Lives of Notorious Cooks

Written by Brendan Connell
Review by Jane Lawrenson

On first look, this little book doesn’t give much away. I had read the blurb which told me, in part, what to expect: a set of 51 fictional biographies of great chefs. It really is so much more.

It is beautifully written; the author has a fine handle on language that simply springs off the page and into your senses. Rather than reading this from start to finish, in chronological order, I read a little each night. Like the fine meals and strange ingredients pressed between the pages of this book, the real flavour soon becomes clear. It is about love, life and death — big themes that make up all of our lives and of course the food that fuels it.

The biographies date from pre-history to the final days of World War 1 and include a vast variety of food, themes and lives, from an ancient lentil-loving Greek to magnificent cooks of Baghdad, Taoist sages and French kings.

I wondered why no one before had linked the food we ate/eat with the lives we lead before. These chefs come from both history and legend, so I don’t know if they all really existed or not. I like to think that they did, but as with all great books it doesn’t matter. What matters is I believed every word and was hooked from the first story I read (page 73, Abu Kassim, if you are wondering).

I would recommend this book to everyone. I absolutely loved it, and it will stay on my bedside table for many months to come.