- Susan Low
Just published: The British Cook Book
The best cookbooks are the ones that make you think. The good ones might introduce you to a new cuisine, take you away to a different place or time period or teach you a new skill – but a book that makes you re-think your own cuisine?
That’s a tougher task, but one that Ben Mervis pulls off with this excellent new book, The British Cookbook, a 460+ love letter to British cuisine, past and present.
Ironically, perhaps, Mervis isn’t British. He was born and brought up in Pennsylvania, moved to the UK as a university student (he studied medieval history), fell in love with the place and has stayed on ever since. He now lives in Glasgow.
Part of what’s kept him here is the food. He’s established himself as a food writer of note, one with a strong sense of history and a deep interest in local food cultures. He’s done a stage at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, is a researcher for Netflix’s ‘Chef’s Table’ series and launched the food and culture magazine Fare.
I had the privilege to work on this book at the proofreading stage and had a chance to meet Ben and hear about how it all came about. Researching and writing the book took him four years. On the history angle, Ben worked closely with the wonderful Dr Neil Buttery, who writes the ‘British Food: A History’ blog (listen to Neil’s podcast with Ben) – “a cook and scholar of boundless energy and enthusiasm,” as Ben describes him.
Buttery, along with Nichola Fletcher, Elisabeth Luard, Sumayya Usmani and others are among the consultants, and the list of people who contributed recipes for this book reads like a who’s who of the British food world. The Scottish recipes are particularly strong (I was left with a craving for Forar bridies and Selkirk bannocks).
Ben so obviously ‘gets’ British food in a way that people who grew up in the UK perhaps don’t – and the book makes space for contemporary British dishes such as jerk chicken, nihari lamb and chicken tikka masala, too.
Reading it, you come away with a better understanding and appreciation of all the wonderful nuances of good British fare. And a craving or two.
The British Cook Book is out on 22 September, published by Phaidon.