Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well
University of Toronto Press, £20
In the first of a series of monthly retrospective book reviews, we ask Jacob Kenedy, chef-patron of Soho restaurant Bucco di Lupo, to discuss his favourite cookbook
Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi can hardly be the most imaginative choice of cookbook. It is oft-cited, old, and "safe" - it relates to my specialist subject of Italian food, so no surprises there.
It would be a poor desert island book - anything that made you think of food would be a burden - but one I might take along anyway, just for the asides and joyous anecdotes that give it personality. "Life has two principal functions: nourishment and the propagation of the species. Those who turn their attention to these two needs of existence make life less gloomy".
Written just decades after the unification of Italy, the book (commonly referred to simply as Artusi) was the first to include recipes from all the regions of Italy, and may be considered to mark the birth of the national, as opposed to fragmented and regional, cuisine. It contains a great deal of historic interest as a record of humanity, medicine, economics and cuisine, and also a great many damned good recipes. "If Esau indeed sold his birthright for a plate of lentils, then it must be admitted that their use as food is ancient, and that Esau either had a great passion for them or suffered from Bulimia"
The dishes described are authentic, largely easy to follow and still feel modern - many are still cooked the same way, to this day. But what sets it apart is the tone. The author befriends you from the outset - so good-natured, with gentle humour - and continues to endear himself with little tales and stories around each of the recipes.
He strikes a balance between literature and reference that seems so perfect, with a wit that has survived both the centuries and translation. Would that we had a British equivalent, with our cuisine that seems so austere at the best of times, and repugnant at the worst. "Let's leave to the English the taste for eating boiled vegetables without any seasoning, or at the most with a little butter; we southern types need our food to be a little more exciting."