Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Short Cuts to Glory was an ABC TV Entertainment production based on an original idea by Helen Greenwood. This book was written and introduced by Matt Okine, a regular presenter on several TV shows including ABC TV’s It’s a Date and Dirty Laundry Live and SBS’s Legally Brown. It includes just over 200 pages of information and basic recipes compiled by over thirty experienced chefs and food outlet owners, most of which have had experience overseas in different cultural cuisines.
In a ‘squarish’ format (20x23cm) and 2cm thick the book is divided into two main sections. The first 50 pages are dedicated to basic information the novice cook would need to know about equipment, types of ingredients, cuts of meats and the essentials for any pantry. It reads a bit like a text book, no doubt the reason why this part of the book is called “Kitchen 101”. The remainder of the book includes basic recipes for different occasions and also includes a very good conversion chart followed by a “who’s who” of the contributors involved.
The index is well presented and easy to read and unlike many recipe books this publication does not fail to present photos of steps involved as well as the finished product. If anything, I believe it errs on the side of presenting too many pictures and there is often a picture of the final presentation at the beginning and the end of the recipe, which are very similar. I also believe that the photos in this section of the book are too large and tend to overpower the wording of the recipe, which would be easier to read if in a larger font.
Pictures on p. 29 showing different knife skills are a good size whereas the photos in the recipe section take up at least a quarter, and sometimes the whole, page. I also question the need for photos of people eating the food or just talking (pp 100-101, 126, 145, 159) as they do not add to the understanding of the recipe.
The photos, however are very colourful and sharp and they do serve to promote Matt Okine. But he is not the only chef presented. Each recipe has a photo of its contributor so that the reader has a live person to interact with when using the recipe (even if the picture is very small).
The photos of the steps and final product take up a lot of space. It is not often that a basic recipe will take up four pages, especially in a book of this size. The three-quarters of the book devoted to this section has actually only forty-three recipes in it. I suspect this is due to the need to match the book with the television company’s programming requirements.
As this publication is promoted as “The easy beginner’s guide for Australian cooks”, the recipes are indeed the basics most families would cook and serve each night. The sections range from main meals, desserts, snacks, and catering to a larger group but include only one or two recipes under each topic.
When I first saw this recipe book, I thought it would be wonderful for young people moving out of home and having to cook for themselves, which I believed was its purpose, and I still think it satisfies this purpose. However, as far as a recipe book is concerned, there are not many recipes to try so in this respect it is a bit restrictive. One must remember that the purpose of the book was to provide essential recipes with step by step tips and methods, and it does this, though in a restricted way. The information in Kitchen 101 and the conversion chart would be extremely helpful to novice cooks who could then use the skills learned to become more adventurous and even try out some of their older family recipes.
Given that the author had to coordinate the printed package with a program for television I believe the result to be a worthy package indeed. I would certainly give it my blessing.
By Matt Okine