3 June 2014

I Know How to Cook

Posted by Megan Marsh

For me, the words 'French cooking' are preceded by 'mastering the art of'. That always seemed an intimidating title for a cookbook, carrying the implication of a lofty tradition and a lot of hard graft. Rolling and re-rolling endless layers of pastry in pursuit of the buttery croissant; energetically whisking the temperamental velouté - and I'm not quite sure what you do to a langoustine, but they certainly don't look like they go quietly.

I Know How to Cook, on the other hand, is an unintimidating title; deliberately so. When Ginette Mathiot wrote this kitchen bible aged 25, she had in mind the inexperienced cook (and, more subversively, the female cook: as her obituary in the New York Times notes, 'in a country whose vaunted cuisine has been largely the province of men, the title of that book has a certain ring of defiance'.) 'Dear Friends', it opens. 'You want to prepare food that is not too complicated and that will turn out successfully. And isn't that because you wish to please the people you are cooking for?'

Her pleasant straightforwardness makes even those insurmountable French classics (Spiny Lobster Soufflé, anyone?) seem manageable - but most of the food is the sort of everyday stuff that requires no mastery. The recipe for Oeufs Miroir - which consists, very simply, of two fried eggs - asks that you 'put 2-3 drops of melted butter on each yolk, season only the whites with salt', then transfer to the oven until set and serve. It's barely a recipe, but it's so beautifully considerate. Each recipe, however complex, is told like this: in a single, uncluttered paragraph, with perfect attention to detail.

Phaidon's edition of the book is illustrated by the French comics artist Blexbolex (whose books are published in the UK by Nobrow Press). It's an inspired choice: his clear lines and flat, bright colours are brought to life by graphic textures and a brilliantly playful use of shape (I love the lemniscate of the flipped pancake above). The illustrations come across as perfectly uncomplicated: yet the thought is there, right on the surface.

We're giving away a copy of I Know How to Cook at our June Customer Evening. To win, book your free ticket, print off your confirmation email and bring it along on the night.