Simon Hopkinson Scores with Second Helpings of Roast Chicken
In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that when I initially picked up Simon Hopkinson's new cookbook Second Helpings of Roast Chicken (Hyperion, 2008), I was not overwhelmed with a desire to dive right in and start cooking. The recipes at first seemed heavy (Steamed Pork, Bacon, and Leek Pudding, page 247) and the book itself - like an older British gentleman - was a bit stiff, upper lipped.
Putting my initial reaction aside, I did my culinary duty and gave my full attention to the interesting personal and gastronomic details Hopkinson's book provides. Not a traditional cookbook, the author takes us on an alphabetical tour of 47 ingredients from cabbage to quail, providing insightful commentary and interesting recipes along the way to prove his points.
After a few nights spent lying in bed reading the book, and a few days making some of the recipes, the book grew on me. I came to appreciate its more European orientation. For example: Pot-Roast Quails, with Pancetta, Marsala and Potatoes, page 202 and Cream of Celery Soup, page 48. After I interviewed Hopkinson by telephone last week, I became an all out fan.
It's hard not to like a man (or a cookbook) that so obliviously celebrates the joy of food, and the effort required to make a great meal. Second Helpings of Roast Chicken is no light and lively California cuisine cookbook, but serious food, for serious eaters with a sophisticated pallet. That's not to say that all the recipes are overly complex. Some, such as the Waldorf Salad (page 49) and the Linguine with Pesto and New Potatoes (page 127), are delightfully simple and equally satisfying.
"The recipes in the book are inspired by the ingredients," says Hopkinson, a critically acclaimed food writer who made his mark on the culinary world when he opened the much-lauded Bibendum restaurant in London 21, years ago. "They come from my head, but they're influenced by eating well and reading about food. I interpret a dish that I have eaten and play with it."
Hopkinson points out that it's hard to follow a recipe exactly every time, and that the ability to make in-the-moment interpretations is an important part of being a good cook.
In Hopkinson's world, and his cookbook, effort is part and parcel of the creative process of cooking. As Hopkinson so elegantly says, "If you think it's a chore, the joy of it is lost."
Karen Leland is the national cookbook reviewer for examiner.com. To contact her please email email@example.com and visit her column here.