Elizabeth David - my numéro un

Elizabeth David – my numéro un


Alimentary is one of 400 international contributors to a globally-important “top ten”.

When it came to sending out the EDM (electronic direct mail) update for this website post, I hummed and hawed about using it because just one click of a link took my subscribers into the nicely-formatted world of 1000 Cookbooks. (The url for the site is: 1000cookbooks.com. Once there, search: John Corbett).

1000 Cookbooks is a UK-based Web initiative designed to share the world’s best recipe and food writing content. The aim is three-fold: firstly, to help people discover new recipes and expand their knowledge and repertoire. Secondly, for culinary professionals, to provide convenient access to key content for their trade. Lastly, for academics and food historians, 1000 Cookbooks is a means to preserving our culinary heritage and a basis for further research.

In mid-2015, as a starting-point for the project, 1000 Cookbooks approached 400 leading chefs, writers, editors, critics, bloggers and food professionals around the world and asked them to each list the ten cookbooks that are most important to them. I was one of the 400 approached and am honoured to be included in a group that includes some very, very famous names.

Click the link to me in 1000 Cookbooks.com and you will find the list I supplied. Some of my choices, it turns out, are shared with other panellists; some are not. That is probably how things should be though because everybody takes an individual path into the world of cooking.

My list also spans quite a time, or at least from the late 1970s when I started to cook and entertain. After that, the titles are a loose record of some of the gastronomic experiences and influences I have enjoyed in various parts of the world. Each book brings back vivid memories of people and places and aromas and tastes; most cookbook collections, I think, are a journey through time.

When I looked through the 1000 Cookbooks site, I was struck by the fact that several of my favourite titles are not actually cookbooks per se, but memoirs or other works of prose that include recipes. That gels with my view that good writing is an indispensable part of a good cookery book. There are any number of cooks who turn their hand to writing and produce serviceable books – but there is also a much smaller group of good writers who are interested in food and wine and who create work of enduring value. My sympathies lie with the latter. Read some of the people in my list like Anna del Conte, Mary Taylor Simeti and Patience Gray, and see if you agree.

After I sent in my list I wondered if I had left out anyone important. The name that occurred to me was Julia Child, for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I have just reread and to which I again tip my hat. But I reflected  that I didn’t “discover” Julia Child until well after I was familiar with Larousse Gastronomique and other classics of French cooking, so on balance my list, at least for now, is complete. (You will see from my list that I also like Italian and Indian cuisines, but French, for me, is always numéro un.)

I hope you will pick up the habit of delving into 1000 Cookbooks – if only to see at first whether Nigella has listed her “top ten”, or Jamie Oliver, or Stephanie Alexander – they are all in there. Repeated visits will lead to rewarding new discoveries, and may even make you look at your own cookbooks in a fresh light. Try this: next time you are tidying your bookshelves, arrange your cookbooks in the order that you bought or acquired them – and see what they say to you. Ten to one they will speak volumes about many evocative and enriching moments in your life. www.alimentary.co.nz