Confession time: some women have a ‘thing’ about handbags. For others, it’s shoes.
It’s the fantasy that a little Chanel purse or a pair of staggeringly high Jimmy Choos will make them into a better person.
Me? It’s doubtful a) that the contents of my tote would fit into any kind of Chanel bag that my bank account could afford or b) that I’d be able to totter more than a couple of steps in anything higher than a loafer.
No, this girl drools over cookbooks. I love everything about them: the orderly layout, the precision of the text, the gorgeous covers and good-enough-to-eat illustrations.
But, most of all, I love the promise that maybe, just maybe, if I follow the instructions to the letter, I might just persuade my family to forget the debacle of a chicken and banana recipe from a much-loved TV chef.
You’re right: it sounds an unpromising combination.
And it was.
Let’s draw a veil over that one…
But hope lurks eternal and when I picked up a copy of A Taste of the French Caribbean by Chef Denis my initial reaction was WOW!
Pride of place
Delightful front cover picture, clean, easy-to-read layout and enticing recipes.
If I had a coffee table it would have pride of place.
Chef Denis Rosembert grew up in St Lucia where he was taught to cook by his grandmother.
Aged 15, he became an apprentice in the kitchen’s of the islands Holiday Inn Hotel where the resident chef spotted his promise and encouraged him to go to England to further his career.
He worked in various London restaurants before moving briefly to the United States.
Within a year he was back in England, eventually ending up at the Sports Village Hotel in Norwich.
Three years later, in 1992, he opened his first restaurant, Café des Amis, in the city centre.
He moved to new premises outside the city in 1998 and re-named the restaurant Chez Denis.
It has been running for 17 years and in 2012 Chef Denis moved back into the city to Orford Yard, former home of Café des Amis.
This is his first cookbook and the recipes reflect his cultural background and his high-end restaurant training: deceptively simple and full of flavour.
Some degree of cookery skill or knowledge is required though – for instance, I road-tested baked dorado (sea bream) baked in banana leaf and served with a Creole sauce.
The instructions said: ‘Place the dorado fillets in a bowl and season with salt, Creole sauce and lemon juice.’
Was this a marinade – or not?
Less sauce more stew
And, if so, how long should the fish be left to marinade?
In the end, because the Creole sauce was less of a sauce and more of a pepper, leek, onion and tomato stew, I piled the seasoned fish on top of carrot batons, squeezed the lemon, and topped with a spoonful of Creole stew.
I had my doubts about the coconut cream and white wine sauce that accompanied the baked fish but my husband couldn’t fault it.
And cleaned his plate.
Ditto with the leek and spring onion soup with which we started the meal.
It was light and delicious and I wish I’d made double the quantity and frozen the left-overs for another day.
But the recipe instructions didn’t say to use the spring onions as a garnish although the illustration on the facing page clearly indicated this was the proper thing to do.
Presumably regular diners at Chez Denis would be familiar with the dishes and wouldn’t share my hesitations.
But if Chef Denis wants to extend his reach, slightly more precise instructions would be a good first step.
I wish there had been a little more back story too – I’d have loved anecdotes and background about Chef Denis and his family and the source of his recipes.
And an index at the back to make it easier to find particular recipes.
But these are small quibbles.
These colourful, infectious, mostly easy-to-follow recipes will soon have you inviting family and friends cooking up your own taste of the French Caribbean.
Review by Sue Featherstone.
Available to buy on Amazon.