Monday, September 6, 2010

Real Food Companion by Matthew Evans

The Real Food Companion by Matthew Evans

I had the pleasure of meeting Matthew Evans at his book launch earlier this year. His talk was informative and passionate. His attitude towards food and his frankness about not having a lot of agricultural knowledge to begin with provided me with motivation for learning more. Matthew Evan’s event was sponsored by Food Connect (a great organisation committed to farming sustainability and communities). I had much respect for Evans when he was a Sydney Morning Herald food reviewer and I have even more respect for him now that he’s championing the awareness of sustainable farming and opting for simpler eating and living. For those of you not so familiar with his written work, you may be more familiar with his television show, the SBS food documentary Gourmet Farmer.

I’m a big fan of Murdoch food books in general, but this tome is really a little bit special. Not only is the book beautifully made, from the rustic jacket to the photographs and text – a lot of care and love has gone into it. Evan’s prologue is especially touching. The publication of the book coincides with the birth of his first child. The prologue turns into a kind of ‘life’ letter, which I guess, is also a form of love letter to his first born. With this, Evans introduces his family and his food aspirations to his child. He sagely advises his child to “Dine in front of the television at your own peril. Keep your self-esteem intact and your front door open to visitors. Keep the pantry full and the larder enriched. Keep the invitations going to those who seek refuge, as well as those who come to bring joy. Be generous with the ladle and cavalier with the wine. Cook, my child, for hospitality is the glue that binds humanity together.” What lovely sentiments.

(the book with its scarecrow jacket on)

Evans’s life-changing journey starts with tasting real milk, which for him, is a driver for uncovering the real, core flavours of ingredients. He is not a fan of mediocrity, he supports ethical eating and like the title of the book suggests, he is interested in real food. Evans could’ve bleated on and on about sustainable eating, farming and the feelgood factor of buying and eating organic. Yes, he espouses all of these food philosophies but he doesn’t come across as greenly pious or shouts obnoxiously from his soapbox. He makes the reader aware of these issues gently; almost reminds us that we shouldn’t neglect the soil that nourishes our vegetables and the welfare of the animals that we depend on for food.

The chapters are well laid out and categories of ingredients are explained in simple, easy-to-understand language. The beauty of the Real Food Companion is that it is a personal collection of rustic, delicious recipes combined with introductions to individual farmers and their produce, and explanations of uses for ingredients. The dairy chapter sees recipes like baked nutmeg custard, goats’ milk latte cotto and labna. The flour chapter shows off the flexibility of wheat, whether for turning leftover crusts into a bread and butter pudding or dough being kneaded into silky pappardelle. The recipes are never overcomplicated or fussy. Traditionalists will delight in the English and French comfort foods like homemade bacon baked beans and coq au vin; and the multiculturalists will appreciate the taxi driver’s lamb curry and fattoush.

(Matthew Evans's homemade bacon baked beans)

And where would a good reference/cookbook be without a workable index? The index is broken up into two separate categories: Food and Topics. The food index is user-friendly and pretty thorough although some food entries could have been more practically thought through. For a book that is part reference and part cookbook, the level of indexing is spot on. The Topics section is easy to use but some entries seem to have been overlooked and locators are not all there. Overall, Real Food Companion is a heartwarming read and provides inspiration to all of us who are vying for a change of pace in our hectic lifestyles. This book makes me want to find time to nourish and grow something wonderful from a little patch of dirt.