Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries takes you through a year in the kitchen with Nigel – completely candid, no fluff. Who is Nigel? A food writer from the UK who has contributed to a number of publications and television programs and has been nominated for a handful of awards, James Beard included. Casually written recipes and the sometimes vague thought process behind them, this pseudo-memoir is unexpectedly relatable and subtly hilarious.
While you can read it all in a sitting like a typical novel, I find that reading it intermittently throughout the year for inspiration in any given month has been ideal. I’ll flip to whatever the month on the calendar is that day and read through some of his recipes. Or, simply read it slowly with time to keep pace with the passing months. Without a plot of any kind, it’s an easy read to dive into any day at any time without much commitment. It provides insight into what sorts of foods are in season and Nigel does an excellent job at conveying atmosphere and the vibe of each meal. Sometimes dinner is mess, sometimes it’s a well-oiled machine of flavor, wine, and ambiance.
The fabulous thing about this book is that many of the recipes are accidentally vegan, and even more are vegetarian. For whatever reason that remains undisclosed, Nigel seems to be hesitant to over-consume meat (unless it happens to be in the frigid middle of winter). This is a good thing for any vegetarians like me who is reading it – I can actually make use of a large number of these recipes. One in particular that I’m eager to try is a dal and pumpkin soup. Regardless, the writing is worth reading even for the unusable bits.
His self-deprecation is relatable, funny, and endearing. Every time he gives the reader insight into what he was thinking that day when considering his food options, I am like Nigel, my man, I FEEL you. Some of my favorite quotes, for a variety of reasons:
January 9: “Sometimes I make my own stock and sometimes I buy it read-made. Today I take the lazy route, picking up a large tub from the butcher’s, idle, good-for-nothing guy that I am.”
January 30: “I check the tart’s progress, only to find the pastry shell empty and the citrus filling forming a lemon-colored pool on the baking sheet. I pile the whole damn failure into a bowl (and later eat it in secret after everyone has gone home) and start again.”
February 24: “After twenty minutes’ resting (the pastry that is, not you), remove the pastry from the fridge…”
May 1: “Lunch is early, a lazy kitchen picnic – a rambling meal of shop-bought stuff eaten straight from its wrapping. This is as much of a ritual as opening a bottle of champagne on a Friday evening, or making soup when I clean out the fridge.”
From self-deprecating humor to Dad Jokes to heartwarming descriptions, Nigel’s year in the kitchen is a necessity for anyone who not only loves food but appreciates the environment that makes a meal something special.