Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 3 and a half stars
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall isn’t a fan of over-the-top culinary artistry. After all, just because a dish looks miraculously crafted doesn’t mean the flavour will live up to that visual hype. His argument certainly isn’t without merit: though pretty, an overworked plate runs the risk of putting its focus on presentation over flavour, and leaving diners grimacing through what looked like a delicious meal.
If you’ve ever looked at a TV cooking segment and thought it all too hard, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall might just be the celebrity chef you’ve been looking for. Rather than focus on showy plating and spectacle, Fearnley-Whittingstall believes in letting the flavours speak for themselves.
In ‘River Cottage Easy’, Fearnley-Whittingstall is putting his money where his mouth is, championing the art of simple, flavour focused cooking with his trademark warmth and wit. The premise here is simple: every dish is based on a set of three main ingredients which drive the flavour. Sure, there are secondary ingredients as required, but they’re included as the scaffolding to the dish only. Those three main ingredients, whether simple or complex, are the stars of the show.
This focus on three ingredients helps keep the recipes feeling simple- useful if you’re still getting the hang of time in the kitchen. But for the more confident home cooks, there’s still enough variation and new flavour combinations to keep it interesting.
Some of the recipes fall a little flat (replacing butter with olive oil for your honey toast, for example is less of a recipe than a life hack), but many of the dishes here do seem worth an attempt. It also might be worth a mention that, though Fearnley-Whittingstall decries the use of ‘fussier’ ingredients, this is a collection from the UK, and some of his ‘easy to find’ ingredients are a bit more difficult or expensive to source in Australia. Overall, though, the ingredients are fairly easily sourced and not prohibitively expensive for the budget conscious cooks.
‘River Cottage Easy’ was originally published as ‘Hugh’s Three Good Things’, so if you’ve got that, this might be some measure of overkill for your collection. But if you’re new to Fearnley-Whittingstall’s work, or looking for a culinary challenge that’s simple enough to not overwhelm, you’re probably going to enjoy this cookbook.
Perhaps the most interesting part of ‘River Cottage Easy’ is how the theme shifts the way you look at cooking. A few times now, I’ve found myself setting the challenge to use three core ingredients, rather than the haphazard style of kitchen Macgyvering I tend towards at the end of the fortnight. Even if you’re not quite ready to try some of Fearnley-Whittingstall’s flavour combinations, it can be fun to see how you can bring the three ingredient philosophy into your own cooking experiments.
‘River Cottage Easy’ is a fantastic starting point to get you out of a culinary rut, and a lot of fun to work from. It’s a varied, relatively easy set of dishes out to add a little flare to the mealtime without the over the top theatricality we often see on TV. If you’re looking for a way to try the flavours of the celebrity chef world without a fine arts degree required to plate the dishes up, this might just be a must-read.
‘River Cottage Easy’ is published through Bloomsbury, and is available at leading retailers.