Thanks a million

01 January 2000
Thanks a million

One of the country's best-selling cookery books is probably also one of the least glamorous to appear on the bookshelves. There's no celebratory chef endorsing it, no sexy photography - just chapter after chapter of staple recipes, which have provided the foundation upon which many chefs have built their careers.

This year has seen sales of the book, Practical Cookery, which has become a bible for catering students all over the world, pass the one-million mark. To honour the occasion a competition has been held, with students cooking dishes based on recipes from the book. Seventeen-year-old Sophie Budd carried off the top prize of £500, plus £100-worth of Hodder and Stoughton Educational books and £250 for her college - Cornwall College in Camborne.

Winning by the book

To win the competition, the finals of which were held earlier this month at Thames Valley University, Ealing, Budd successfully used the book in the way the authors intended students should use it when writing the first draft almost 40 years ago.

"We never intended the recipes to be tablets of stone," says Victor Ceserani, who wrote the first edition of the book with Ronald Kinton in 1962. "We always hoped students would use the book as a foundation upon which they would be inspired to put their own interpretation on dishes."

To reach the final, Budd had to submit a written entry of a three-course menu, with recipes from Practical Cookery, together with food costings, the costs per cover and suggested selling prices of the dishes. Ceserani, now 79 and former head of the School of Hotelkeeping and Catering, Ealing College of Higher Education (now Thames Valley University), and Kinton, 77, formerly senior lecturer at Garnett College of Education for Teachers in Further & Higher Education (now University of Greenwich), sifted through more than 50 entries from students all over the country to select six contestants to compete in the finals. "We very quickly came up with the same names independently," says Ceserani. "We've worked together for more than 40 years and think very much alike."

On the appointed day the six finalists gathered from Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Avon, Devon, Cornwall and Roxburghshire. Their task was to prepare, cook and serve four portions of the main course and dessert from their written entry within two hours.

Rhodes the student

Joining Ceserani and Kinton on the judging panel was Gary Rhodes, head chef at City Rhodes, London, who himself used Practical Cookery as a student at Thanet College, Broadstairs in Kent, during the mid-1970s.

Rhodes believes that the content of the book is as relevant to the training of young chefs today as it was when he was at college. "It provides the basis of all cooking," he says, himself the author of six cookery books.

The judges were impressed by the calmness that pervaded the kitchens as the six finalists each prepared their two dishes. They chatted with the students as they worked, offering words of encouragement.

From the moment that the dishes began to be served to the judges, it was obvious that the standard throughout was going to be high. In particular, the judges were impressed by Andrew Pole's attempt to create two dishes from the ethnic section of Practical Cookery.

Pole, a 17-year-old student from the City of Bristol College, prepared sashimi and sushi, followed by an Oriental fruit salad. The judges placed him in third place, winning him £75-worth of Hodder and Stoughton Educational Books.

The battle for first place was between Budd and James Ingram, 17, from Rugby College. Ingram's roast rack of lamb was perfectly cooked, while an orange ice-cream served with his bread and butter pudding was declared an excellent accompaniment. Second place earned Ingram £100-worth of Hodder and Stoughton books.

Lemon soufflé clincher

It was Budd's dessert that clinched her first place, however. Her cold lemon soufflé (soufflé Milanaise) was deemed by Rhodes to be "the most skilful dish in the competition, and one which is absolutely spot-on - the texture is wonderful".

In planning her menu, Budd aimed for dishes that would balance one another and that were not too heavy. She served freshly prepared noodles - only the third time she has ever made them - with the main course of pork escalope with a Calvados sauce. Wilted spinach with nutmeg and glazed baton carrots provided extra colour and flavour. Budd then served her cold lemon soufflé with a lemon sauce encased in a chocolate teardrop.

After Rhodes, Ceserani and Kinton had announced the winner and presented the prizes, Professor David Foskett, programmes manager at Thames Valley University, said that he hoped the competition - sponsored by Hodder and Stoughton, publisher of Practical Cookery - would become an annual event.

It had been Foskett's suggestion to hold the competition in celebration of the book's one-millionth sale. He joined the original team of Ceserani and Kinton following the retirement of both men from the front line of teaching in the early 1980s. "That's the good thing about bringing a younger man on board - he's full of good ideas," says Ceserani.

Neither Ceserani or Kinton ever imagined their original work would ever become the institution it has. Their aim was simply to publish a book for use at Ealing College by their own students. No catering textbook existed at the time and Ceserani was fed up with the time he wasted in lessons every day writing recipes on the blackboard or dictating them to his students.

"I was grumbling about this problem one day to Ron, and he suggested that I write a recipe book," says Ceserani. "But I said that I couldn't face all that writing. When he suggested we do it together, I thought, why not?"

The different professional experiences of the two men proved invaluable, bringing different perspectives to a number of issues that had to be argued out, often to the benefit of the end result. Ceserani's London background as an apprentice at the Ritz, then chef at Boodles Club, contrasted with Kinton's as a student at what was then Westminster Technical Institute, followed by spells in the kitchens of London's Waldorf Hotel, Claridge's and the head office of ICI.

Shared experiences of the two included teacher training and service in the Army Catering Corps during the Second World War.

The manuscript was completed in two years. "We had hoped Ealing College would publish it, but it turned us down, saying there was no budget to do so," says Ceserani. Eventually, specialist educational publishers Edward Arnold - eventually absorbed into Hodder and Stoughton's educational department - took on the project, and the first edition of Practical Cookery appeared in 1962 at the price of £1. The book was so well received by colleges nationwide that Ceserani and Kinton went on to write Theory of Catering, Advanced Practical Cookery and numerous workbooks for students.

"Not everyone agrees with what is in the book," says Ceserani, "but it is most gratifying that we've helped one million people to take their first steps on the ladder of their chosen profession."

Practical Cookery by Victor Ceserani, Ronald Kinton and David Foskett (Hodder & Stoughton), £18.99

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