Britain's top chefs all have new cookbooks worth asking Santa to leave under the tree, writes Catherine Smith

The superstar cookery writers of Britain have had a stellar year with Jamie, Nigel, Nigella, Hugh and Gordon all popping out a new book (and, naturally, the telly show coming to a screen soon). It's easy to be cynical about how hands-on they really are in their empires, but we do admire how the five's books have each nailed their personas: speed cooking Jamie, contemplative diarist Nigel, seductress/domestic goddess Nigella, bossy teacher Gordon and happy farmer Hugh.

Point out to your present-givers that popping a cookbook under the tree for their favourite cook is a win-win - you get to read and cook, they get to eat. Now it's just a matter of deciding who you want to be in the kitchen.

Gordon Ramsay's Ultimate Cookery Course
Gordon Ramsay, $49.99. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, distributed by Hachette.

Yeah, yeah, we all know Gordon's growly exterior is just for the sake of the cameras, but he's done the hard graft and doesn't ask anyone to do anything he wouldn't do himself.


The premise of this book - that you just have to cook more to become a good cook - is less happy clappy than some of the others, but the lessons Gordon gives are probably more serviceable. Handily arranged into chapters with titles such as classics with a twist, cooking for a crowd, good food for less, the book is full of cheffy wisdom and handy tips, even for merely transforming handy tins of things from the pantry.

Perfect for: Bored cooks who want to stretch themselves; people who know practice makes perfect.

Nigellisima: Instant Italian Inspiration
Nigella Lawson, $65. Published by Chatto & Windus, distributed by Random House.

Don't be fooled by Nigella donning the Italian nonna outfit for the cover of her take on everybody's favourite cuisine; she is as enticing as ever. She swears blind she's been in love with Italy since her teens - she did spend a gap year in Florence, albeit as a chambermaid - and does spend the first four pages of the book protesting about what is really authentic or not, but from the first pasta recipe who cares whether she made them up or not. With the usual wonderful Nigella introductions to each dish (we wish more cookery writers would do that, it so sets the mood), you'll want to try her weird-but-gorgeous Italian Christmas Pudding cake (trifle meets panettone meets tiramisu).

Perfect for: Any red-blooded male; anyone not able to make it to Tuscany this summer.

Jamie's 15 Minute Meals
Jamie Oliver, $65. Published by Penguin.

Another publication, more sceptical than ourselves, invited an "average" home cook and a professional chef to test out the latest premise from food campaigner Jamie Oliver that it is easy to create a healthy family meal in 15 minutes. The chef did it in 12 minutes, the home cook took 30 to 40 minutes. But even if a quarter hour dinner is a wee bit of an over-promise, with a bunch of time-saving appliances (none more high tech than a blender or food processor), a pantry of basics and - here's the catch - the all the ingredients out and ready to go, Jamie shows you can prepare some great, affordable meals faster than you could possibly dial for takeaways. The generous help-yourself-from-a-platter presentation is family-friendly, the photos are super-appetising and Jamie is his usual enthusiastic, winning self.

Perfect for: The flatters and beginner cooks; the bach for feed-the-crowd.

The Kitchen Diaries II
Nigel Slater, $59.99. Published by Harper Collins.

I don't know why I always want to use the word "dreamy" around Nigel Slater, but his thoughtful diaries are such a retreat from and antidote to the rah-rah school of cookery, his calm and gentle presence on the TV (those spartan, Shaker-inspired cupboards, that simple garden, that old-fashioned penmanship) feels soothing and contemplative.

Clearly we have to flip his month by month northern seasons into our southern climate, but just start cooking away at June and read on to Nigel's favourite season, winter. You'll long for each season's variety, as Nigel does.

Perfect for: The avid reader; the armchair cook; the gardener.

Hugh's Three Good Things on a Plate
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, $59.99. Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, distributed by Allen & Unwin.

It took me a while to get over my confusion over Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's latest book. I was expecting, you know, three ingredients. But, then he explains that sometimes it's more subtle than that, and it can be about three primary ingredients with some added embellishment. Thanks for clearing that up (it helps to read the caption first). Actually, it is a fun way of thinking of food and playing with ingredients. Hugh helps with lots of swaps and substitutes, so the 175 recipes are only the beginning and this style of books beats those dire internet recipe search results - the ones you rely on for dinner inspiration after surveying the bottom of the fridge. A decent pile of pudding recipes too.

Perfect for: The cook who needs inspiration; the gardener or market shopper.

And in our Best of Kiwis-in-Britain, we love the first book from Samoan Wellingtonian Monica Galletti - she of the BBC's MasterChef: The Professionals, protege of the famous Michel Roux of Le Gavroche - Monica's Kitchen (Quadrille Publishing, $50). It's restaurant quality, fast for family, with chapters such as "Work to Table", "A Leisurely Weekend" and "A Time for Friends".

Peter Gordon's protege Anna Hansen put out her first book The Modern Pantry (Ebury Press), with, not surprisingly, the same twist on Asian and fusion food (with a nod to her Scandi roots too). Fresh, clean, enticing, just like her restaurant.

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