I don’t know if I’d place a whole lot of stock in a book review by an amateur cook who was moderately dyslexic and barely reads books. Or recipes. Then again, I’m a believer in passion over raw talent so I’ll take the risk that you might want to know what I struggle to read. If that’s not good enough, you may trust Anthony Bourdain who calls the subject of this particular book “a cult classic from [his] favourite chef and favourite restaurant in the world.”
Fergus Henderson is largely credited with the popularity of fine dining featuring “daring” pieces of meat that were formally tossed aside, ground into hotdogs or fed to the less privileged. My Grandparents would laugh at the notion that he’s started anything at all and insist that he simply continued family traditions that consumed the whole animal with no waste in cultures from all around the world.
I received the book (Nose to Tail Eating, A kind of British Cooking) for my birthday from our wonderful friend Nat. Her timing was simply impeccable – she walked in with the book just as I was breaking down two ham hocks (article here) and we all had a good laugh.
The book features recipes which are rich in history and cultures from around the world. Pea and Pig’s Ear Soup, Warm Pig’s Head, Ox Tongue and Bread, Pickled herring, Bone Marrow and Crispy Pig’s Tails find themselves paired with traditional recipes, vegetarian dishes and even some preserving recipes. A sample beef tongue recipe (not from the book or from Henderson) can be found at Epicurious here.
Before discussing the book, let’s quickly introduce it’s author. Mr. Henderson is English and was born in 1963. He is a trained architect whose restaurants sparked pilgrimages for chefs around the world before many of the mainstream found him. The book, now widely published, was only available for purchase in the restaurant and was a closely guarded tome by many chefs aspiring to his innovation and vision.
Mr. Henderson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1998 and, similar to Grant Achatz (Alinea), he simply refused to give in. Experimental surgery (essentially implanting a pacemaker-type device in the brain) brought back great mobility to our hero and he has inspired hope (and many charitable donations) towards the cause of Parkinson’s.
His philosophy of consuming the entire animal provides a vision that guides him through his cooking process (and I dare to say has shaped the dining scenes of many of the world’s fine restaurants today).
The book is fascinating.
There are few pictures – those which are displayed will challenge you to consider the ingredient without sticking it in your face (unless, of course, you are a vegetarian which would likely make this a difficult read).
Recipes are plentiful – the dialogue even more so. Ingredients are carefully measured however the directions read like a casual dialogue encouraging you to have a go at it. The instructions feel much more like a coach offering you casual guidance through what most would consider very foreign ground. Passion for cooking is apparent in the pages – as is practical advice. There is insight into common cooking through the book. The casual read passes on tips, insight and his vision through the text. It reads as one-part novel, one-part map of a foreign land and one-part cook book.
There are also recipes that are accessible for the less adventurous ( salads, cured ham, crab and mayo and salt cod are all examples).
I’ve taken the book on a business trip as well as on a few solo dinner dates. It’s had an odd side-effect: just having the book has drawn out 4 or 5 really quality conversations with strangers. It would seem that it is a magnet to find any chef (actual or aspiring) in the room and it’s really been a graceful icebreaker with many who stop and ask about this bizarre book is (if they did not previously know).
It’s really a delightful read and one I highly recommend checking out the next time you pass the cookbook section – or a guy with glasses reading it at the bar.