I cook a lot because I love food. I wasn’t always so keen to cook, only being interested in the eating part for many years, enjoying having others slave over the stove for me.
My job as a Lloyd’s Broker took me to many a fine dining restaurant in the fourteen years I worked in the City, helping me to become incredibly well versed in food etiquette all at the Company’s expense. There were many perks to be had working in Insurance which i took full advantage of.
My most memorable gratuitous dining experience had to be the Chefs Table at Claridge’s Hotel in Grosvenor Square, Central London. The Lady boss I worked for at the time moved in different circles to most of us. Her life was definitely in the fast lane and this night out arranged by her was nothing short of that. With four of my colleagues and one important Client we sat in the kitchen of Claridges over looking Gordon Ramsey’s Head Chef Mark Sargeant executing service that night. Whilst working our way through a nine or ten course dinner. I lost count of the dishes by about the fifth one. They just kept on coming, as did the wine. I discreetly loosened one button on my trousers then another trying to make room for all of this fabulous fayre. The bill was astronomical, especially after the last two bottles of wine that were ordered each costing well over £500. By the time they arrived at our table I had no idea what i was being served at our banquet. Looking back it all seems so wasteful and I kick myself for not being able to consume and remember more of everything that night, so good was it all.
My point is I have been fortunate to try dishes in some wonderful establishments and I now have the confidence to know what I like and what to try to make work at home. As time goes on, i realise I am drawn to easy dishes where the food speaks for itself. I am not a huge fan of a la carte. Too contrived and small a portion for my preference, although I can of course appreciate it.
When I received The Leith Cooking Bible courtesy of my Brother in Law as a moving house present two years ago I thanked him and put it on the shelf with the pile of others i have. He told me that of all the books I have, this is the only one you will ever really need. How right he was.
Being heavily pregnant with my first child I was in full nesting mode and had the luxury of time to immerse myself in Leith’s book. Every conceivable recipe was there, 700 to be precise, explained in the simplest and concise way for a novice in the kitchen like myself.
Within a month of receiving the book and now ready to have my baby I had tried a good dozen or so of the recipes, each one being a roaring success. As I suffered terribly with pregnancy insomnia one night I decided to channel my energy in the kitchen. Before sunrise I had made Beef Stroganoff, 3 hour slow roasted lamb shanks and a tray of chocolate brownies. My husband woke to smells wafting through our unfamiliar house unsure if he had slept the day away to dinner time.
He came downstairs and couldn’t believe the storm i had cooked up. He didn’t complain, infact far from it. He revelled in my new-found domesticity and the first class food he was now eating. As time has gone on and the more recipes i have tried and mastered he is only too thrilled this book came along when it did.
Delighted at my new-found cooking confidence I recommended it to a friend of mine who wanted to cook more but had little confidence, or time. She flicked through the pages at my dining table and after reading some of her favourite dishes thought the recipes sounded do-able. She has gone on to make curries, casseroles & chilli con carne, to all sorts of cakes. She is loving the inner domestic Goddess this book has brought out in her.
That’s half the problem with cooking these days, so many of the TV Chef’s we see make everything seem so complicated or time-consuming, it really doesn’t have to be like that. It’s just food. I’m sure that’s why one of my favourite TV Chefs is Jamie Oliver, he makes everything look delicious yet just thrown together.
I just love the fact that Prudence Margaret Leith as she is known shares not only a birthday with someone very close to me, 18th February, born in 1940 but also originates from my second home of South Africa. She spent much of her life in London however and in 1960 started her own business supplying quality business lunches which grew to become Leiths Good Food, the party & event caterer. She even opened her own restaurant ‘Leiths’ and secured a Michelin Star for her efforts. She has been a food critic & writer for a number of top newspapers and from 2006-2010 was Chair of The School Food Trust a Government campaign to replace the crap that was being served to children. This she described ‘as the most important in her long career’. She is now a judge on The Great British menu TV programme.
As if all that weren’t a great enough endorsement I discovered that a very close friend of mine, whose prowess in the kitchen I can only marvel at studied at Leith’s school as a budding chef. He has gone onto to be a successful Chef in fancy hotels as well as running his own restaurant. With his natural flair & her tutelage I am not at all surprised.
So thankful I am that i’ve been introduced to the world of Prue Leith for helping me discover real confidence to cook for my family, I highly recommend this book to anyone who needs a push in the right direction or a lesson in back to basics.