Fifty Recipes to Stake Your Life On, Charles Campion

02 March 2005 by
Fifty Recipes to Stake Your Life On, Charles Campion

It seemed appropriate that I started reading Charles Campion's Fifty Recipes To Stake Your Life On en route to Lyons over the Christmas holiday season. His food is one of substance, comfort and history - much like Lyonnaise cuisine itself.

As we touched down on the Tarmac after one aborted attempt amidst the worst fog I've ever seen at an airport, my thoughts were directed not to the imminent fatality statistic I was sure we were about to become, but to the story accompanying the Lot Valley stuffed Savoy cabbage (page 277), which was also set between Christmas and the New Year - and began amidst seriously dodgy weather.

As I queued for immigration I was planning on locating a sloe tree to make my own flavoured gin (page 219). Ordering dinner at Paul Bocuse's wonderful L'Est, I was tempted to have the veal kidneys, purely because Mr Mycock had such delicious-sounding ones (page 31).

Campion's Fifty Recipes is my kind of read. However, the recipes are only part of the book. It's actually the story he prefaces each dish with that makes this a great read and a lovely book. He writes in a friendly, familiar style; he jokes as he writes, but he also makes sure you'll follow the recipe instructions to the letter if you want to stake your life on them.

The recipes themselves demand that the reader has some previous culinary knowledge and also some degree of common sense to cope with one or two references to a "handful" of this and "enough liquid" to cover that. They also assume that you'll like the pleasure of cooking simple, seasonal food with relish.

They also sometimes assume that you might like to head to the country to source horseradish, damsons or Mr Mycock's aforementioned veal kidneys in Buxton. In fact, throughout the book Campion introduces us to many people and places he's had the pleasure of visiting, and it's through this that you get a feeling of what makes him tick.

You'll also need to enjoy a fair few rich or creamy dishes (think cassoulet page 235, halibut on a mushroom sauce on page 107, "not lardy cake" on page 11 and Atholl Brose on page 273). For others, you'll need plenty of time up your sleeve: about six to eight weeks for the beer-cured ham and a few years for the sloe gin.

Importantly, Campion encourages you, the reader, to source the best-quality ingredients from reliable producers and to have second thoughts next time you're tempted to cut corners on raw produce.

Campion promises that these recipes will never fail you, and I believe him. I only wish that the chefs at Brasserie George in Lyons had read his book before we ate there - and then maybe we might have been served something that was worth staking our appetite on.

Peter Gordon, chef-proprietor, the Providores, London

Fifty Recipes to Stake Your Life On Charles Campion
Timewell Press
ISBN 1-85725-202-0

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