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Simple to Sensational

Simple to SensationalSimple to Sensational – Jun Tanaka
Simon and Schuster – 2009
Photography: Steve Lee

I was so excited when I picked this book off the shelves. I had never heard of it, or of Tanaka. In fact it seems that I am very out of touch with a lot of the chefs and cookery writers today. I think this might be because I never watch television and so unless they have a website or write a newspaper column then I’ve probably no idea who they are. I’m getting better at it though!
Tanaka takes each meal idea and makes one simple version for every-day use and then does a second on the facing page that either uses the simple recipe and adds something to make it sensational or uses the same ingredients in a more sensational fashion for entertaining or special occasions. I couldn’t wait to see how he managed the very ingenious concept. It’s so hard to find new ideas in cookbooks and this was brilliant. There are some great tips dotted around in amongst the recipes as well.
It was clear from the equipment page at the start that some of these were quite chefy recipes – and sadly not all of them were in the sensational recipes. I have to say I am not a fan of using a drum sieve to make mashed potatoes and I don’t like that Tanaka doesn’t give an alternative to using one. The difference between the two recipes is also very inconsistent – sometimes there is a huge leap in skills and ingredients used and other times the recipes are almost identical with just a small addition. All of the recipes had a lot of ingredients in them which isn’t really a problem with the sensational ones but does seem a bit much for those that are supposed to be simple.
Very unusually for me not one of the soups or salads appealed to me in either form. The vegetarian recipes were the stand out ones for me – really interesting and a much better mixture between the two types. Also the risotto recipes worked especially well with this idea – a basic idea for one and then nicely dressed up. My favourite individual recipes were the Pappardelle with Venison Bolognaise (sensational) and the Quick Fried Lamb Steak with Crushed Peas and Broad Beans and Mint Dressing (simple). The most appealing sets of recipes were the Spiced Venison pair and the Roasted Root Vegetable recipes. My biggest let-down were the puddings, I thought that would work really well as a simple for a nice sweet during the week and a sensational that you could make for entertaining. It just didn’t seem to work – a lot of the recipes seemed disconnected and neither simple nor sensational seemed very inspiring or appealing to me personally.
Both the simple and the sophisticated pictures were too dark and overly chefy for my taste – also a lot of the filler pages had block colour with a single quotation on them when it would have been much better to have pictures of food in there. The addition of little pictures for some of the individual steps was a lovely touch and made it nicer to follow those recipes through.
I still love the idea of this and I would love it if Tanaka did another book, I think this one didn’t quite get into its stride but so much potential is obvious. There were enough recipes in it that I liked to have a lot of fun with this book. I think it would be a great gift for people who want to get started in cooking but I think it might be a little bit bland for people who have been cooking for a while. Will be keeping an eye out for more of his recipe books certainly.

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