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John McKenna reviews "From Lynda's Table", by Lynda Booth (DCS)

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“For a year I worked at Lesley Stowe Fine Foods, which was both a catering company and a great deli in Vancouver. It was a very crisp operation. When we were beginning to finish for one day and making some preparations for the next, my favoured activity for winding down was to make some pastry. I have always found the action of making pastry relaxing”.
So, ladies and gentlemen, meet Lynda Booth, who has just introduced herself, via page 65 of “From Lynda's Table”, her first book. Other cooks, after a long day, want to hit the pub and hit the bottle, but Ms Booth is, in that old-fashioned phrase, dedicated. She is a dedicated cook, she is dedicated to cooking, and that dedication streams from the pretty pages of this work.
There are cooks who cook for their ego, and cooks who cook to please people. And then there are cooks, like Ms Booth, who are devoted to the culture – the public culture – of food. They are disciples, and they have Gods – Myrtle Allen, Paul Flynn, Atul Kochar, Madhur Jaffrey, David Thomson – and their pursuit of cooking reveals a sincere sense of devotion to the craft. It is that sense that pervades these pages, the sense of someone who always wants to understand why something works, and why it doesn't work.
Ms Booth will go to any length to understand why something doesn't work. I had a long chat with her once on the telephone – about fifteen years ago I would guess – about the River Café's Chocolate Nemesis. She couldn't get it to work. So, she rang the pastry chef of the River Café (she does this sort of thing) who said she should “pop in” if she was passing by. She wasn't passing by, so she jumped on a 'plane and made her way to Hammersmith (she does this sort of thing), all the better to understand why.
What interests her about cooking is the architecture of taste, and the means by which you elevate the structure of flavours into the defining composition of the dish. She runs a recipe for pan-fried scallops with a pink grapefruit, mustard and dill beurre blanc and confesses that when Brian Miller, the American chef who was demonstrating it at the school, proposed it as a riff on the classic beurre blanc, she feared it was going to be “a step too far. Definitely not, as it turned out. There are tastes that stop you in your tracks. This is one of them”.
Amazingly, Ms Booth seems to have never forgotten a lesson learnt, and she has learnt from everywhere she has been and cooked, and from everyone who has come and cooked with her at the Dublin Cookery School she runs in south Dublin. What makes “From Lynda's Table” so vital is the realisation that Ms Booth wants to reveal a recipe to us because it was revealed to her – by Paul Flynn, or by a family in Turkey, or a restaurateur in Liguria – and that revelation delighted and stimulated her. She might have borrowed a song title from Paul McCartney and called this book “Maybe I'm Amazed”, because she is continually surprised and delighted as something new is revealed to her. Like the best sort of teacher, her enthusiasm is utterly infectious, and enthusiasm defines her métier. People who use “From Lynda's Table” will find they cook everything in it. It's a marvelous work.

John McKenna

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