Friday Book Design Blog: The Breakfast Bible by Seb Emina and Malcolm Eggs
Whither the cook book? Sometimes, in the lead-up to Christmastime, it seems like the fate of the entire publishing industry rests on the ability of a handful of glossily hardbacked famous faces to persuade us that their latest new combinations of the same old ingredients will ensure the continued vitality of our gastronomic life. As if we’d all somehow just throw up our hands and starve rather than eat one more chicken roasted the way we’ve always roasted it, one more lasagne made with plain old cheddar and mozzarella instead of Venezuelan Beaver Cheese, or whatever the latest fad might be.
Cook books, of course, are gift books par excellence – when they’re not gifts to other people, they’re gifts to ourselves, little parcels of flattery that we have the skills, honestly we do, and the time, and the imagination to come alive in the kitchen and produce something really remarkable.
In my house there are about 30 cook books. I like to kid myself that I could get by on just one – Nigel Slater’s Appetite – but I do occasionally turn to Nigella, Delia, Pru, either for a much-used recipe, or because I know they’ll have something failsafe. But, here’s the thing, more than any of these, these days, I turn to my iPhone.
Most of my cooking is a case of looking at the ingredients in my fridge and cupboard, deciding on one or two to base a meal around (depending on the likely eaters, and their individual tastes and fussinesses), typing that or those into a search engine and then gauging the dependability of what it throws up. Sometimes there’s even a video to show me how to master a particular technique.
The alternative involves hefting hardback after hardback off the shelves, flicking to the index and running through the suggestions. Surely, you think, publishers have only got one or two more Christmasses in them to rely on cookbooks for their big sales. Interactivity is the key to the good recipe presentation of the future, not photos of attractive chefs cooing over their creations.
If cook books work, then, it’s in giving some kind of context to the recipes they contain. Now, obviously for some people, a picture of a cheeky Essex lad perched on a scooter, or an culinary goddess coyly sampling her wares gives all the context you need – flicking through one of these books is like flicking through a magazine.
Alternatively you might want some information to browse, which is where The Breakfast Bible seems to offer a neat solution. Written by Seb Emina ‘and’ Malcolm Eggs (the same person) based on ‘their’ London Review of Breakfasts blog, it’s essentially a cross between a recipe book and Schott’s Miscellany, with its recipes interspersed with essays, facts and diversions. I particularly like the ‘Songs to Boil an Egg to’, matching songs of the right length to the required runniness of yolk, Roxette’s ‘Listen to Your Heart’ for classic soft-boiled, Pulp’s ‘Common People’ for medium-boiled and The Doors’ ‘The End’ for hardboiled – lift out when the song’s done and there you are.
Rewind a few years and I can easily imagine a younger version of myself reading out bits of this before to friends and housemates before, during and after a long, slow, hungover weekend breakfast. (Back then, breakfast wasn’t just the most important meal of the day, it often took up most of the day.) Crucially, it has a sense of humour, which is not something you get from your average cook book.
The interior design clearly nods the look of Ben Schott’s bestsellers, themselves looking back to the likes of Mrs Beeton, though there are a few rather unnecessary photos to brighten things up. The cover, on the other hand, shies away from the photographic – no enticing, synaesthetic close-ups of thrown-together platters that you know you’ll never be able to replicate yourself here, no gurning chefebrities. Instead a turn to the very ‘now’ pattern, that only resolves on second glance to rashers of bacon. That plain board cover, you’d think, just begs to be besmirched with fat stains, coffee spills and smears of yolk. In a few years it will smell like breakfast – and I bet that Bloomsbury, right now, are kicking themselves that they didn’t think of that. Scratch and sniff cook books – you smelt it here first.
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