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A miscellany of morsels on the good subject of food


‘Random’ is one word that springs to mind when reading The Kitchen Magpie, but then the ‘Magpie’ series is designed to be enjoyed in a non-narrative manner – readers picking and choosing whatever snippets jump out at them (note: a clear and concise table of contents makes the process even easier).

There’s been a Science Magpie, a Nature Magpie and an Antiques Magpie, each a miscellany of information relating to a particular subject – presenting factoids, dispelling myths, offering tips, and featuring colourful contributions by prominent folk in the field.

The Kitchen Magpie is just as indiscriminately presented as its predecessors, but there’s just something about ‘picking’ and ‘choosing’ bits of information about the subject of food that works so well, it’s a wonder why this book didn’t kick off the series.

That food is the perfect choice in a literary pick-and-mix series, and considering the fact that gastronomic adventure is so popular right now (thank you Masterchef) I’m sure copies of The Kitchen Magpie will be flying off warehouse shelves.

It helps, too, that it is very well-written. Where James Steen could have gone all hoity-toity-like when presenting prose on this particular subject, instead he writes in a whimsical but down-home style that thankfully doesn’t patronise even the worst of ‘toast burners’. Indeed, much of the time, Steen takes the mickey out of a subject that is otherwise taken all-too seriously.

As for those who truly know their cuisine – those hardcore foodies, I’d be surprised if even they don’t get a kick out of learning something new here.

Steen starts off with a ‘first aid kit’ of remedies for ailments – in particular those that might have come about in the kitchen – then moves into tidbits on tea and coffee, divulges facts about the often overlooked but all-important oven, delivers a little history on the dining table, and even presents some ‘freaky fridge facts’ and bizarre info on fruit and vegetables.

Some of the facts are indeed quite startling. To learn, for example, that potatoes and onions should not be stored close to one other as each affects the other’s freshness would probably have most readers running to their veggie baskets and segregating said vegetables.

A nice touch to this book is the list of contributions from celebrity chefs and reputable food critics, each asked to respond to the question: What is the food of love? Where you may expect aphrodisiacs to appear in many of the responses, instead simple comfort foods are what make most feel all lovey-like.

The Kitchen Magpie should make for a comfy random read for kitchen novices and culinary bores alike.

‘The Kitchen Magpie’ by James Steen is published through Icon Books / Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99.

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