Saturday, 8 May 2010
John Torode's Beef and Other Bovine Matters
If you've ever watched an episode of Masterchef, you'll know who John Torode is. He always seems to play the role of bad cop in the good-cop-bad-cop duo of judges alongside the milder, more diplomatic Gregg Wallace, ready to reduce contestants to tears and dismiss their efforts with a curt "I don't like it" or "the seasoning's all wrong" or "it's not cooked properly". OK, he's a celeb chef, and more importantly , he runs several successful restaurants including Smiths of Smithfield, but he just always seems so arrogant and insensitive. Therefore I came to this book ready to criticise it, half wanting to try one of the dishes and declare it "not one of the best dishes I've ever tasted" in my best John Torode imitation !
Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find a totally different John Torode to the one we see on TV, who seems totally approachable, down-to-earth and friendly. Not at all what I was expecting ! I love his little anecdotes of life back home as a kid in Australia and his references to his humble beginnings - for example in his totally unpretentious recipe for Minced Beef Wellington : "When I was a kid we could not afford fillet to make beef Wellington but my nanna would do this little number, which is really a meat loaf in puff pastry. I still like it a lot. If you've got picky kids, take out the pâté." Ahh this is John the down-to-earth dad and he's so much more likeable than the persona he shows us on Masterchef !
In the introduction, John explains that he wants to give us "bloody good food, food that people want to eat" and that most of the recipes are "simple home cooking, because rightly or wrongly, I feel restaurant recipes belong in a restaurant". He openly admits that he's "not precious" and if you want to "muck around" with his recipes, then you're more than welcome. "If anything works better than my recipe, send me a note. I shall burn it ! (Just joking - I would appreciate it, we all need to learn new tricks.)" Well who'd have thought it ? He even has a sense of humour !
This unpretentiousness was what actually struck me most when I leafed through the book - all the recipes seem simple enough to master and don't use amazingly hard-to-come-by or expensive ingredients. There is some posh nosh if you want to impress people at a dinner party, but most of these dishes would go down well at a family meal with the kids (picky or not).
John talks about his "love affair with all things beef" and his passion is infectious. I sat down and read the whole opening section from beginning to end and learnt all about the different cuts to buy, the different breeds of cattle, the different cooking methods best adapted to each cut ... From there, he takes you on to learn the basics like beef stock and onion gravy that you'll need to make some of the more complicated recipes. Some of the dishes that he presents are already in my repertoire of food I can cook with my eyes closed - simple stuff like cottage pie, pepper steak, meatballs and spaghetti - but his little chef's touches and snippets of advice make me want to try them out following his recipes all the same to see if they improve on my versions.
John may be an Aussie but he comes up with some great old-fashioned British classics here like piccalilli, pease pudding, Yorkshire puddings and jam roly poly. "Jam roly poly in a beef recipe book?", I hear you cry -well yes, you even get a few desserts at the end, using suet (it comes from a cow after all !).
I love the simplicity of the recipes, I love the down-to-earth advice given in the opening pages and the pull-out guide to the different cuts of beef, but most of all, I love the real John Torode. He's so much nicer than that bloke on Masterchef !
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £14.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Quadrille Publishing Ltd; paperback edition (2 April 2010)
Product Dimensions: 24.6 x 18.8 x 3.8 cm