20 June 2023 · Behind the Cookbook
Whether you are already a professional chef, or are training to become one, ckbk offers the material you need to develop your skills, explore different culinary specialties, and build your own style. ckbk’s virtual bookshelves offer a treasure trove of inspiration and reference material to support your cooking.
The latest cookbook to be added to ckbk, The Chefs’ Knowledge, is the result of a collaboration between The Chefs’ Forum and dozens of top chefs active in culinary education across the United Kingdom. The book includes 100 basic recipes as well as a wealth of hints and tips for any budding chef. We caught up with several of the chefs who contributed to the volume, to get their take on culinary education and the important role played by cookbooks.
Chef Paul Gayler has played an active role in chef training and mentoring through his long career, acting as the Chairman of the Craft Guild of Chefs Graduate Awards and serving on the board of City & Guilds, a leading provider of accredited professional cookery qualifications. Like many chefs, Gayler is an avid collector of cookery books, with a personal collection of more than 2,000 titles. He said: “We had some access to cookbooks during my college training, but never enough. I made it my mission to read, read, read, and soak up as much information at every opportunity.”
Graham Garrett is Head Chef at The West House, a restaurant with rooms in Kent. His memoir cookbook, Sex & Drugs & Sausage Rolls is available on ckbk, and he appreciates the access to culinary reference books which ckbk offers. He told us: “A modern-day Spotify-style version of books for cooks certainly seems like the way forwards”. Garrett contributed seven recipes to The Chefs’ Knowledge including Duck Confit, Eccles Cake and (of course!) Sausage Rolls.
“Referencing books when I started out was fun, but hard work. It involved endless trawling of bookshops, looking for the hidden gems, and then word-of-mouth between chefs when someone had discovered something.” Things are a lot easier now, as many of the books that influenced Garrett are available via ckbk. These include Floyd on Britain & Ireland, Floyd on France, The Carved Angel Cookery Book and Keep It Simple by Alastair Little. Garrett adds: “I can still relate to these books in everything I do, from learning about ingredients to cooking styles, but always with honesty and integrity.”
Digging into different regional specialties and exploring famous restaurant cookbooks is a great way to expand your range, but the basics must still be learned and, it seems, a soupçon of stress is inevitable when it comes to getting these just right. Gayler’s contribution to The Chefs’ Knowledge is the essential French Omelette, which he calls a rite of passage: “The prospect of cooking an omelette should present the student or the junior chef with stress. This is unavoidable.”
All the contributors we talked to agreed that having a mentor is essential to developing as a chef. Gayler remembers his own mentors, Chef Alfie Rounce “a great chef who spend most of his career on ships, he took me under his wing and gave me his time and pased on his lifetime of experience”; Chef Rémy Fougère at The Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington “who nurtured my culinary talents and took me on a journey of learning”; and Anton Mosimann at the Dorchester, “once again a journey of discovery and learning”. Mentorship and an attitude of lifetime learning is a running theme in The Chefs’ Knowledge, which also develops the idea that a chef’s vocation is a mindset rather than a job.
Chef and ckbk author Daniel Galmiche contributed three recipes to The Chefs’ Knowledge, including French Onion Soup, a dish which is “at the heart of French cooking”. He told us that when he started his apprenticeship he was given just one book, Escoffier’s Le guide culinaire. “This was the only book they gave me and they said ‘Daniel, this is your book. End of story. No other book. Now learn all the dishes, all the sauces, all the basics.’ For example a simple Hollandaise has so many derivatives, each with its own precise purpose”.
Things have changed immensely in this regard. Galmiche feels there is now a danger that chefs will lose the core skills of previous generations, for example of butchery and preparation: “Chefs just walk into a restaurant and everything is prepared, off you go, the portions are done, the service is done, they clean and they go home. It’s such a different way of doing things. You could ask people to make a basic Boeuf Bourguignon and a lot of them don’t know how to make it.”
Galmiche continues: “I think sometimes chefs are lose track of the style they want to adopt – they often seem to follow fashion more than anything else. For me, this is a big mistake. If you’re doing a style of cooking, you must know about and understand that style. You must know the classics, you must know the basic techniques to be able to develop further and better. Restaurants are closing and opening with new concepts all the time.”
The recipes in The Chefs’ Knowledge are deliberately simple classic dishes (no fancy ‘twists’ here), but that is not to say they are easy. The first one is Orange Juice by Chandos Elletson, the editor of the book. Elletson writes: “Why is orange juice still so important? For the very reason that it is not considered to be important. Hotels pay lip service to freshly squeezed juice but few take it really seriously. However, a really fine glass of orange juice is still a luxury but you have to work at it.”
As editor of The Chefs’ Knowledge, Elletson notes: “This is the book I wish I had had when I first became a chef. Its advice and knowledge are the basic lessons you need to learn to get you started. They are the best fundamental lessons you can find and all written and presented in a style that is approachable and easy to understand.”
Paul Gayler appreciates the way that The Chefs’ Knowledge works on the foundations of good cookery: “I am a great believer of ‘learn the basics first’. The rest will follow with experience”. Publisher Catherine Farinha added: “The feedback has been amazing and we’re delighted that so many young chefs are now getting hold of their own copies and using it to help them in college and to get better jobs in the industry. We’ve even created a new audio version to enhance the experience for chefs who struggle with dyslexia and find reading troublesome.”
As part of the ckbk canon, The Chefs’ Knowledge helps chefs to gain confidence with simple, authentic versions of basic dishes, giving them a solid foundation for their future creations.
Garrett said: “My advice would always be to find yourself a chef or mentor who you respect and is willing to show you the correct way of doing things. Listen, read, watch and soak up as much as you can. Work extremely hard, stay focussed and keep your head down – one day it will suddenly all make sense.”