Cooking the books

Confirmed bachelor Matthew Valentine is very nearly enticed into cooking something by a new range of cookery books from Tesco.

For the modern 20-something, cooking comes some considerable distance behind eating and drinking on the average weekend list of things to do. Cookery books are occasionally bought, but usually as presents. Photography and design are especially important to the success of such books as most will be repeatedly looked at but never used.

Supermarket giant Tesco, always on the lookout for new revenue streams, has now moved into own-label books. Amateur, or would-be, cooks are the target markets for the initial ranges. These are produced for Tesco by Forward Publishing’s Brilliant Books division with art direction by Emma Percival.

It says something that a supermarket founded on the principle of “pile it high and sell it cheap” now sells cookery books teaching shoppers how to whip up duck breasts with cherry sauce, Chinese five-spice pork fillet, and apricot and lime souffle.

The expected success of Tesco’s cookbook range begs a few questions – if Tesco customers eat grilled sardines with orange and dill relish on a regular basis, how come the shop still sells so many steak and kidney pies? Who eats all that white bread and lard?

The answer lies perhaps in the fact that nobody at all, young or old, really uses cookbooks. In that case, Tesco’s aspirational range could be considered especially good value, with paperback titles priced at 3 and “Lifestyle” hardbacks – based more on cooking for entertaining than surviving – coming in at 6. Glossy and good-looking, these can be left lying around to distract the attention of guests from the takeaway cartons hidden in the bin. On the basis, presumably, that a Tesco Lifestyle is not something people wish to boast about, the shop’s logo is discreetly shown only on the back cover.

If you were to try actually following one of the recipes, however, they would prove relatively easy. The easiest-to-follow cookbook ever made is the Mr Men version which provides an invaluable glossary to complicated cooking terms such as roasting, baking, frying and grilling for real beginners. The Tesco books come a close second in the simplicity stakes, with a clear and easy layout and straightforward instructions. Photography is well up to glossy magazine standards.

Under the test procedures traditionally applied to new cookbooks, Tesco’s effort fares well. At the weekend I invited friends over and bought all the ingredients for caramelised shallot and asparagus toasts, to be followed by roasted herby chicken with pears and an extra-light banana clafoutis. Then I remembered that the handle has fallen off my wok, so we ordered out.

The Tesco Cookery Collection is launched on 12 October, priced 3 paperbacks, 6 hardbacks

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