Adopted Londoner Sarah Chamberlain has thrown herself into the city’s foodie world with zeal. As co-founder of TOAST, she is responsible for some of the most exciting, and talked about, food events in the capital. Unsurprisingly, she is an enthusiastic and inquisitive home cook and has an enviable collection of cookbooks. With its distinctly transatlantic flavour (Chamberlain grew up in California), there are many books on her shelves that may be unfamiliar to British cooks but that offer fresh views on, and voices in, food. Here, she gives us a grand tour, picking out her favourites and examining their importance and value to her life as a cook.
“I’ve been curious about food and cooking since before I can remember. My mother blames the fact that rather than taking me straight home from the hospital at birth, she took me to a restaurant. But it all crystallised when I bought a copy of the American magazine Gourmet (RIP) at the supermarket when I was twelve. Since then, I have been an unstoppable consumer of all things gastronomic. If I had it my way, my collection would fill miles of shelves, but alas my East London flat is rather cosy. I have to be ruthless and limit it to a few small bookcases in my living room and front hall. My collection holds reminders of home, inspiration for the TOAST events I run and, above all, a font of knowledge I can dive into over and over again.
I should note that I grew up in Northern California and only moved to the UK five years ago, so my collection has a distinctly transatlantic flavor. My first love was food writing, and I started with books like Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, and The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin. There’s a wealth of great food writing coming out of the States at the moment – I’m currently engrossed in Dana Goodyear’s Anything that Moves, and really enjoy the work of bloggers like Smitten Kitchen, The Wednesday Chef, and Orangette. I should also mention the absolutely tremendous new magazine Cherry Bombe, which is like Vogue for food and inspired our Women in Food series of talks.
It was only when I left university that I really started cooking for myself and buying proper cookbooks. I love cookbooks which feature history and stories as well as bold flavours, so books like Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi, Curry Easy by Madhur Jaffrey, and Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop get a lot of use in my kitchen! Nigel Slater and Simon Hopkinson are slightly less exotic, but I really enjoy their thoughts on things as simple as roast chicken and marmalade cakes. My New Year’s resolution for 2014 was to make two recipes from a new cookbook every week, which has led me to terrific writers and cooks like Melissa Clark (Cook This Now) and David Tanis (One Good Dish).
In a previous life I was an academic historian, and part of my collection is food history books. Writers like Margaret Visser, Lizzie Collingham, and Bee Wilson ask deep, provoking questions about how the way we eat now came to be. I think we spend so much time these days looking for the hottest trend, that we don’t turn back and marvel at how much has changed, and that’s part of why TOAST came into being.”