Cookbook Review - Off Duty – The World’s Greatest Chefs Cook at Home - Cooking Index
Author: David Nicholls
David Nicholls wrote this book to raise money for the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation after Nicholl’s 19 year old son Dan broke his neck when diving into the sea at Bondi Beach, Australia.
Nicholls is the executive chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, so it is not entirely surprising that he had a head start when trying to get hold of the world’s top chefs to ask them what they cook at home.
Off Duty consists of interviews with 48 chefs, followed by a typical starter, main course and dessert that they would cook for themselves away from the work environment, meaning that in total there are 144 recipes.
Following a brief introduction by both Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsey (not a bad pairing for a cookbook introduction and they are also profiled later in the book), there are interviews and recipes from a wide variety of chefs, including Raymond Blanc, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Anton Edelman, Wolfgang Puck, Gary Rhodes, Albert Roux, Charlie Trotter and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
For me, the most interesting part of the book is not the recipes but the interviews with the chefs. Each is asked questions such as “What are your top ten ingredients?”, “What are your kitchen secrets?”, “What is your favourite meal?”, “What is your favourite utensil” and “What is your favourite junk food?”.
Some of the chefs produce really interesting answers while a few are slightly dull (and Nigella Lawson has written her own thoughts about cooking at home rather than answer the questions). There are some useful tips and ideas for cooks and chefs of all abilities. I particularly liked Chris Galvin’s piece of advice for the domestic cook: “When reading a recipe, close your eyes and cook the dish from start to finish in your head. You will be amazed at the way your cooking starts to flow without constantly having to refer to the recipe.”
The recipes themselves are a bit of a mixed bunch. I find it hard to believe that chefs genuinely go home and cook pear soup with vanilla ice cream and almond tuiles (Gray Kunz) or Warm Lobster Salad with Panache of Tropical Fruits and Citrus Vinaigrette (Julian Serrano). Good luck to them if they do but I warm more to Michel Roux Jr who goes for Roast Poulet de Bresse (ie roast chicken) followed by Raspberry Yoghurt, which sounds much more like the sort of thing I would prepare for a family after a week of long services in a kitchen.
There is one small thing that annoys me about Off Duty and that is that all the chefs are asked “How do you feel about cooking for children?” I can see that given the reason this book was put together this might be appropriate but any serious chef (or cook) is going to answer that giving good food to children is vital. It is hardly a question that is going to obtain the answer: “I hate children, I wish they would never come to my restaurant and as far as I am concerned they can eat Burger King every day until their 18th birthday”.
But all in all, it is an interesting insight to how the world’s top chefs think and what they eat at home and is a useful addition to any kitchen library.
Harper Collins, 2005, £25, 288 pages (hardback)
Joe Saumarez Smith (6 November 2007)