When I think of Len Deighton, I think of cold war spy thrillers, funerals in Berlin and Michael Caine as Harry Palmer. The image of a graphic artist cum French cookery writer is not what comes to mind.
Yet Deighton has written almost as many French cook books as thrillers.
A friend recently gave me a copy of his French Cooking For Men – a book with a title so ridiculous that you can’t help but read it. Which, it transpires, was precisely his thinking when it came to naming it.
After two of his first few novels, The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin, became successful, Deighton published a French cook book, Où Est le Garlic?, in 1965 and later took on the role of cookery writer for the Sunday newspaper The Observer.
This wasn’t part of any great plan. While he was studying at the Royal College of Art, Deighton worked in restaurant kitchens, and drew the essential facts of certain recipes. Later, with some refinement, they became the basis of his weekly newspaper column.
In French Cooking for Men, he has taken 50 strips –some illustrating a technique, others a type of dish – that give the reader enough information to prepare around 500 dishes.
Along the way, he reveals the difference between French and British methods of butchering meat and gives us some very succinct advice on wines to choose. (In short: Burgundies and Bordeaux are the only wines he considers worth mentioning.)
The book is a diverting and charming read for any aspiring French chef.