Book review: Core

By Stefan Chomka contact

- Last updated on GMT

Clare Smyth's new cookbook Core

Related tags: Core by Clare Smyth, Chef, Clare smyth, Restaurant, Fine dining, Cookbook

Clare Smyth's book is fascinating insight into what it takes to be a chef at the very top of their game.

Clare Smyth’s new book might well contain more than 60 recipes for dishes that are found at her three Michelin-starred restaurant Core, as well as 70 recipes for basic stocks, sauces and breads, but it is as much a cookbook as the Chanel collection is for advising you what to wear down the shops. What it is, is an insight into the work and mind of one of the UK’s – if not the world’s – most driven, dedicated chefs, someone who has worked with Gordon Ramsay in his prime and not only lived to tell the tale but has gone on to match his three-star London restaurant status.

For people keen to get up close with Smyth’s dishes Core doesn’t really get going until page 45. Yet for those interested in what it takes to be one of only a handful of chefs in the UK to run a restaurant of three-star status it hits the ground running with an intro from Ramsay himself. Here he extols the virtue of his “invaluable lieutenant” during a time at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay when he admits the team “went to hell and back five days a week” to maintain its – his - standards. Ramsay sums up Smyth by saying: “she sleeps with one eye open, and never, ever takes her foot off the gas.” Coming from him, that speaks volumes.

Following that is a summary of Smyth’s career, detailing her time with Ramsay and her eventual liberation to open Core and then a recap of her career but this time in her own words - “the papers were quick to that I was the first female chef in Britain to hold [three] stars – I was more preoccupied with not being the first female chef to lose them”. Her thoughts on British fine dining and Core’s attempts at creating ‘informal luxury’ complete the more thought-provoking elements of the book.

Onto the dishes and Smyth’s drive for perfection is again on show. Unwilling to clutter up the beauty of her dishes, each is given a close-up image (there are so plates, so dishes look like they are placed directly onto the pages) and an accompanying description that might reflect on its genesis or plating or the technique used in its preparation. For details on actually how to prepare each dish one is required to go to the back of the book, where their complexity soon becomes apparent.

While this might seem a polite way of saying ‘look but don’t touch’, Smyth does provide at the back of the book a range of recipes described as the foundation of Core’s cuisine. While some of these ‘basic’ recipes will still be beyond the majority of home cooks and their kitchen equipment – the various powder recipes all begin with the immortal words ‘preheat a dehydrator’ – others will be of value, not just for creating Core’s dishes but to have at one’s disposal in general.

In a final change of pace, the book ends with Smyth describing meeting her culinary hero, a man every bit the person she hoped he’d be. But to find out who, you’ll have to buy the book.

Core
Author: Clare Smyth
Number of pages: 255
Standout dish: The striking ‘Core apple’ (see below)
Publisher and price: Phaidon, £45

core-apple

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