Walk into any bookshop these days and you’ll find huge piles of glossy celebrity chefs books but what happens to the hundreds of talented chefs and food writers who don’t happen to be on TV? I know one, Stephen Markwick, who’s spent a lifetime at the stove, most of it in Bristol where he’s run three restaurants - Bistro Twenty One, Markwicks and, currently, Culinaria.
He’s a gentle, self-effacing man but a wonderful cook. He learnt his trade from one of the most iconic chefs of recent times, George Perry-Smith of the Hole in the Wall who many regard as the father of Modern British cuisine. Perry-Smith was in turn inspired by Elizabeth David whose spirit still invades Stephen’s bold, colourful cooking.
It seemed to me a shame that such a talented chef's career should not be marked by a book so I suggested I should help him write one and that we should publish it ourselves. We didn’t want a huge book (Stephen is far too modest to contemplate that) so decided to publish it in two or three volumes of which the first, A Very Honest Cook, is out next week (November 19th).
The title was serendipitous. We’d been struggling with a name for the book and I eventually said in exasperation “Well, I’m sure something will come up when we get Simon’s (Simon Hopkinson’s) foreward - he’ll probably say he was a very honest cook or something like that.” And when the foreword came through that was exactly what he did say!
The book contains a number of Stephen’s best-loved recipes including his Provenal Fish Soup which is so popular that he never takes it off the menu. Other favourites are Leek and Cream Tart, Squid with Red Wine, Orange and Chilli, Beef Bourguignon, Braised Partridge with Cabbage, Bacon and Lentils and St Emilion au Chocolat, another Culinaria favourite from the George Perry-Smith days. In each case I’ve got Stephen to explain exactly what he does at every stage (chefs are notoriously vague about measurements!) so that the end dish ends up as closely as possible to the original.
With its personal anecdotes and asides this is a highly personal cookery book and one that deserved to be published. You can buy a signed copy direct from the restaurant or via their website www.culinariabristol.co.uk for just 10 (plus 1.95 post and packing). I’m proud to have been involved in it.