David Everitt-Matthias - A Trio of Essentials
How I wish I could say 'A Quintet of Essentials'. 'An Octet' would be even better. But I'm being greedy. The three cookbooks which I talk about here are enough to satisfy the keenest of those whose favourite room in the house is the kitchen... until another is published, of course!
I have referenced one of David Everitt-Matthias' recipes before but I do feel rather daft for not devoting more writing time to my favourite chef. I haven't quite worked out the reasons for this. Just wobbling around with fear of failing to do justice to a hero and almost tongue-tied by the awe in which I hold him, I guess. Of course, I must include David’s wife, Helen, in any discussion of the twenty-nine year old restaurant perfection that is Le Champignon Sauvage. That perfection is built on the combination, development and application of their immense talents and skills, applied with huge determination. One couple have created an experience which ranks alongside the most enjoyable moments in my life outside of those with my family and friends.
I should focus on those cookbooks, shouldn't I? As a keen cook, the three published volumes in my introductory picture are the most treasured purchases that I have made to feed my enthusiasm. And feed it they have. I have too many books containing lovely recipes which leave me cold as I read. The writer gives nothing more than bald instruction and a shrug of 'Get on with it'. David's books have an abundance of those wonderful dishes you would expect from a double-starred Michelin chef but on every page his presence is felt. Exciting, at first glance, complicated recipes are presented with a quiet and insistent assurance that they can be produced by you while a great teacher advises, cajoles and encourages over your shoulder.
You are given clear and practical ways to use the books. Store-cupboard and foundation items to make in advance mean that you can have great treats to enjoy and use in your cooking through the year. Recipes are challenging; challenges of technique and of flavour profiles and combinations. Any reservations are gently smoothed over as David weaves in details of wild, foraged items, the merits of unfamiliar ingredients, tempts you with unexpected creations and gradually seduces you into the certainty that this is achievable at home.
Every recipe has elements which you are invited to include, discard or save for consideration another time. Items which were 'exotic' a few decades ago are so much easier to source now but there are plentiful ideas for substituting any ingredients still difficult to find or if a particular flavour profile is off-putting. Alternatives which still work well are frequently suggested.
Desserts obviously dominate the middle volume but there are enough in the other two to satisfy the sweet tooth... and anyone who is looking to include vegetables right up to the end of a meal!
Before getting to the glossary and acknowledgements, each book includes a few delightful recipes for petits fours. Jellies, fudges, pastries and tracklement treasures simply confirm the touch and span of a master of his art.
Crispy pig's ears with a lovely acidic tartare sauce was the first recipe I tackled. The ears stay a matter for more understanding and sympathetic treatment but the sauce is a regular treat with other meals.
Mini cinnamon-spiced doughnuts followed. White chocolate and salted lemon fudge (using salted lemons from the 'foundations' section) demands to be made regularly. Some years back we had a Boxing Day to remember with more pleasure than usual after indulging in 'semifreddo of macadamia nuts with passion fruit and star anise sorbet'. Versions of glazed pork belly, pressed apples, acorn panna cotta and ras el hanout caramel have all been enjoyed in the making and in the tasting.
With the appearance of 'beyond essence' David explores further afield to the Middle East and beyond for wonderful additions to recipes already full of complex delight. I won't expand on the repertoire from which I frequently access recipes and ideas. I leave you to discover the rest for yourself. You will have rich pickings.
My recommendation here will be old news to many home cooks but for others this is an acclaimed chef who you might not have heard of. His culinary stature is huge and accolades are regular but his media presence is quiet and small. That someone so accomplished exists with so little celebrity is an indication of great modesty. David does not court attention... but his work demands it. The generosity you will discover in these books is in his sharing of a lifetime's experience and experimentation.
Another chef recently posted his own dessert recipe on social media. This was met with many a 'Yum' and 'Delish'. But most added, "Looks great but I couldn't possibly do this at home... please come round and cook this for me!" I have a sneaky feeling that if David could spare the time he would respond to such a request and make his way to your kitchen. Once there, he would refuse to cook. Instead, he would gradually create the confidence you need to produce the whole thing yourself. You would be getting the same invaluable input which has nurtured so many young chefs in his professional kitchen at Cheltenham. When one of his 'graduates' tweeted "He (David) never once raised his voice" I was not in the least surprised.
'Stages' are available at the restaurant. Failing that opportunity, you still have the 'essence' of David Everitt-Matthias. His recipes give you access to a wealth of riches which are available to grasp and enjoy. If you don't have his books you really should.
Finally, a little pondering which is brought on by my love of calligraphy, printing and books.
After owning 'essence' for a few months I noticed this information following the title page:
David and Helen Everitt-Matthias love France. David immediately acknowledges the use of classic techniques which were developed in French cuisine. He has relied on them with great respect as a foundation for his cooking.. What he has subsequently brought to his kitchen seems to have close parallels to the designs of Tschichold and other typographers for whom Garamond and Granjon were shining French lights.
I might be stretching a point but, for me, it is wholly appropriate that the text of my favourite cookbooks is designed with the same approach as David's... he and Tschichold stand on the shoulders of giants and, adding persistent excellence and genius, search for and create stunning new expressions of their chosen craft.