It’s here! Volume One of Philip Howard’s The Square cookbook is finally here! And even if the Prick’s excitement is tempered by knowing it would have arrived a lot sooner if he hadn’t farted around on whether to even buy the damn thing for the past three weeks, it’s here! After an hour or so’s flipping through its pages last night, even without trying out a single solitary recipe in the Stately Prick Manor Test Kitchens, this may be – in fact, forget it, it is – the winner of the inaugural Prick With a Fork Cookbook of the Year award for 2012.
Chef Howard, congratulations, you’ve just won the first-ever Pricky Award. PWAF readers, go out and buy this book. Or leave this post open on every web browser in the house until your partner gets the hint and gets an order in by Christmas (you’ll also be helping our traffic numbers in the process).
And here is why: In its organisation, its writing, and its recipes, The Square: Volume I is the best high-end – Howard’s got two Michelin stars to his name – cookbook this site has come across in a long, long time. Because first and foremost, the stuff between the book’s covers looks (and again, it needs to be put through its paces to be sure) utterly achievable. I know I am not the first reviewer to point this out, but with Howard’s recipes, one does not need an army of prep chefs and $50,000 worth of PacoJets and other high-tech frippery.
Nor are the dishes in The Square austere head-scratchers accompanied by photos of a piece of protein calling in lonely desperation across negative space to a few blobs of sauce somewhere down and across the page like something out of Joan Miro’s blue period. In The Square, the photos include actual bowls, plates, and dishes. And the food looks satistfying.
This is not a work on the order of, say, the Mugaritz cookbook. Or anything else of that ilk. Because while one may get it together to make a dish or two from such a book, even if one were to undertake something like Andoni Aduriz’s “An Essay On Salads” (!), you’d likely be more hungry after you ate it than when you started. Not a danger with The Square, many of whose dishes come far enough down the ladder to flirt with – how infra dig! – “comfort food”. There’s plenty of pasta, which I know we’re all supposed to avoid in the interest of, for men at least, forestalling the day when one finally has to make camp with the Harry High-pantses of this world or decide that at heart one is in fact a Larry Low-pants. Who cares. A “lightly curried gratin of lobster with hand-rolled macaroni, cauliflower, leeks, and apples”? Yes, please!
But neither is this dumbed-down cooking by a chef looking to give the housewives something to complement an afternoon TV spot. I’m looking forward to smoking some venison and matching it with some chestnut puree and salt-baked beetroot as per his suggestion, as well as making some terrines from these pages. If enough Sydney Airport Quarantine officers can be paid off to get the shopping list through (kidding!) I just may be able to organise Howard’s “Pot-au-feu of foie gras and morels with a duck and foie gras club sandwich.”
If there’s anything to regret about the book, it is that some of the very local ingredients (pigeons and chickens from Bresse; various local fish) are unavailable in Australia.
Nevermind. Howard’s writing style is also one this site would love to see adopted more widely. Each recipe starts with an overview, a couple of paragraphs detailing what to focus on, a breakdown of key components, and notes on timing. Both restaurants and dinner party hosts like a dish where as many elements can be prepared ahead to come together at the last minute, and most of these recipes tick that box.
So congratulations Chef, and come on down. I look forward to posting some reports of efforts from your pages.