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A new age of culinary cookbooks

WHEN I first moved out of the comforts of home, my parents breathed a collective sigh of relief. However, that sigh was to become frustration, as I was on the phone every other night asking my very own Margaret Fulton how to cook.

A phone call every other night might be an exaggeration because, with two blokes living in their first house away from home, it was more likely that food came in the nearest form of takeaway and ice cold beer, or tinned spaghetti and cheap port.

The phone calls I did make were to find out how to perform some of the more technical food preparations, such as “how long do I boil potatoes for”, or “how many eggs do I use when I am making scrambled eggs”?

I soon became a chef of some note among my peers, and many friends would drop in to our house to share these culinary delights. One of my favourite dishes in those days was steak, not much else but steak, as that would have cost another phone call to find out how long the potatoes took. There was never anything green in the fridge … except for the mould on the left over takeaways.

Then it happened. On the first Christmas after I had moved away from home, I was inundated with presents. Tupperware containers bulged out of my stocking and my mother and sister purchased the collection of Women’s Weekly cookbooks as a special present. That summer changed my life.

I slowly learned that there were delights called vegetables, and pasta that didn’t come out of a tin. I had discovered a use for cookbooks, it was like a new dawn, a new world of food awaited discovery.

I really enjoy cooking these days and have a collection of cookbooks picked up from my travels around the world. And while the Women’s Weekly books still can be found in the bookshelf in my kitchen, it is more likely that you will find one of the current best sellers, such as The Naked Chef, ready to be attacked with gourmet gusto.

During the past decade there have been huge benefits for the home chef. Television programs have helped to involve a new breed of home chefs and have enabled many to familiarise themselves with ingredients from around the world and be introduced to many new styles of foods and flavours.

It wasn’t too long ago that specialty food shops simply did exist. Today there are specialised food stores and outlets in plentiful supply, many having evolved from the demand placed on ingredients from the spin off books from very popular television programs.

Some of the best selling cooks are these days directly related to the TV. The Naked Chef was a huge success and one bookstore owner told me that it seemed to change the demographics of who bought cookbooks. All of a sudden, men, both young and old, were coming in to grab a copy in large numbers. The style of The Naked Chef program was to give an approach to food and to make it fun. The host was funky and modern and therefore appealed to a huge cross section of budding chefs

One of the all-time best sellers is Stephanie Alexander’s A Cook’s Companion. If you haven’t got a copy, or your children are just moving out of home, it really is a must for every kitchen. It explains everything and has recipes that even the most basic of kitchen goers can grasp, right through to the most delicate of sauces. Another of the best sellers that Stephanie has produced is the Tuscany cookbook. A collection of Mediterranean dishes that has helped spawn a new generation of European tastes crossing our tables.

While most of the best-seller cookbooks will cover a general range of foods, one huge success outside those boundaries has been Charmaine Soloman’s vegetarian effort. It puts a huge effort into dispelling the myth that you must have meat to make a meal. The book reveals a wealth of knowledge and delights that will enlighten even the hardened carnivore.

Restaurant chefs across Australia also are now producing books to enhance their reputations and restaurants. Our very own Kate Lamont’s cookbook is among the best sellers at places such as the Lane Bookshop in Claremont. Other home-grown talent to make it to print include the ABC’s Ian Parmenter and reknowned foodie Rob Broadfield.

Today’s very popular choice is Nigella Lawson’s book, from her very popular television program, Nigella Bites, on the ABC. Like The Naked Chef, her program has appealed to a different audience, and the poms have got themselves another hit.

Clever marketing, to be sure but when will Australia find their very own Naked Nigella cooking on television for the X generation? Surely we have some talent hiding out there somewhere.

I leave my final words on the rewards on cookbooks to another Australian treasure, one that evolved out of rural Queensland, as far as I can tell. It’s the CWA Cookery Book and Household Hints.

You should not be ashamed to display your copy, as this is an icon, and if Penfolds Grange can get a heritage listing then I put a case forward to list the CWA Cookery Book alongside.

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