What a reassuring book. If you had attended the Italian chefs convention in London last week you’d have thought the end was nigh for Italian cooking. Conceited chefs with pretensions greater than the man who thought he could fly, busy shaving prawns to create horrible High Altar cooking. It’s the antithesis of what Italian cooking has always been – a place for family and friends to gather, not bow their heads in prayer. Bored food writers love it of course but I’d drown the chef in his own water bath and then garrote him with spaghetti given half the chance.

Ok we know Tuscany has been done to death – too many baying Brits in Range Rovers waving copies of The Guardian at each other at cafes – but let’s not lose sight of the food. In this marvelous book Jason Lowe has focused his superb camerawork at twenty five honest, genuine culinary artisans and Lori Di Mori tells their stories. Gianluca Paoli who rolls up his ancient restaurant at 6am every day to light the wooden stove, Robert Bellini who keeps bees on the island of Elba, Salvatore and Gianni Cannas who are both shepherds and expert cheesemakers, Dante Milani, knife maker. Each has a story to tell of why and how they do the things they do and each is fascinating and life affirming. And then of course there are the recipes.

These unsung artisans create honest food from the heart and soul of their region. The dishes have been handed down unchanged from time immemorial; each comes off the page more alive than ever. There are over ninety dishes in this fabulous book, each one makes you want to jump on a plane or at the very least head for the market. You can’t pick just one example; they are all joyous, sensual, heady and satisfying. Not a shaved prawn in sight.

Jason Lowe takes pictures that look as if they have been dusted with Tuscan soil; the colours muted and earthy and entirely appropriate to their subjects. Lori Di Mori writes with sympathy and wry intelligence on her subjects, detailing their lives and never commenting.

This is more than a cookbook; it’s a snapshot of what we lose at our culinary peril. A great read and a great inspiration.


Publisher: Quadrille Publishing Ltd