As a keen fan of David Loftus' photography; it was great to find that a cookery book containing selected recipes by the man himself, his family and the cooks and chefs he has worked with was available. There is no denying that Around the World in 80 Dishes contains both wonderful recipes (most of which are quite achievable by home cooks who enjoy world or fusion cooking) and some fascinating, personal glimpses of one of the most successful, yet out of the public limelight, professional photographers.
David Loftus has a warm, friendly and informative writing style too, so much so that I would love to see him do more cooking or food-related writing in future. If it's possible to get away from behind the camera for long enough. I do want to thoroughly recommend it for other readers who love cooking and admire the wonderful images he makes that brings cookery books alive, but, unfortunately there are a few problems.
It is a compilation book, mostly. For some home cooks, myself included, this can be an ideal way to introduce new or old recipes that encourage further discovery. For others it will mean duplication of recipes as I spotted one I already have in another book. Understandably, Jamie Oliver features quite strongly with nine recipes included overall. As I'm not really into all of Jamie Oliver's recipes I don't know if these have been included in his other books.
There's something a bit odd going on with quantities. Recipes can range between 2-4 person servings, then from 6-10 people. It does make me wonder why the recipes contributed weren't edited or standardised for 2-6 people? Delightful as Nigella Lawson's Overnight Lamb Shanks with Honey and Figs looks; I'm unlikely to be cooking for ten people and would not try the recipe without knowing how the flavour is effected when halving quantities.
The text theme, based on Jules Verne's novel "Around the World in Eighty Days", is not intrusive and gives an insight into the imagination and experiences of Mr. Loftus too. However, this does lead to at least one choice that I find hard to understand why it wasn't pulled in proofing or editing. A recipe for Basque Chicken is given by Tony Milford Jr. who is a member of the Navajo Nation. The wince-inducing header passage is Phileas Fogg and Co. fighting off an attack from 'Native Indian warriors' and uses a quote that was entirely acceptable for 1873 but sounds an unpleasant stereotype for 2012. I don't think it looks the most sympathetic decision to use that particular imagery when it reflects on a real-life contributor.
The book is absolutely passionate about including food photos but this is where it can be disappointing in quality and presentation. It has the luxury of an image of the completed dish for every recipe which seems wonderful, or it did, until I realised that it's not a good idea to rely on them. Shallots are visible in the Spiced Duck Legs image which are definitely not in the ingredient list and the Malai Jhingri Poppadums show different prawns to the ingredients and a much lighter sauce than the recipe creates. I love good food photography but not when it edges into being misleading. These seem strange errors for such an experienced professional too.
What is also lacking for photos is gloss paper, it's all matte and has less sharpness and clarity. I'm guessing this was a sensible choice for pricing reasons, so that it didn't become an expensive coffee table book. The paper looks good quality but the best things about Mr. Loftus' style, his use of light, capturing the essence of food, is somewhat dulled. It might just be part of an error on the print run but the book smells really strongly of benzene (a print production cleaning chemical).
I do find the book good for interesting and diverse recipes along with the relaxed personality of a wonderful photographer. With some tighter, more thoughtful, editing and good quality gloss paper for the photos it would have been greatly improved.