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BOOK REVIEW: Loose Birds & Game by Andrew Pern

 

Game seems , thank God, to be making a comeback. My local Dublin butcher has, in season, venison, pheasant, partridge and mallard. Rabbit, which disappeared from the high street for years is now back in the shops with a vengeance. Yet cookery books dealing exclusively with game are few and far between.

Angela Humphreys’ ‘Game Cookery’ was first published back in the mid-eighties and takes an unashamedly traditional approach.

‘Fat Lady’ Clarissa Dixon-Wright, one of cooking’s great characters whom I had the pleasure of interviewing when I was editor of ‘Food & Wine Magazine’ gave us ‘The Game Cookbook’ in conjunction with Johnny Scott. This one is a massive statement for espousing the ‘wild and real’ produced at a time when our culinary aspirations had got very fey, wimpish even.

Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington-Davies’s ‘Game: A Cookery Book has got some good reviews. I haven’t read it but , among my culinary chums the main complete seems to be that the recipes are quite labour intensive – personally I don’t find anything wrong in that. It gets a lot of plaudits, particularly for the step-by-step instructions and the photography.

None of these books has quite the flavour of Andrew Pern’s ‘Loose Birds & Game’ which, between its tactile covers is rampant with  ‘personality’. Anthony Hodgson’s classy layout and design has resulted in a tome to treasure. In the hands the book feels gorgeous; there’s a textured, padded silk cover, based on a sepia-toned photograph of a wild bird’s feathers. The inside pages are printed on heavy matt stock, which lends an attractive ‘retro’ feel. In contrast layout and typography are bang up-to-the minute, logical and easy on the eye, helping the reader to follow the recipes. Everyone I’ve shown the book to says ‘Loose Birds & Game’ would be a lovely book to own and they are dead right.

There’s a Foreword by Michel Roux and an Introduction by TV personality/chef Brian Turner. From then on the exuberant enthusiasm of author Andrew Pern takes over. Andrew is the chef patron of the Star Inn at Harome, North Yorkshire, now the recipient of a Michelin star. Loose Birds & Game is the  follow-up to Andrew Pern’s critically acclaimed, multi-award winning first book, Black Pudding & Foie Gras. You soon find, if you hadn’t guessed after reading the ‘nudge-nudge’ title, that Andrew is one of those chefs who believes in living life tothe full, ‘work hard and play hard’ seems to be his mantra. He’s a Yorkshireman, a countryman, a denizen of the moors and fells, ‘coveys of grouse whistling overhead’ and ‘the honeyed perfume of coarse heather’ are a huge part of his heritage. On to the recipes, many of which involve local products like the kiln-smoked Yoadwath Mill ham that Andrew combines with Rievaulx red-legged partridge and Cumbrian speck. Though the presentation is ‘cheffy’ – unsurprising as this is the food that won him his Michelin star there is little that a reasonably competent home cook couldn’t manage. I don’t think this is a book for culinary virgins anyhow – those who are currently cooking their way through Delia or Rachel Allen’s repertoire are unlikely to be tempted to cook game but there are abundant thought-provoking ideas for the keen cook to mull over. I’ve already wowed guests with an adaptation of Andrew’s pan-fried wood pigeon breasts with fig tatin, prune and bacon rolls and spiced juices. When my own figs come in to season in early September I foresee this dish getting a regular outing. Next up is the smoked pheasant, savoy cabbage and beetroot terrine. There are are few innovations, too. I’m itching to make the liquorice gravy Pern used in his fallow deer pie. Plus one or two interesting drinks – like the gooseberry spritzer and wild cherry chocolate brandy. Nor has Andrew Pern left out finned game – there’s a particularly appealing sea trout ballotine. And I like his game pie.

If I have one small quibble it’s that the gorgeous photographs – mainly by Drew Gardner of whom I hadn’t heard – would be done more justice by printing on at least semi-gloss stock. But that’s a personal thing and, overall, Loose Birds & Game is a book I’d be more than happy to own, one that I’d get good use of, as would anyone who likes this rich, properly textured flavoursome food.

Loose Birds & Game by Andrew Pern is published by Face www.facepublications.com at sterling £39.99 or you can save £12 by purchasing from the website http://www.facepublications.com/books/buy/loose-birds-and-game/

BOOK REVIEW 'Boiling Point' by Nick Munier with Esther McCarthy

After three solid days of writing against the clock it was good to flop into the big leather recliner, feet up and read a book.

Nick Munier probably needs no introduction to Dublin Foodies but, in case you are from out of town or don’t watch Food TV, he is the co-proprietor of Pichet, one of the capital’s  more successful  restaurant ventures of recent years. He’s also the Maitre d’ from the  TV programme Hell’s Kitchen. Yes, the guy whose digital extremities occasionally disconnect from his brain with alarming results. Nick’s CV is pretty impressive: he’s worked for the Roux brothers ; endured several stints with Marco Pierre White;  in Ireland, he fronted the Byerley Turk at the K Club; had spells at L’Ecrivain, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and The Clarence and worked with Conrad Gallagher at Peacock Alley, as well as doing some consultancy work.

I nearly didn’t read the book. Four full pages of maudlin  ‘thank you’s’ from Nick and his co-author had me feeling like the man down the bottom of a treacle well, up to his oxters and rising in the sweet, sticky stuff. Still, I persevered and was glad I did. The book contains a deal of  Nick’s front-of-house philosophy, sensible enough to stand as required reading for catering students, pacey enough for the casual reader to enjoy. It kicks off with a brief personal history during which he follows his parents into the hospitality industry, finding early on that he preferred front on house duties to cheffing. His career has been largely divided between London and Ireland, where he met his wife, Denise. There’s an interesting account of his time at Peacock Alley and some shrewd observations on the bold Conrad (it’s not the definitive version of course; we’ll have to wait for that until Domini Kemp publishes her memoirs).

At several places in the book Nick nails and puts pop rivets into the notion that ‘the customer is always right’.  Those who complain unreasonably on his watch may find the table cleared in front of them, followed by a curt “Thank you and goodnight”. I enjoyed his astute observations on The Clarence, for which he has, like me, a great fondness. But though others may well find the behind-the-scenes glimpse of Hell’s Kitchen more riveting, for me the most interesting thing about Boiling Point is the  well-detailed relationship between Nick Munier and Marco Pierre White, which, fictionalised, could form the theme of a rattling good pyschological novel. Marco, with a Father Brownesque twitch upon the thread, seems to have the ability to lure back his wandering Maitre d’ from wherever the latter’s whims have taken him (usually Dublin). Nick for his part, while acknowledging Marco’s evil ways, seems happy to go along with them as long as they don’t impinge on his own self-esteem. Eventually, though, the forces of darkness are thwarted. There’s a final exorcism of Marco-Svengali, conveniently just before Nick opens Pichet. The ensuing chapter is appropriately entitled “I Want to Break Free”.

When Nick departs from the restaurant scene his writing gets less involving. At some point he needs therapy but his sketchy explanation as to why is not that convincing.  Then he gets what he calls a “eureka moment” and takes up painting. I would  like to have learned more about his personal muse but the art chat lasts a mere couple of pages before he’s on the trombone to Marco again.

The last thirty pages comprise  an  interesting blow-by-blow account of the birth pangs of Pichet marred only by a largely puke-inducing homage to those whom Nick name-checks as ‘the main critics in Ireland’.  Lucinda O’Sullivan is “hugely influential” and “likes to be recognised, hugged and looked after”. ” Tom (Doorley), the former restaurant critic for the Irish Times, is a restaurant God…”

Review by Ernie Whalley, atheist.

Boiling Point is published by Y Books in paperback, price €