The latest offering from a man who has that rare ability to enthuse and inspire by taking the simple and demonstrating that it's extraordinary. Stein brings a dynamism to his television cookery programmes which contrasts with his laid back style and almost naive enjoyment of life. He appears relaxed, unhurried, absorbed with the joys of life, yet there is an energy and intensity to his sense of pleasure - don't be in a hurry, take your time, sit back, look, observe, fill your life with the delight of living and admiration of the simple things.
It's a great philosophy, and it works marvellously as he tours France in a barge, taking him on a canal-borne pilgrimage from Atlantic to Med. The French cooking he demonstrates en route is not the haute cuisine of the Paris restaurant, but the regional, peasant cookery which is the staple of French culinary genius. Stein offers up, here, a love of food - a love of eating it, a love of the tactile pleasures of preparing it, but also a love of the environment which produces it, an environment rich in nature and in people.
Stein, time and again, gets across the message that cookery is about people. The best foodstuffs, be they ever so simple, are the ones grown and raised by people who love them. The best cooks are the ones who love their ingredients and know what is available locally. Cook to your strengths, cook with the best ingredients available to you locally - that way you show respect for your environment and enrich it by sustaining your local producers and produce.
Stein has already delivered this message in his seafood and fish cook books, but it's a message he re-emphasises in his tour through the Midi. What his cookbook offers is an appreciation of French regional cookery - peasant fare: substantial, delicious, with the character of the land and its peoples etched into its flavours and aromas.
This is a wonderfully packaged evocation of France. It should inspire many of you to go touring, to take a barge holiday. It should inspire you to cook many of the dishes. But, in the best spirit of Rick Stein, it should also encourage you to enjoy your food, to take some time, to sit back. Cookery is a marvellous means of countering stress - unless, of course, you work in a busy restaurant or elect to prepare a dinner party for twelve.
Valuing your food and the time you take to select it, prepare it, cook it, and eat it help define your personality - you are what you eat. Stein's message, of appreciating the local, is inspirational: the beautiful visual quality of the recipes on offer should inspire you to investigate your own local markets and suppliers, should inspire many of you to come up with regional English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh alternatives. Stein's classic recipe, ironically, is his recipe for adventure - don't blindly follow a cookbook but look around you, try, experiment, vary the ingredients, adopt local varieties and specialities.
A sumptuous, inspirational cookbook, one which should encourage a little bit of adventure in the kitchen, and one to savour over the winter months while you plan next year's boating or canal holiday.