Sounds like another cookbook describing methods of encouraging your kids to eat sprouts. Well, no, not this time. The Family Meal has its focus on a different style of family. Not Mum, Dad, 2.4 kids, a dog called Barry, and Grandma on Sunday. The author, Ferran Adria (where have I heard that name before?) considers the meal made by his staff for his staff to be the ‘Family Meal’.
It’s a tradition in restaurants that the cooks, chefs and kitchen orderlies eat together before service. In Indian restaurants it’s often called the ‘staff curry’ and will probably be home-style dishes that the management enjoy but don’t want to try on the Westerners (why not?). Other European restaurants could find their workers tucking into just the same as the paying diners; but there is one celebrated UK chef (no name given by this writer) who only ever gave his hard-working crew pasta with tomato sauce. No way to encourage loyalty, methinks.
Ferran Adria: oh, yes, I remember – wasn’t he the mastermind of El Bulli? Therefore this book is bound to be full of rare and exotic ingredients not normally found in our humble supermarkets? In fact it’s a surprising book in several regards. The format is unique with each section being a full menu with a timeline for easier planning. The recipes are simple and have step-by-step pictures to aid the anxious. I wasn’t expecting this level of user friendliness from such a renowned chef. He assumes you know nothing and so gently leads you through the process to a successful and delicious result. Would that all chefs considered their audience in such a thoughtful manner.
The fare here ranges from the robust and rustic to the striking and seductive, but it’s all accessible to the home cook who is unlikely to have an army of helpers and a gizmo called a marinader/poacher/steamer/fryer thingy or even a potato-peeling machine. Your kitchen will likely already be equipped with all you will need.
I am impressed with how well Ferran fed his team. A typical meal might consist of such offerings as Bread and Garlic Soup followed by Mexican-style slow-cooked Pork, and Figs with Cream and Kirsch to finish. Surely an inspired yet simple meal every day would have educated the palates of those kitchen diners, introducing them to new tastes and combinations of ingredients; and isn’t that what we want to do in our own homes?
My Pick of the Book is the menu of Chickpeas with Spinach and Egg, Glazed Teriyaki Pork Belly, Sweet Potato with Honey and Cream. A well-balanced and innovative meal made with the most economic of ingredients. That seems to reflect the general ethos of this practical cookbook.
I hadn’t expected to like The Family Meal. In truth I had assumed it would be an over-cheffy tome that would look good on the shelf and be a coffee-table talking point, but this is honestly a book to use, and the recipes within might well become your family favourites. One can ask nothing more of a proper cookbook.
The Family Meal
Author: Ferran Adria
Published by: Phaidon
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018