Thursday, July 7, 2011

A cookbook to love (and a magical chance to win!)

Sometimes you know that it has to be love.

From the moment I heard that Kerstin Rodgers (the cook behind one of London's first and best known supper clubs, The Underground Restaurant) was writing a book, I knew I'd love it. And, as soon as I laid eyes on the book, that love only intensified.

I should make some things clear before I continue:
1. I've never been to Kerstin's supper club. But everything I've heard about it makes me want to go. She's the type of cook I most admire: someone who cooks from the heart out of a simple desire to make people happy. My next trip to London is definitely going to coincide with one of her supper nights.
2. I've been thinking about starting a supper club of my own for a while now. I tried to start a revolving supper club in Dingle last winter but seeing as nothing came of it, I approached this book with the thought that it might just convince me to set one up, London-style.

Anyway, back to the book. And isn't it lovely?

Underneath its dust jacket, it's even lovelier.

Kerstin begins the book with a story of revolution. The first revolution in food was the French Revolution which led to chefs from the households of a destroyed aristocracy opening the world's first restaurants - places where anybody who had the money could pay to eat.

London in 2009 was ripe for a new food revolution and Kerstin was one of its figureheads. An idealist with strong political beliefs and a single mother keen to make money working from home, Kerstin had seen home restaurants in Latin America and thought they could work in London. She - along with Horton Jupiter of The Secret Ingredient Supper Club - was the first person in the UK to open a restaurant in her own home.

Kerstin's politics are reflected in the food she serves in her living room. She doesn't eat meat and, as a result, never serves it. However, she does serve things that restaurants simply wouldn't have the time to make, such as towering Croquembouche. And because she knows what it's like to be strapped for cash in London, she offers reduced rates for those on benefits.

For Kerstin's restaurant is an extension of her life. It's all about her do-it-yourself attitude, her belief that everyone has a right to good food at a reasonable price and her mission to improve the image of vegetarian food.

Her life in food is an interesting one and the book is full of her stories. She starts with the chocolate butterfly cakes she baked in nursery school. She tells of the copy of 'Good Housekeeping's Children's Cookbook' she was given aged eight, from which she learned how to make macaroni cheese and peppermint creams. There are tales of childhoold holidays too when her parents introduced her to snails, horse and never-ending, ten-course Italian feasts.

Kerstin became a photographer after leaving school but continued to cook. She cooked at anti-G8 camps using food scavenged from dumpsters; in vegan cafés; and in squats such as the swimming pool changing room she once lived in with a boyfriend.

All of which eventually led to her opening The Underground Restaurant and now writing this book encouraging us all to follow her example.

The book tells the story of her supper club and offers practical tips about how you can set up your own - everything from how to publicise it to advice on how to arrange payment. These tips are invaluable for anybody who might be thinking of following in Kerstin's footsteps.

But it's the recipes that will win everyone over to Kerstin's book. Such wonderful recipes, most of which I can't wait to try.

There are cocktails and nibbles, including Harry Potter Butter Beer and dukkah (a nutty Arabian dip) that I'm planning to serve with Kerstin's homemade pitta breads.

Of her starters, I'm dreaming of her savoury yoghurt granita and yuzu ceviche - white fish 'cooked' in citrus fruits.

There are soups such as the Thai green spinach soup; fabulous salads such as the mint, coriander, onion and pomegranate cachumber (an Indian salsa); vegetarian main courses such as tinda masala and Kerstin's 'really good' mac and cheese; instructions for how to cure your own salmon; a fantastic stargazy pie; meat dishes from London's other supper clubs; and the most amazing desserts.

Is there anybody alive who wouldn't drool over this giant pavlova drizzled with salted caramel?

Kerstin finishes the book with her piece de résistance - a section devoted to her themed menus. There's an Elvis night complete with deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, cheese 'n' grits and pecan pie.

There's a midnight feast where all the food is black. And there's a flower menu where every dish contains edible flowers and is as pretty as a picture.

All of Kerstin's recipes come with a short description of where the recipe is from, how she created it and who she learned it from. This brings you into her world and makes you feel as though you know her. In fact, the way she describes her recipes makes you feel as though she's cooking right beside you - just as all cookbooks should.

At the very end of the book, Kerstin gives a list of all the supper clubs she knows of in the UK, Ireland, Europe and worldwide.

This book should come with a warning. Actually, it should come with several warnings.
First of all, you should know that the recipes contained within its pages are going to make you want to cook, cook and then cook some more.
Secondly, after reading Kerstin's descriptions of the communal nature of supper clubs and the introduction they give you to the cooking of different cultures, you are going to want to explore all of the supper clubs in the world.
Finally, you may just decide to open one of your own. I'm seriously considering it. Watch this space!

Before I sign off, I must tell you that this wonderful cookbook came my way courtesy of the Fairy Hobmother, a good fairy that prowls the online world generously spreading fairy dust wherever he goes. I won't tell you who he is but he belongs to and if you leave a comment below telling him what you'd like him to buy you from Amazon, he might just make your wish come true!


  1. Lovely write up! I really want to get my hands on a copy now...

  2. Love the idea of the Harry Potter Butterbeer

  3. Nancy, it really is a great book. I'd totally recommend it.

    Coole Swan, the Harry Potter Butter Beer sounds great - it's butterscotchy and delicious - maybe an idea for you guys!

  4. And if the Fairy Hobmother is reading, I'd *love* to get my hands on a food processor!

  5. Wow, that book sounds fab. I'll have to pick it up asap.

  6. Cool book. I must get one

  7. I think I 'll have to ask for a copy of the book too.

  8. Sounds like a great book !

  9. Good thinking, Colette!

    And Aline, are you sure you don't want to ask the Fairy Hobmother for anything? If you're not in, you can't win...

  10. Now..... you've started me daydreaming about the book...look what you've started! If the fairyhobmother is feeling generous can I have one too, pretty please!

  11. Sounds like heaven! Makes me want to give it a shot, too....

  12. Good luck, Margaret and KerryFelter/Sharon! Hope the Fairy Hobmother comes to visit!

  13. I've only recently heard of Kerstin's supper club and would love to go. I'd love to check out her book too, especially after reading your lovely review.