Reviewed by MICHELE HEWITSON
This tasty little offering from Julian Barnes is the literary equivalent of the perfectly realised lemon souffle. It is the dessert you want to eat after struggling through several lengthy, heavy (but
worthy) dinners. It is as light as air, but it does have a nicely acid bite.
The Pedant in the Kitchen is a collection of columns by Barnes, which originally appeared in the Guardian.
Barnes' premise is that he, having graduated from the "top of the range ... bacon chop, peas and
potatoes" meals he slung together when in his 20s and an impoverished law student — "some of the food I concocted at that time was criminal" — now just "wants to cook tasty, nutritious food"; and he wants not to poison his friends.
He is never going to get creative in a kitchen, or
at least he is never going to get so creative that he will invent a recipe.
His pedantry involves wanting a cookbook to demonstrate the same sort of precision as that of a manual for surgery.
"The Pedant in the Kitchen is not concerned with whether cooking is a science or an art; he will settle for it being a craft, like woodwork or home welding."
And when he goes about his woodworking, he wants the book open before him to tell him, precisely, how to assemble the thing.
Because "the Pedant approaches a new recipe, however straightforward, with old anxieties: words flash at him like stop signs. Is this recipe framed in this imprecise way because there is a happy latitude or rather, a scary freedom for interpretation; or because the writer isn't capable of expressing him or herself more accurately?"
How big, he frets, "is a 'lump?', how voluminous is a 'slug' or a 'gout?'."
And this, from a recipe for jam, "Throw in as many strawberries as you can hold piled up in joined hands" has the Pedant tsking in full Pedant outrage:
"I mean, really. Are we meant," he wonders, "to write to the executors of the late food writer's estate and ask how big his hands were? What if children made this jam, or circus giants?"
The Pedant in the Kitchen is a kind of comfort food: "For anyone who has ever been defeated by a
Or anyone who has a Pedant living and cursing in their kitchen.
* Atlantic Books, $36.95
* Michele Hewitson is a Herald feature writer.