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VINE VOICEon 22 September 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My wife was really looking forward to receiving this book, but what a disappointment it turned out to be. We have really struggled to find even one recipe that we would both like whereas usually we would find at least half a dozen worth trying. Half the recipes seem to be for side dishes masquarading as mains and the vast majority require ingredients that will be very hard to source unless you live in or very near a large town with either a very good deli or a decent sized middle and far eastern population.

Overall the tone is very Hoxton pretentious; a recipe can't just include kale, it must be forced sea kale (which apparently more shops are selling now, although not down here on the South Coast by the sea). And how about a recipe that contains himalayan basmati rice - never heard of it?Don't worry because Stevie (someone really should tell him that the only male who can carry off the name Stevie without seeming an utter d*ck is Mr Wonder)tells us that all basmati rice originates in the himalayas, which begs the question, why specify himalayan basmati why not just say basmati?In the end I found the book so pretentious that I couldn't bring myself to try anything.How about some nice japanese food?Well, until Stevie lived in Japan he didn't really understand japanese food so there's not much hope for the rest of us clods who have never even managed to visit Japan let alone live there.

In my opinion, if you are over thirty five, or don't live in a large conurbation, or don't think that eating a bowl of spiced rice is a decent supper after a days work, then,like me, you might find this overproduced book, (which appears to have been published by someone who worked on agitprop magazines in the early Eighties)full of elitist and pretentious recipes that you are unlikely to have the ingredients,for rather irritating. However, it's nice to know that in the depths of the worst recession for 40 years, Stevie and his chums can still flit round the world, looking for ever more exotic recipes so that they remain one up on the rest of us.

And if you think I shouldn't be reviewing a cookbook without having tried some of the recipes, then take a look at the back cover, which contains a glowing review by Sam & Sam Clark, of the very fashionable Moro restaurant, who end by saying how much they're looking forward to trying some of the recipes.The only difference is - that after reading it they and I came to very different conclusions.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 September 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm not sure what this book is aiming for. It's not a practical recipe book; more an anthology of diverse reflections by a young chef to tell us what a lot of wonderful culinary experiences he's had all over the world. The book suffers from graphic design over-kill: too many of the pages are difficult to read owing to the use of too small print on dark background colours or simulated sack-cloth: presumably that's also why many of the heading imitate the kind of stencilling found on sacks. The sizing of type throughout the book is strange: very large for headings, but too small for ingredient lists and methods to read comfortably, especially if used while cooking.

The recipes are an eclectic mixture of styles with a predominant Far Eastern influence. It pays lip-service to the seasons by focusing on what is available month by month, or not so available in the case of things like fresh ceps. And how many of us would use four bottles of Chianti to make a shin of beef dish, as listed on page 16. A recipe that is also practically impossible to read as it is printed on dark plum coloured paper: or should I say chianti-coloured paper!

It maybe because there is such a plethora of chefs producing books about food and cooking that new boys on the block have to try and do something more novel than a straightforward cookery. But, if you've got very good near-vision eye-sight and like reading about other people's experiences of exotic food, then this might be a book for you, but, I'm sorry to say this book from one of the "New Voices in Food" is not for me.
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on 6 October 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very strange cookbook. It is described as "eclectic" and it certainly is not only in recipes but also layout and style. It has glowing reviews from the owners of the top restaraunts the writer has worked at (Sam Clark, Ruthie Rogers etc)and I do not doubt that Mr Parle is an accomplished chef but this collection just didn't grab me.
The recipes are fashionably sectioned into months with a special look at that month's glut,a technique and a page on knowledge.For instance in February the glut is leeks - so cue 3 leek recipes - leeks with sauce gribiche,grilled leeks with romesco sauce and leek,potato and porcini soup. The technique is preparing and cleaning anchovies-cue 3 anchovy recipes: almond paste (elizabeth david), a quick anchovy sauce and a bagna cuda. The knowledge for February is Umami- 2 pages about what it is and 3 recipes that deliver it - clam miso soup, silken tofu and tiny anchovies and sea kale in ten-tsuyu (a dshi and mirin sauce).That is all of February's recipes. I think all these recipes are basically starters or a side dish, not proper meals and this is typical of the recipes throughout the book. The book also suffers from having whole pages dedicated to recipes that could be summarised in a few lines (this is a particular annoyance of mine as so many recipe books do it). For instance, Baked Fish - basically any fish wrapped in foil with herbs stuffed in the cavity and a lump of butter and slice of lemon. There, written in 2 lines but a whole page given over to it. Cardamon milk is another example - milk (organic of course) cardamon pods, sugar,nibbed almonds, alphonso mangoes (what else!), saffron strands - boil milk with cardamons, add sugar and almonds to taste sprinkle on saffron serve with mangoes alongside. There are also silly affectations - himalyan basmati is specified for a recipe - oh, but actually all basmati is himalyan in origin so any will do!
Steve also tries to chat about his life and food a bit like Nigel Slater but it misses the mark - he talks about Nicky and a meal they had (who is she/he ?) turns out much later in the book that she is is his wife when we get an expalnation of how they met and he propsed.Steve also talks about a meal he had when travelling in Cambodia at age 16 - how? with family, on his own? He is very well travelled and has lived in Japan and other countries, we are given snippets but no proper narrative detail.
It is a shame this could have been very interesting.
Too many recipes have anchovies or dried fish as a component for me. Some of the deserts look good - I have made the unusual ricotta cake (ciambelline)which Steve suggests having for breakfast - it was Okay, not great. I think you could put together a few of the dishes and have a kind of tapas meal - but I don't think I will be cooking much from this book.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's obvious this boy can cook, but I think this book kinda misses the point of what a cookbook should be.

Divided into 12 months of the year and in a somewhat hit-and-miss way utilising seasonal ingredients, all of the recipes included - which are wildly eclectic in their ethnic sources - display a refined understanding of the uses of ingredients.

But..you don't learn to be a good cook by making something whacky every Friday night. You learn to be a good cook by making the same dish 20 times, and then by exploring your chosen style. This books more of a promotional device for someone who's obviously being groomed for TV fame than something cooks could use.

Other points:

1. Please don't publish a cookbook bound in absorbent brown paper. It'll look like a chip wrapper in about a fortnight. More evidence, then, that this has been designed for Guardianistas to have on the coffee table rather than a proper cookbook.

2. Please don't do that irritating thing about how the dish only 'works' if you use the most expensive ingredients possible, e.g. 'Genuine Himalayan Basmati rice' It's f***ing rice, for Christ's sake.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Quite a confused book with the title suggesting the recipes might be ordered by location, but the chapters actually divided into months of the year. The predominant cuisines represented are Asian (various coconut curries, Cambodian chicken soup, tempura and tandoori) plus Mediterranean (Roman artichokes, tiramisu, Spanish ajo blanco). Presumably these are much loved favourites of the author, selected from his world travels, but tasty as some of the recipes sound, the whole is very disjointed.

There are a lot of pretty pencil and pen-and-ink type illustrations, but the only photographs to be found are on the inside of the cover, which folds out. I really do think photos are essential in a cookery book, firstly to provide inspiration, and secondly, to show what a finished dish should actually look like so we can be sure we haven't screwed up!

In common with a previous reviewer who said that the most tempting recipes are the desserts, the masala ice-cream and the gorgeous-sounding seville orange custard tart will be the first I try. But I'm not as convinced by the savoury dishes, some of which are more 'side' than main course, and not terribly appealing, e.g enough okra and green bean recipes to last you a month!

With more pictures and a bit of editing, this could be a decent cookery book. As is, just scrapes 3 stars.
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on 22 September 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Primarily I expect a recipe book to be just that, but if I had to give this book a description I'd probably go for "lifestyle". It attempts to take you on a journey as the author describes where and how he came across various recipes and the book is interestingly divided by month rather than by food category, but that means you have to read through the whole book and attempt to find a recipe you like the look of.

A more major problem was that there just weren't that many recipes I was particularly interested in. Soups and salads seem to feature prominently whereas I'm more interested in cooking big, hearty meals.

Having looked through some of the existing reviews the word 'pretentious' has been used a few times, and I'm afraid I'd have to agree. Maybe I'm not the target audience for this book, but I can't really think of anyone I would recommend it to.
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VINE VOICEon 29 January 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The first thing I noticed about this book is that it is overly pretentious - one recipe specifies "Himalayan Basmati rice" and is accompanied by a note explaining that you shouldn't worry if you can't find rice labelled this way, as all Basmati rice is Himalayan - so why bother to specify that in the recipe? Eating well is all too often a class issue already, and this level of affectation does not help matters.

Had I based my review purely on the writing, it would have been one star. However, I do feel one must cook from a cookery book to judge it fairly so have to date made three recipes from this. All of them have been excellent, good enough in fact that I will make a point of trying more as well as cooking them again. Just would rather the author stuck to the recipes and avoided the editorial comments and lifestyle writing.
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on 21 September 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is not your typical recipe book & is aimed more at the foodie type acomplished chef who can get the gist of a recipe & run with it, rather than an amateaur who needs the precise measurements & cooking method.

Written by a Young "up & coming" London chef, who lives on a barge & grows his own fruit, veg & herbs on a floating pontoon. He spent a great deal of time travelling & so the recipes are very eclectic & there are a great deal of Indian/Asian & Morrocan dishes

The book feels very personal, like you just had a peek into Steves personal recipe book. There are no photos of the finished dishes, only quirky little animations & drawings.

Some of the recipes have little stories telling you who/what/why he made the dish

The books chapters follow the months of the year & Steve losely bases the recipes around seasonal food - although there are an awful lot of unusual ingredients in the recipes & it is very clear that Steve does a lot of his shopping in markets & shops specialising in Far Eastern fruit & veg - these being freely available in London.
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VINE VOICEon 20 September 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The design and layout of a cookery book is make-or-break, so let's start by saying: some people will dislike this book immensely. Not the recipes themselves, necessarily, but the pared-down design. If you like your cookery book to be filled with photographs of the dishes (so you know how they are supposed to turn out!), this is not the book for you. There are no glossy photos, although there are some useful and clear illustrations on, for example, how to cut up a fresh mango.

This fits in nicely with the ethos of this book which is part of the first wave of a new series of cookery books allowing 'unknown' chefs a chance to publish. So, if you want to know what the author looks like, the book won't show you. You'll get a sense of the chef from the recipes themselves: Parle's writing is earnest, informed, genuinely excited by new flavours, and not afraid to include unusual ingredients that even I, living in London, would struggle to locate.

Despite the occasional exotic ingredient, there are also some wonderfully straight-forward recipes that are included despite (or perhaps because of) their simplicity (the chickpeas with oregano is particularly good). I can also recommend this book to vegetarians like me. Although it's not a veggie cookbook, it's filled with meat- and fish-free recipes that are quite unlike the standard 'mushroom risotto' fare you get with some vegetarian cookbooks. The section on okra left me salivating and wishing I had a glut of okra to try out the recipes!

It's a fantastic idea, publishing books by chefs who don't necessarily have a TV series to guarantee sales. More helpings, please!
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VINE VOICEon 9 October 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you've read some mixed reviews about Real Food From Near & Far, my advice is - just jump in. Yes, it's an odd one, and does fall somewhere between styles of cook books. However, that's because it's not your average high street celebrity chef offering. What it ditches in familiarity this beautifully presented, and extremely tactile cook book replaces with rather smart tips. It's also true to say that the author's choice of ingredients sometimes strays beyond the larger supermarket, but that's only because he's genuinely trying to deliver something new. And besides, these aspects are limited across the whole book.

Splitting recipes into twelve separate months by way of a format is nothing new, but what Parle is trying to do is create a more earthy appreciation for natural produce. But rather than go all Good Life, he's actually trying to underline and reestablish food's intrinsic values. A move that is underlined by occasional pages that act as asides, where the author tries to get the reader to think about what a lemon actually does - and what it can therefore be most valuable in delivering. Across the book, I found this to be hugely enlightening and given that I already own a heaving shelf of cookbooks large and small, rather refreshing.

A quick word about the presentation, too: If, like me, you gain fetishistic pleasure from cookbooks, I would genuinely recommend Real Food on that front also. The book makes excellent use of paper stocks and hand-drawn illustrations, rendering this a book that actually stands out for its design and feel as much as its content.

So, in short: yes, Real Food From Near & Far is a little leftfield if you compare it to a Nigella, but it's close enough to a Jamie Oliver to be of real interest to any cooks looking for something new, enlightening or a little bit (and only occasionally) challenging.

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