What jumps off the page when you first open STOKED is the essence of the man, Al Brown himself. Just the cookbook headings tell a strong story. Enclosed in the heart of the BBQ cookbook, STOKED are chapters like HUNTING, FISHING & FORAGING and TO CHEW OR NOT TO CHEW. The photographs shout the same message. Take the photo, for example, of a bone, chewed clean, resting on an empty plate. To call STOKED simply a BBQ cookbook though, skims over the true message, and misses the heart of Al Brown, the Chef and the man.
I had devoured his book before I met with the New Zealand Chef, TV presenter, fisherman, yesterday in Sydney. We met in Surry Hills for a coffee on his birthday, and our meeting added breadth and depth for me, to his story. He was wearing one of his t-shirts, and I admired the fishing fly he wore on his jacket lapel. From our meeting, I learnt we shared synchronicity in our beliefs: in good food being about people and place, and that food should be cooked with love and laughter. While we shook hands when we met, we hugged and gave each other a kiss as we parted. It was a great privilege and pleasure to meet you Al Brown.
STOKED Brown’s second book, published by Random House New Zealand, is now available in Australia, so I’d taken my copy – the copy I had already devoured – with me to meet with Brown. Even the message he wrote for me within, told me more about the man.
Great to meet you! Enjoy the read and give a couple of the recipes a nudge.
All the best,
At our meeting Al (I feel I can call him Al now) told me it is the “ultimate compliment” when someone cooks one of his recipes. Yet he does like it when someone takes one of his recipes and adds some of their own personality. One of the recipes in this book – ESTHER’S, RUTH’S, AL’S AND NOW YOUR GINGERBREAD – demonstrates this clearly. “Here is a wonderful example of a recipe being passed on like a culinary love letter” Brown starts his introduction to the recipe.
STOKED starts by introducing us to THE PLEASURE OF LIGHTING A FIRE and A LOVE OF FLAME. Open fires are “tactile, dangerous and spellbinding” and “they evoke an extraordinary range of sentiments and emotions, and offer a comfort unlike anything else.” he writes. While Al Brown leads us through the use of different woods, how to build a wood-fired oven, how to light a fire outdoors and even provides us with an outdoor cooking checklist, the substance of the 342 pages are a versatile collection of his internationally influenced recipes.
Brown guides us through how to cook fish and seafood, pork, beef, lamb, birds and faster food (his favourite from this section is THE INDIAN BURGER) – with recipes that range from the HANGI to TAMALES, from CRAB FRITTERS WITH PRESERVED LEMON MAYONNAISE, through CHARGRILLED CRAYFISH WITH HORSERADISH, CHILLI & LIME BUTTER, PAUA STEAKS WITH SAMPHIRE & BEURRE BLANC, SEARED VENISON BACKSTRAP WITH CRANBERRY RELISH & SMOKED MUSHROOM & PUMPKIN SALAD, SLOW-ROASTED GOAT SHOULDER WITH ROASTED CAULIFLOWER, EGGPLANT & CHICKPEA SALAD & CHERMOULA, JAPANESE STYLE RIBS WITH STICKY RICE, PULLED PROK SANDWICH WITH APPLE CIDER SLAW and LAMB RACK CHOPS WITH BLACK OLIVE & ANCHOVY MAYO & SALSA VERDE to AL’S FAMOUS (IN LYALL BAY) BBQ SAUCE.
The recipe title SEAWEED SALAD now tickles as Al Brown told me he thinks we should change that word – seaweed. He’s enjoying “learning all about it”. “I’ve walked across it all my life” he says of what he believes we should call “sea vegetables”. Actually, there’s not just one sea vegetable recipe in his book. STOKED devotes a whole chapter to SEAWEED FORAGING, with “a few tips and things to remember” and some things to”watch out for …”
While the cookbook invokes the authentic soul of the Chef, it also evokes through his stories and recipes, nostalgia for many New Zealanders and Australians. The chapter, CAKE TINS opens with APRICOT CONDENSED MILK SLICE. Just reading the words condensed milk took me back to my childhood in a flash.
Al Brown reminded me to value some of the things we both fear may be lost: slowing down, taking time, working with the bounty of local seasonal produce. He would “never cook something in a plastic bag” and enjoys the “risks, challenges and rewards” of cooking with no heat dial, with no temperature control. “That’s real cooking.” The cookbook, and his recipes, have been written however, to be used with any number of heat sources.”
Do we need another cookbook? STOKED is a stunningly beautiful book that makes you not only want to cook but also to open the door and go outside. Brown told me that “getting outdoors is not just about eating outdoors” it’s about the “exercising in the gathering, being connected to your food, and the sharing of the catch.” I’d feel something was missing in my library now, without this beauty. I commend you to buy STOKED, meet the man and cook his recipes.