An Englishman teaching an American about food is like the blind leading the one-eyed.
A. J. Liebling
I was once at the Smithsonian Museum of American History’s exhibit on Julia Child’s Kitchen where I overhead one teenager describe Child to another:
“She’s that British lady who drinks when she cooks.”
Which is what happens on TV and over time, things become broad and vague–limited to the character created. Basically I had a similar superficial knowledge of Graham Kerr–he was British, leapt over things, and drank while he cooked.
And that’s why it’s good to read books–there’s time for more depth. Kerr was raised in English hotels, trained in the British Army, and became Chief Catering Advisor to the New Zealand Air Force where he developed an early fusion approach highlighting foods of the British Empire and the South Pacific.
His career took him around the South Pacific and to Canada, and his show, 455 episodes produced by his wife Treena Kerr, went on location around the world and reached 10 million homes. As Matt and Ted Lee note in their introduction, his approach became a model for travel shows and demo shows, including the humor and showmanship that would become food television standards. The Lees knock down a few more assumptions about Kerr–he didn’t really drink on the set and in the early shows he was thrifty and moderate in his ingredients and dishes.
They also note that celebrity cookbooks are often more about the celebrity than the cooking, but that’s not the case here. First, the book has a production-minded presentation. The recipes are presented by ingredients, measured in US, Imperial and metric amounts. Then you set up your mise en place–prepping the ingredients to cook. Once you’re prepped, the directions move on to cook and serve.
The recipes are meat heavy and arranged in sections on appetizers, soups, fish, eggs, poultry, meat, with briefer sections on pastry vegetables and desserts. Many of the sections begin with basic techniques–everything from adding butter to gently scrambled eggs to a basic method for broiled chicken or thin and thick soups. Once the basics are mastered, you can move on to more interesting dishes, soups like Chicken Pepper Pot or Billabong.
Confident cooks can take on Graduate Recipes like Potts Point Fish Pot, Stuffed Saddle of Lamb Roxdale, or Parramatta Chicken Pie. As for dessert–the recipes are elegant and classic, shuffles in lemon and chocolate, a creme brûlée, a rice pudding, and a yeast-risen rum cake.
The book is a bit of a time warp–the recipes are those clubby dishes that you might see in a men’s magazine–no avocado toast here. And, along with the attention to technique, that’s the value–old dishes that are new again.