I CONFESS I am no bloomin’ Hestonthal in the kitchen, but if a recipe book provides clear instructions and the odd photo or two of the finished dish, I usually come out the other side with an edible result.
Lessons with Liam provides both — beautiful photography and step-by-step guides make for a recipe book that even the blondest Nigella should be able to follow.
Dublin-born Liam Tomlin has lived in South Africa since 2004 and owns Chefs Warehouse & Cookery School in Cape Town. In his introduction, he writes: "I have noticed that, when watching young chefs cook or teaching groups of people in the school, the biggest drawback to a good result in any kitchen is a lack of knowledge of very basic cooking techniques and an uncertainty about the handling and preparation of everyday ingredients."
Tomlin’s desire to teach is evident and he is clearly at home coaching others in the art of all things culinary.
There are sections dedicated to stocks; soups; sauces and compound butters; fish; meat and poultry; and dessert and pastry. For vegetarians, potatoes get their own chapter, as do salads, and pulses, pasta, rice and grains.
Basic recipes, 62 in all, cover everything from yeast dough and mushroom stock to red-wine jus. Basic techniques begin at the shellfish section and continue throughout, from how to prepare and clean prawns to how to tunnel-bone a chicken leg.
The vegetable section includes how to semidry tomatoes, blanch sweet peppers and cream spinach, and the chef’s staple of vegetable stock tops the ingredients in dishes as diverse as mango couscous and seafood paella.
In a "notes on the recipes" section, Tomlin offers valuable tips, such as making double the quantity of the basic recipes and freezing half for future use. In this way, you’ll build up a supply of stocks, flavoured oils, rendered duck fat, syrups and seasonings to use when needed.
Many of the recipes are also multifunctional — leftover mushroom risotto can be chilled, cut into rounds and fried to make risotto cakes. Or berry consommé can be turned into a jelly with the addition of gelatine, or turned into a granita by adding water.
Desserts are appealing, with a selection of summer ices and chilled fruit soups, while chocoholics will be hard-pressed to decide between deep-fried chocolate (the chocolate ganache, chocolate sauce and praline components are included as basic recipes), warm chocolate fondant or chocolate soufflé.
I opted to make the cherry and almond clafoutis, despite the exorbitant price of cherries. It’s not to be made on the spur of the moment — the batter benefits from resting for 24 hours — but the result is worth the wait. It was light and not too sweet, perfect as an end note to a summer braai.
Tomlin stresses that there are no secrets or tricks in the kitchen, just mastering techniques and the knowledge that, as in many things, practice makes perfect.