Spoiling the broth

<strong>Don't Try This At Home: culinary catastrophes</strong>

Andrew Friedman and Kimberly Wither

Schadenfreude is as irresistible as hot salty chips from someone else's plate. This tempting collection of essays, confessions of great cooks from Michel Roux to Heston Blumenthal, is an entertaining, ego-boosting reminder that even chefs are human. It's reassuring to discover that Jamie Oliver finds poached eggs tricky, and that Fergus Henderson, the chef of St John, believes any dish can go wrong "when the force isn't with you".

Even more enjoyable are the disasters with which no domestic cook will have to contend. I am glad, for example, I have never had to deal with a knife fight in my kitchen, as Rowley Leigh did at Kensington Place. Nor have I tried to rustle up a thousand lobsters in 12 hours, as has El Bulli's Ferran Adrià. And, unlike Henderson, not once have I had to stop cooking to search for a missing healing crystal, worn by a commis chef to prevent the return of a lump she removed from her own breast while dosed on horse tranquillisers.

Great cooks are not necessarily great writers, and a gripping piece by Anthony Bourdain shows up the stodginess of some of the other prose. Nevertheless, the personalities and pain that shine through these kitchen crises are thoroughly moreish.

This article first appeared in the 02 October 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Warming up: a new double act