With his restaurant holding three Michelin stars and a listing in The S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, Sergio Herman of Oud Sluis in Holland is not just another chef. And Sergio is not just another cookery book. Think White Heat meets Gagnaire: Reflections on Culinary Artistry in a Led Zeppelin boxed set and you'll understand why the publishers call it a "culinary object".
As pretentious as a 14 year old Emo fan maybe, but fun and a lot more useful. Open the lid of Sergio's stylishly white on white case and you'll find sergioportrait – all moody Bob Carlos Clarke-like black and white shots accompanied by a distinctly Marco-ish narrative; sergiocatalogue – backlit colour photos of the food with not a plate in sight, à la Gagnaire, and recipes in the spiral bound, wipe clean format of sergiomanual.
You should also find a glass phial of Herman's own spice mix to use in your cooking. Unless, as with our review copy, it broke in transit and you'll just be left with three very smelly books.
The food is as modern as you would expect of a chef that has staged at el Bulli and who remains in close contact with the Adrià brothers.
Herman is at his wackiest in the snacks recipe section; Jellied Cucumber Soup is served with Soy Froth while Sandwiches of Olive Oil Semi-freddo with Cabernet Sauvignon Jelly and Sourdough crisps look like they were bought from some avant-garde ice cream van. But Herman is not another nutty professor chef. "New techniques are interesting, but the kitchen shouldn't turn into a laboratory. As a chef I'm more interested in combining than in techniques so advanced they become extreme. You mustn't go too far either!" he warns.
There's more than hint of classical technique and traditional flavours in dishes like Gilthead Bream with Bomba Rice Paella, Squid and Venus clams sauced with Romesco Cream and Aioli, and there's real old-school polish to the presentation of Crispy Beetroot Rolls with Sour Cream, Truffle and Papajo Herb.
Herman impresses least in sergioportrait, where at times he comes across as the culinary equivalent of Steve Coogan's oversexed singer Tony Ferrino. "The kitchen staff always want to know if any young women are coming in.
If there are, the front of house staff seat them at tables three, five and six. That way we in the kitchen get to enjoy the view as well," he leers.
The mostly meat-free recipes are sometimes complex, but there's nothing to daunt the professional chef, or even the new breed of ultra-keen amateur cook. Although cross referencing photos to recipes is a bit of a pain, it does mean you can just take the stain-resistant manual into the kitchen and keep your lovely, and expensive, coffee table tome blemish-free on the shelf at home.
Further books to read
- Art of Aureole, Charlie Palmer and Judith Choate. Ten Speed Press, 2003
- El Bulli 2003-2004, Ferran Adria and Juli Soler. Ecco, 2006
- Essential Cuisine, Michel Bras. Ici La Pr, 2002
- Pierre Gagnaire: Lucide et ludique, Pierre Gagnaire.
- Editions de la Martinière, 2006
- Paramount Desserts, Christine Manfield. Viking, 1998
- Planète Marx, Thierry Marx. Minerva, 2006
- Spoon Cookbook, Alain Ducasse. Les Editions d'Alain Ducasse, 2004
- Susur: A Culinary Life, Susur Lee. Ten Speed Press, 2005