A cookery book with a unique fingerprint
Review by Patricia and Dennis Cleveland-Peck
This is a very idiosyncratic book. Michael Raffael begins by listing various types of cookery books: “self-help recipe manuals, worthy advice from vegans and dieticians, ethnic collections, academic text books and spin-offs from TV series...” and goes on to say that this books falls into none of these categories nor will it teach or preach or help you to make the perfect soufflé or ‘coddle a molecular egg.’
It does contain recipes: lots of interesting, straightforward, well illustrated ones which deliver what they promise. The point of this book, however, is Raffael’s entertainingly-written, very personal take on food and cooking. Writing from the perspective of his own and his family’s experience - much of the food discussed comes from his own allotment - he ranges over subjects from washing-up to artichokes via purées and kitchen gadgets. As to washing-up, with which he begins, his descriptions of scraping and scooping detritus, gobbets of congealed bread and charred lumps is so graphic as to be almost off-putting and we wished he’d put it at the end of the book by which time the reader would be used to his distinctive style. And doesn’t the washing up usually follow the feast?
He also tells some odd little stories along the way - one of which concerns an enthusiastic cheese maker who, as the Raffael’s house guest, left semen stains on the sheets…but then when he subsequently came to stay after his business had been destroyed by the Health and Safety Gestapo, his sheets remained clean. In another about two jam makers in Provence, Raffael is scathing about the media hype which surrounds much of the food industry today.
Becoming a ‘cook with a unique finger print’ is something Raffael advocates for his readers. Messy Cook is itself an example of a cookery book with a unique finger print and one which would make an ideal gift for anyone involved with food.