Book review: A Rural Cook by Richard Craven

06 April 2023 by
Book review: A Rural Cook by Richard Craven

Richard Craven's A Rural Cook is a hefty read

Not only does the book weigh 5kg, it also encompasses the grandeur of the four seasons. The chef and owner of the Royal Oak in Whatcote, Warwickshire, has created a debut cookbook divided into recipes from spring, summer, autumn and winter. Each section begins with a monthly list of seasonal ingredients, which are suitable across starters, mains and desserts. For example, this month's recommendations include asparagus, borage, brassica flowers, broccoli, lemon sole, wood pigeon, watercress and spinach.

It is, in many ways, a deeply personal book, one that touches upon Craven's accidental "fall" into hospitality; the "files of cuttings from The Caterer" he used to have when starting out in the industry; and his love for his wife and business partner, Solanche. It is only by the time you get to around page 95 of this 320-page epic that you are introduced to Craven's dishes, starting with the basics, ‘our wholemeal loaf', which has been "an important part of our offering since [the Chef's Dozen] at Chipping Campden".

He includes his twists on pub classics, such as the Craven version of chicken and mushroom pie: quail, fermented hen of the woods with marsh blueberry and Douglas Fir preserve, which offers "acidity to cut through the richness". The book also features starter-dessert crossover dishes, such as heritage tomatoes, raspberries, razor clam and sweet cicely.

Apple and cinnamon brioche is one of the simpler items in A Rural Cook, but Craven uses this to once again demonstrate his restaurant's emphasis on collaborating with trusted, artisanal suppliers. Foraging and using local produce takes on a whole new dimension in this book, in which the chef proudly proclaims that "we've been cooking squirrel for around seven years now".

His final entry for September 2022 summaries the ethos that underpins A Rural Cook: "I can't imagine being anywhere else but Whatcote, cooking, skinning rabbits, deer and wandering the hills not seeing a soul."

A Rural Cook by Richard Craven (A Way With Media, £65)

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