Through a love of French food and culture, Alex escapes the bustle of his east London based restaurant, cooking and reading recipe books about the dishes of Provence. Organised by season, at the end of each chapter Alex includes a ‘Grande Bouffe’, a set menu for a feast.The certain satisfaction in cooking a set menu in a restaurant translates wonderfully to the home cook who seeks to escape with our chef and to create their own bonne fête. It opens up many options – large format dishes, whole fish and joints of meat, more complicated processes, economies of scale, and above all, a feeling, somehow, that this is the way that eating is supposed to be. It’s also an exercise in composition, a challenge to ensure that the menu reads beautifully, flows right, and eats even better, as well as an opportunity to shoehorn all the best ingredients of the moment into one evening’s cooking.
Alex has included a selection of recipes for each season, from Bouillabaisse and Autumnal Grand Aïoli to Aligot Géant and an Easter feast, most of these menus revolve around a central celebratory dish, and so the joy for the home cook is in the knowledge that their evening will be no less a success, and certainly much less work, if they cut a course here or there. Ultimately the soul of the home-cooked meal lies not only in a sense of achievement for the cook, but moreover in the satisfaction of bringing a basketful of ingredients, and a group of good friends, to the table. With recipes running in seasonal order, Provençal promises to reignite a love affair with French provincial cooking – its multitude of influences and its focus on seasonal eating and, ultimately, an attitude to food which centres around sharing and enjoying food.