New Zealand Book Month has given me cause to reflect on my fave New Zealand reads. While I’m at a loss to decide which fiction title is my number one, there are three non-fiction works that catapult to the top of my list. New Zealand fiction could be described as dark, raw and cynical but Kiwi cookbooks are some of the most accessible, easy-to-read and downright yummy cookbooks on the planet.
My first cookbook ever was given to me by my mother when I left home. It was The Best of Alison Holst now known fondly as “The Red Bible”. I’ve used this book as many times as I’ve had hot dinners. My first copy became so splattered and manky after the first ten years it sat oozing oil and shedding breadcrumbs on the bookshelf. Although I knew I had to throw it out, I just couldn’t bear be without it. Fortunately, this best selling legend was reprinted a couple of years back and I grabbed another copy from the bookshop. My new copy is fast becoming as loved and battered (literally) as the first.
When I was going through my yuppy stage, I bought a slim volume called Smart Food for Busy People by Annabel Langbein and this book made a huge impact on me. From the time I first opened the pages it started work its magic in my kitchen and I loved what it did for my culinary repertoire. The recipes had the new New Zealand vibe I was experiencing in restaurants at the time - crisp textures, emphasis on fresh produce, an influence from Asian cuisine, light and healthy food with flavour. I cooked recipe after recipe and wowed friends and family. Of course Annabel has gone on to host her own very successful television show and produce more quality, up-to-the-minute cookbooks but Smart Food is still my favourite.
Richard Till opened Espresso 124 on the Strip before it even became the Strip. It was the restaurant on Oxford Terrace around which all the others gathered as the food scene exploded into life in Christchurch in the late 80s. We loved Espresso 124. The food was brilliant, the atmosphere was charged and you could see Richard every Friday night hurling pans around the kitchen and dodging flames as he seared perfect steaks. The man’s a legend. His cookbooks capture his authentic Kiwi style and no-fuss approach to great food.
These are my favourites and there are plenty more – Al Brown, Ray McVinnie, Peter Gordon, Celia Hay, Julie Biuso, Fleur Sullivan … New Zealand has some of the best food writers on the planet. No doubt about it.