. His book Master It: How to Cook Today (Fourth Estate) won the highly prestigious André Simon Food Book Award.

TRISH DESEINE

Floyd on France, by Keith Floyd (first published 1987)

“I bought it in the late 80s, in Edinburgh. I was in my mid-20s and I’d just graduated from university and was on my way to France.

“It was probably the second cookbook I’d bought. When I was a student in Edinburgh, he’d have been on TV. Back then, we did more eating out but I did a little bit of cooking in my final year and we had rare dinner parties.

“I loved Floyd on TV. For me, he was the most watchable cook on screen. He had a sense of fun, an absurd, almost surreal, take on life and fantastic charisma before the camera. He gave off that thing I adore in happy cooks, a slight ‘out of control-ness’ and a pure joy in the pleasure food gave him. Floyd was also a terrific writer.

“The memoir part of Floyd on France, where he describes his time in the heart of Provence is a bittersweet delight. I love the freestyle way he suggests cooking, a ‘few sprigs’ here or ‘preferably’ there.

“He was a confident cook and managed to impart that confidence through his writing, making him the best kind of cookery writer in my book. The recipes are short, forgiving and precise, without going into huge detail, weights and measures. Too much information or bossiness is always a turn-off for me in cookbooks.

”I think the last recipe I cooked from it was a Burgundy snail stew. It’s funny, I took very few cookbooks (I must have hundreds in my house in France) with me when I moved over to West Cork in August and this was one of them.

“Floyd made the cut as he is a great and entertaining alternative to the unwieldy Larousse de La Cuisine for French cooking.

“I love the fish chapter, with the mighty fish stews and retro freshwater fish recipes, full of cream, white wine and sorrel.

“But if I had to choose my favourite recipe, it’s the epic Beef Bourguignon with its ‘roughly chopped’ vegetables, one large glass of brandy and ‘one small calf’s foot. (Optional but preferable!)’.”

* Trish Deseine is an Irish food writer and TV presenter. Her latest book is entitled Home: Recipes from Ireland (Hachette Cuisine). Her new series, Trish Deseine’s Doorstep Food (BBC NI) begins in November.

ROSS LEWIS

Raymond Blanc: Recipes From Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, by Raymond Blanc, (first published in 1988)

“I bought this book in London, the year it came out. I was in my early 20s and was working in London in Odin’s restaurant as a chef de partie on starters and Raymond Blanc was the superstar of the day.

“Even before Marco Pierre White, Blanc was the first to catch my attention as a chef.

“My first fine dining experience was in his restaurant.

“I took a French girlfriend out there and stayed with her sister.

“I was blown away by the set-up, the elegance, the formality, the polish and shine.

“I always remember the dish I had, a Terrine de Gibiers (Game: venison, teal, pigeon and pheasant) with hazelnuts and wild mushrooms and it’s in the book.

“What I loved about the book was that he did everything in seasons, which was a new concept at that stage. He should have had three stars but he never got them.

“The dishes were solid and contemporary of the day, yet deeply satisfying and he had a great energy as a person and that appealed.

“I didn’t meet him at the time — but I did meet him in Chapter One last year, when he and Marco Pierre White came in to dine, which was a turnaround.

“You’d always be slightly apprehensive but nothing makes me nervous anymore, I’ve been doing it so long.

“But to have someone you really looked up to coming, it’s a wonderful story and endorsement and it really was a circle closing.

“I last opened it a couple of months ago. It’s the kind of book I’d pick up again and again and leaf through. I have many books, some very serious food books, I’d read once, close them and never open them again but it’s one of the very few books I keep going back to. Maybe it’s nostalgia but it stands the test of time. It’s beautifully put together and really nicely designed. It just chimes with my culinary ethos. I’d be looking it up still and going, jeez, I might use that or work it in to something. It’s like your first girlfriend, you never forget.”

* Ross Lewis is the Chef/Proprietor of Chapter One restaurant, Dublin. Author of Chapter One: An Irish Food Story (Gill & MacMillan)

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