Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club. This time, Sight Smell Touch Taste Sound by Sybil Kapoor
It is a pretty glorious and remarkable thing that, three years and 30-odd books into doing these events, the Borough Market Cookbook Club can still surprise. And not just surprise—it can excite, delight and change people’s minds, as the members who were at the latest events for Sybil Kapoor’s Sight Smell Touch Taste Sound can attest.
It is a cookbook like no other we have so far done at the Cookbook Club. Far more than ‘just’ a recipe book, it is an exploration of how all our cooking can be enhanced by thinking about these fundamentals of the title. Members arrived with varying degrees of response to that approach and to the structure of the book, making it striking that even those who were less enthused at the beginning were by the end declaring they couldn’t wait to get stuck into reading and cooking from it again.
One of the joys of the book is how Sybil encourages cooks to experience for themselves how cooking in a different way can have impact. At the Cookbook Club we all got the chance to experience that. There was pea and sorrel soup served both heated and chilled, each with the varying garnishes that Sybil suggests. The discussion became not just about which version was preferred but more about how markedly different the options were—in terms of taste, yes, but beyond that for the differences in smell and how they felt in the mouth. Freekeh, chickpea and tomato pilaf was tried out cold, tepid and hot. Again, the impact on textures was marked. Special Cookbook Club thanks go to those members who took extra trouble to bring their dishes for us to taste in different ways.
Irony duly noted
In our modern culinary age of an almost over-riding focus on how food looks and it being ‘Instagrammable’, it is fascinating to read Sybil’s take on that. Sybil is to date yet to post an Instagram food shot. That is a fairly clear insight into her views—but that is not to say for a moment that this book doesn’t expound at length on how to make food look its best. The dishes we had certainly did and many of them have since ended up on social media. Irony duly noted…
Our members didn’t just learn a lot from this book to take forward into their own cooking; we all loved eating the recipes in the book too. From roast carrots with toasted cumin yoghurt, to Sichuan pepper and orange dressed squid that bounced with colour and flavour, to a saffron and cinnamon bread and butter pudding that has changed how I will make that classic for evermore.
Amid this riot of praise, I need to give just one word of warning when using this book: there was a general feeling among attendees that the index is unwieldy with its cross-referencing. But when the level of quibble is about the index, it is fair to say the Cookbook Club’s overall assessment of Sybil’s Sight Smell Touch Taste Sound is that it is a total triumph.
Tuesday 11th June & Saturday 22nd June: From Venice to Istanbul by Rick Stein
Tuesday 16th & Saturday 20th July: Four Seasons Cookery Book by Margaret Costa