1987 turned out to be an annus mirabilis for modern British cooking. Marco Pierre White opened Harvey’s; Simon Hopkinson launched Bibendum , Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers served their first customers at the River Café in Hammersmith while in Notting Hill Rowley Leigh was busy turning Kensington Place into one of London’s most popular neighbourhood restaurants.
The food he cooked was simple, seasonal and delicious offering a timely riposte to the fripperies of nouvelle cuisine and over the next two decades, Kensington Place and Le Café Anglais that followed it, were elevated to the status of legends. But Rowley could write as well as cook. His columns in the Financial Times were as influential and admired as his food.
It is these columns, produced in collaboration with the photographer Andy Sewell, that will form the heart of this book, the one all fans of his cooking have waited patiently for. It will contain 120 of his best recipes, each of them illustrated by Andy’s photos (unlike most cookbooks all the food photographed will have been cooked by Rowley himself – no food stylists will be harmed in the making of this book). In Rowley’s own words:
“This book is a selection of our work over five years. It is arranged by month because I think that provides a more compelling narrative. Some dishes are starters, some ‘mains’, and some puddings but as often or not they are just something to eat when you are hungry.
I divide those who are kind enough to appreciate my work into two camps. There are those who like my ‘writing’ and enjoy the introductory essays and those who want to cook the food and therefore glance at the essay and scrutinise the recipe. I am very happy for both groups but would make one observation. The essay is an attempt to entertain but the recipe is an attempt to instruct and therefore, as a writer, rather more demanding. What matters in a cookbook is that it, and its recipes, work. I hope that is the case. I have worked quite hard after all.”
He has – and now it’s your turn: help us make it happen and take this once in a lifetime chance of getting your name in the back of a culinary classic.
I enjoy cooking and writing in January. It comes as a welcome relief after the deadline ‘pullbacks’ and frenetic pace of December when a working chef has to cook turkey and Christmas puddings for office parties and whilst attempting to think of something new to say about a subject – Christmas party food, Christmas starters, Christmas Turkey, alternative Christmas lunches, Christmas puddings etc - he has been writing about for twenty years.
January has its own problems. There are few ingredients specific to the month. The game season still has a month to run but care is needed with most birds as they become more mature. There are still apples and pears from store but the only fruit, apart from wonderful citrus, are the exotics. With vegetables, there are roots and brassicas aplenty and Italy seems to produce a new member of the chicory family almost every year. There is plenty of fish, if the weather allows and we live in an age where there is no shortage of meat at any time of the year.
The other problem is that January is diet month. Half the population – or certainly that section of the population that might read the FT – is on a ‘dry’ January and a detox diet. I prefer to defer my attempts at detox until Lent, not for religious reasons but because it seems more seasonally appropriate. I do, however, occasionally prescribe dishes that are suitable for those trying to clean up but in the main I tread my usual path. Whilst most food pages are full of well being and health, I reward the other population who pine for more substantial victuals. Nobody needs spiralised courgettes in an English winter.
'The life so short, the craft so long to learn'. Most cookery books emphasise how easy their recipes are. They lie. Cooking, like life, karate and playing the violin, has to be learnt. That is why it is so rewarding. This is a long, unmessy and beautifully illustrated book, documenting my cooking and ruminations over the last few years. And I'll cook your dinner.
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