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Real simple

(article, Megan Holden)

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Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver have made the leap, so it’s no surprise that more British celebrity chefs are crossing the Atlantic to share their home-cooking secrets with an American audience. Two of these chefs are Gary Rhodes and Marcus Wareing.

A master of classic British cuisine, Gary Rhodes is known for introducing traditional Anglo cookery to a new generation of Brits longing for a decent Scotch broth or a decadent sticky toffee pudding. Rhodes has a string of successful restaurants in London, Dublin, and on the island of Grenada, with new ventures slated for Dubai and the U.S.

Rhodes first became a household name in England in the 1990s with BBC TV shows that showcased his punk, East-End style. A decade later, Rhodes — sans mohawk — is still writing cookbooks. In Keeping It Simple, Rhodes presents dishes he likes to prepare at home. He attempts to peel away his 30 years in professional kitchens and strip the fussiness from his intricate restaurant meals. 

Cleanly designed with full-page photographs for almost every recipe, the collection is organized by food type. Each chapter includes basic information and tips for successful preparations, as well as simple suppers and sauces. 

The very Britishness of Rhodes’ collection is both its strength and its weakness. Meat and fish recipes dominate the text, reflecting the English tradition of meat-and-two-veg cooking. These recipes almost always include a dramatic flourish of sauce or an extra ingredient to lend restaurant-like flair, such as Roast Sea Bass and Potatoes with Shrimp Cream.

American home cooks, however, may find some of Rhodes’ language and measurements unfamiliar. Keeping it Simple refers to courgettes (zucchini), swedes (rutabagas), and neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). Ingredients are weighed on a scale, except for the knobs, dashes, pinches, splashes, and slugs. His “grill” is our broiler. 

Translation troubles aside, Keeping it Simple is best with spare recipes, such as Lemon and Tarragon Carrots. With just five ingredients and snappy instructions, his Chicken with Whole-Grain Mustard Asparagus is one that I know I’ll revisit.

Home cooks might skip the extra sauces and garnishes — which take the plated meal to another level of presentation and fuss — in order to find the simple in Rhodes’ recipes.

Not nearly as famous as Rhodes — and not yet equipped with Rhodes-like lines of cookware and prepared foods — Marcus Wareing is an up-and-coming London chef. If his book Cook the Perfect . . . is any indication, he’s well on his way to becoming a star.

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Wareing brilliantly reduces his recipes to the bare essentials. He digs deep to pinpoint the hows and the whys — even the pitfalls — of a recipe. Each recipe has a “key to perfection” with three (sometimes up to 10) annotated photos capturing various stages of preparation. The novice will learn to scramble an egg, while the experienced cook can use the time-release photos for judging when tuna is seared to perfection.

With Braised Lamb Shanks, for example, Wareing calls for a “cartouche,” a folded piece of parchment paper used to prevent the meat from drying out. What might be a scary step for some cooks (myself included) is easily mastered with his clear photographs demonstrating the folds and placement. 

Another example is his silky-smooth Pumpkin Soup. Photos illustrate the recipe’s different stages, from sweating the pumpkin in butter to showing when the soup is ready to blend. These visuals make Cook the Perfect . . . a superb tool.

Wareing is not shy about his love of butter; he uses at least a quarter-cup in most recipes. Apart from this lavishness, the book translates well for health-conscious Americans, and Wareing kindly uses the cup measurements that are most familiar on this side of the ocean.


h1.Featured recipes


Both Wareing and Rhodes have competed in the BBC’s wildly popular Great British Menu competition. This competition pits master chefs from throughout the British Isles against one another; over 10 weeks, prominent food critics and television viewers judge the chefs. The winners of the first competition in 2006 prepared a four-course lunch for Queen Elizabeth’s 80th birthday. 

Wareing won the honor of preparing the Queen’s dessert course with a variation of his grandmother’s Custard Tart. As with his Cook the Perfect_ . . ., Wareing succeeded by taking a well-known British classic and paring it down to its basic elements. Yes, Wareing’s version calls for a stick of butter and nine egg yolks. But the end results are well worth the indulgence.

p(bio). Megan Holden is a writer in Portland, Oregon.

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