There is no better insight into a chef’s love of food than their compiling of recipes into a cookbook, and passion is what jumps out from every page of Neil Perry’s most recent culinary Bible, Simply Good Food.
The dark tones used throughout the book are reminiscent of candle-lit dinners and allude to Perry’s love of sharing food with loved ones. The understated colour scheme also allows the vibrancy of the food to leap from the page and into the imagination of the reader, as Perry lures us into a world of possibility.
Simply Good Food represents Perry as unfussy when it comes to delicious food. The book contains the traditional categories of soups, salads, pasta, meat and sweets, but also exhibits the chef’s vast food knowledge through tantalising Asian banquets, Mediterranean shared tables and Mexican feasts. Despite this diversity, it fights the feeling of being a one-stop-shop for recipes by focusing on intricate flavour combinations that make patience and care the core ingredients of every dish.
Flicking through every page builds excitement. Each dish is made up of simple flavours and uncomplicated cooking processes but they combine to produce a dish that could belong on the table of any high-end restaurant. The trick is that each ingredient is made to shine. The spaghetti with mussels, prawns and chilli is created from a small amount of pasta to ensure the seafood can bask in the limelight. The slow cooked lamb ragout is braised in a simple tomato and vegetable sauce which tenderises the meat, ensuring that it melts in your mouth. The veal escalope with artichokes and prosciutto is a dish that uses minimal ingredients and relies upon the individual character of each carefully selected element to create an explosive dish. The restraint that Perry exercises with each dish reflects his respect for produce as he extracts maximum flavour from each ingredient and shows that good food does not have to be complicated.
The recipes in this book are deceptively uncomplicated but don’t be fooled, each is a labour of love. Perry may suggest that you spend what feels like hours rolling out potato gnocchi, but as soon as you place one of the delicate pillows in your mouth all is forgiven. The gnocchi is especially delectable when pan-fried as they develop a crunchy crust whilst maintaining a cushiony interior. Perry’s suggested pairing of gnocchi with a roasted tomato sauce is spot on, as each tomato detonates a sweet explosion of flavour each time you burst through their flesh. Similarly, while you wait for the bittersweet chocolate tart to slowly bake in a warmed but switched off oven, you may question whether a bowl of ice cream would have sufficed. But as you crunch on the buttery pastry and the dark, rich interior melts in your mouth, you are certain that it was worth the effort. A small caution comes with this particular dessert however, a slither is heaven but a large wedge will leave you feeling like Augustus Gloop.
Perry provides the basic outline of the recipe and credits the reader’s culinary intelligence by encouraging them to inject their own individual knowledge and flair into the dish. This makes the book extremely accessible and eliminates the often stressful experience of replicating restaurant-quality recipes. By doing this, Simply Good Food stokes the fire of passion in those that already love food, but will also ignite embers in those yet to surrender themselves to the joy of cooking.