Book Reviews - The Accidental Chef

The Accidental Chef by Nick PriceThe Accidental Chef - The Nick's Warehouse Cookbook, by Nick Price (Booklink, hardback, 144pp, colour photography throughout; £20)

Brave (not the word he would use), talented and inspirational, Nick Price is a larger than life character in the Northern Ireland food world, and has played a key role in many of the good things that have developed there in recent years.

Although it wasn’t their first venture in the world of hospitality, Nick and his wife Kathy (a constant presence in this book, as in life) are best known for their Hill Street restaurant in Belfast, Nick's Warehouse, which they created out of dereliction in the 1980s in what has now become the trendy ‘Cathedral Quarter’.

On the front flap of this delightful book Nick Price is described by one of his many admirers as ‘the greatest cook in the history of Northen Ireland’ – not, as he characteristically point out, a view to which he subscribes.

For, understandable as the enthusiasm is, that is to miss the point about a man who would certainly have no wish to be held up in comparison beside culinary talents such as the extraordinarily gifted Michael Deane, for example (and yes, Deane is a real cook and not just a ‘chef’s chef’, as is Paul Rankin) not to mention historical greats like Florence Irwin, and whose own exhortation to readers to ‘enjoy the story, pour yourself a glass of wine, cook the dishes and enjoy!’ is far more telling.

His talent in the kitchen isn’t in question but, as this informal and gloriously readable book illustrates in its celebration of forty years in what Nick simply refers to as ‘the catering business’, the real achievements of this modest – at times almost self-deprecating - chef are as a people person: someone who relishes the fun and conviviality of food and inspires others to respect it, work hard to get the best from it, and to enjoy it.

Most of those who buy the book at the restaurant (the main source at the moment) will know all this already, but if meeting him for the first time, the person you will find in the book is surrounded by family, staff, and friends, who all come to life through gentle asides and anecdotes told with a discernible chuckle.

The food is far from incidental but it’s introduced with a lightness of touch which is rare in someone who is known for passionately held views when it comes to the provenance of food.

Most of Nick’s working lifetime has been spent furthering the cause of artisan food production, and he is now chairman of Taste of Ulster and leader of the North East Ireland convivium of Slow Food – and, unusually for a restaurateur, he is even moving into food production himself, with the development of a new cheese.

As to the recipes, ‘eclectic, magpie and even primal’ are descriptions that have been attached to his cookery. You might add unpretentious, down to earth and do-able, all compliments that rarely apply to chefs’ recipes.

There’s a core of lovely retro dishes - which are thankfully back in favour after all the nonsense of tall food, foams, drizzles and smoke which have preoccupied chefs of late – family recipes, ideas picked up on holiday, great side dishes and a particularly good chapter on sauces, dressings and relishes.

For the time being the book is only available at the restaurant - but that’s as good an excuse as any to make a visit to this hospitable place.

The following recipe is typical, and ideal for cooking now as the ingredients are in season and at their best here in Ireland.

Hake baked in a peperonata sauce by Nick PriceHake baked in a peperonata sauce

Aka 'spetse fish' after a small island in the Saronic Gulf, Greece, where Kathy and I had our honeymoon 7 months late, but we were skint and had to save up after the event! We had a great couple of weeks. Kathy learned the finer points of ouzo drinking and I learned to love octopus and spetse fish.

When we got back home I tried many times to replicate the dish, as experienced on Spetse, and eventually succeeded.

Click for recipe

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