I’ve baked a cookbook. It’s called On the Side and will be published by Bloomsbury on Thursday 4 May. I really hope you might consider buying it and (more importantly) if you do, that it becomes a much loved, thumbed and splattered part of your kitchen library.
There you go. I’ve been hovering over the keys for an hour or so trying to kick this off with something witty, but it seems that blunt and honest is the only way I can get going.
As the title suggests, it’s a book of side dishes. Not one that tells you how to mash a potato or boil a carrot. Rather, the aim was for this to be a truly useful sourcebook of inspirational sides.
I’ve found only one other book on a similar theme: which seems extraordinary to me. The trimmings make up the majority of a meal; and though time and expense are generally directed elsewhere, when they’re good, the sides are often the best thing on a plate.
There are 140 recipes covering the length and breadth of greens, leaves and herbs; vegetables and fruit; roots and tubers; and grains, pasta and rice. Each of the dishes go just that little extra step — maybe they’ve got a fancy sprinkle or unexpected seasoning, or they involve an ingredient you might not normally pick up. Whatever, the dish will elevate what you’re eating, or inspire you to build a meal around it.
Browsing the recipes isn’t the only way in to the book, though. At the back there’s a comprehensive set of directories to point you towards sides to suit your centrepiece, should you already be fixed on it. Whether that’s a chicken breast, BBQ’d pork, confit duck leg, S.E Asian-style curry, quiche, mushroom bake, calves brains or hare. Like I said: comprehensive.
Or, if you’ve a more modern approach to eating than meat and two veg, you could quite happily construct a meal from sides only. Each recipe finishes with a list of other recipes that it goes well with — the book is not short of page number cross referencing (the editors and indexer loved me).
From commission to publication day, it’s been a two year process — if not hands-on all the time, then at the very least always on my mind. I’m not sure what I thought writing a cookbook would involve, but it’s really not very glamorous. About sixty six percent of the time is spent washing up.
The best part was the photoshoot. The days spent creating the book with the photographer Joe Woodhouse and my ace assistant for the shoot, Elayna Rudolphy, were the kind of days I’d hoped for when leaving my previous career in law for one in food: hard work, full on, but legitimately full of cooking, creativity and fun.
Bloomsbury gave me a significant amount of freedom for both content and look of the food within On the Side (or, depending how you look at it, a long rope with which to hang myself), allowing me to do the ‘food styling’ and ‘art direction’, whatever that means. Every recipe is illustrated, which I hope people will be pleased with (because it was a load of work). And, thanks to Joe, the images are pretty much exactly as I envisaged: straightforward, natural, no fuss, beautiful.
Publishing a book provokes a strange set of emotions, with doubt currently the prevailing one. I’m sure I’ll neither be able to take criticism gracefully, nor trust compliments if they come. Will it sell? Will people think it’s useful? Will anyone read the painstakingly considered and constructed introduction and chapter outlines?
Whatever happens, I was beyond proud to receive and fondle the first hard copy, and I’m delighted that it’s exactly the book I wanted to sit on my shelf for years to come, even if the rest of the print run ends up being pulped. Huge thanks to the skill and expertise of the Bloomsbury editorial team (Natalie, Lena, Laura, Alison) for making it happen.
Now go forth and support your local independent bookstore, or that evil yet remarkably useful Brazilian rainforest.
I’m afraid things will become a little self promotional on social media for a while, though I’ll try and run this blog as per normal.
If you’re interested, however, there’ll be a number of events and demos through the summer and indeed rest of the year, which I’d love to see you at.
- I’m popping-up at Salon in Brixton on 23 and 24 May. We’ll be conjuring up a five course feasting menu inspired by the seasons, with a nod to the recipes On the Side. Expect inventive snacks, racy plating and the odd sharing platter. Tickets are £39 per person. Do come.
- The good people of ace north London restaurant Season are letting me takeover their sides offering for the week commencing 5 June. Their honest approach to cooking is right up my street, and their menu is a perfect fit for On the Side. Check it out.
- I’ve a sides session scheduled at Borough Market’s demo kitchen on 7 June. 1pm to 2pm in Market Hall.
- And I’m set (and stoked) for demos at the following summer festivals:
The list will grow, and I’ll find somewhere sensible to store it.
Fist bumps and high fives to those of you who’ve read to the bottom.
p.s. aside from my snap of one of our shoot lunches above, these photos are all cutting room floor pics by Joe Woodhouse. Just imagine how fit the ones that made the book are.