Saturday, February 16, 2019

Lateral Cooking - Niki Segnit

It's been a busy week at work - Valentine's Day being the first big booze pushing opportunity of the year, but inbetween stacking shelves with ever more cheap pink fizz (D, and I bless him for this, knows better, he turned up with Pol Roger which is absolutely the way to my heart - a proper treat) and pink gin (left over stock to be recycled for Mother's Day) I've been catching up with podcasts.

I might already have said this, but podcasts are this winter's big discovery. There's a couple, most by friends or acquaintances, that I've listened to for the last few years, but I hadn't bothered to look for anything on subjects I'm interested in rather than just by people I like. It's been a bit of a revelation.  Catching up on the Honey & Co one has been a particular joy given that they've interviewed so many food writers I really like.

It's also been a reminder that I have a big pile of cookbooks that I've been meaning to write about, including Niki Segnit's 'Lateral Cooking'. I loved 'The Flavour Thesaurus' when it came out, so was always going to be interested in whatever she wrote next. 'Lateral Cooking' more than lived up to any expectations I had for it - it'll be interesting to see if it gains the same sort of classic status as the first book.

What I hadn't realised before listening to the podcast is that Segnit doesn't have a food industry background. Less surprising is that she had done some W.S.E.T courses. Flavour wheels are popular in wine, beers, and spirits education (because they're really useful) and one of the things that really appealed to me about the thesaurus was how much sense it made from a wine perspective (both in terms of how you think about flavours, and how you match wine and food). Both books have been things she looked to buy, but couldn't find so wrote herself, and both are slightly mind blowing in their scope.

'Lateral Cooking' is the perfect book for everybody from the beginner upwards. Even if you're so expert that it doesn't have much to teach you about technique it's still a likely source of inspiration, and it's still going to be an absolute pleasure to read. Segnit is brilliant at mixing anecdote with instruction which makes this one hell of a rabbit hole to fall down. Open it at any page and you soon get sucked in - either by the technical detail or it's general joy de vivre.

I armed myself with a copy of Delia Smith when I first left home, at the time it was the best bet I could find to answer any questions I might have had. This is the book I probably wanted. It takes a set of starting points and builds on them; so flatbreads take you to scones and soda bread, to yeasted breads, to buns, to brioche, to babas and savarins with any number of variations or modifications along the way.

Master the basic templates and the world is your oyster is the essential philosophy here, the how being more important than the what. But if you know how, or can easily find out, then it's a relatively simple matter to work out what you can do with what you've got, or can easily find. Except none of that gives much sense of the scale or variety of this book. Or it's charm. Or how you might well forget to cook anything at all because you've got so engrossed in reading it.

On which note I'm going to retire to bed with it, it's been a long week, we drank the champagne already, and I can't think of a better treat than this right now.


  1. Well done D! Glad you had a bottle of something you truly enjoy.

    I seem to be unable to stop buying cookery books at present. I have recently invested in several about Middle Eastern Cooking and have even cooked from a few - it is lovely to use spices in different combinations from those I am used to. And now you are pointing me in yet another direction! Oh well, I did just win an Amazon voucher of a worthy sum, so I won't be really spending anything!

  2. I love doing just that with spices. The huge differences that a few combination changes make amazes me. I also love following how different things appear in different cultures and traditions - cardamom and cinnamon particularly. What joy to have a generous book token or voucher too. So many possibilities to mull over spending it on.