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One of the reasons I love new cookbooks is that they open a window into the heart and soul of the chef.  Getting to know the personality behind the recipes is almost as much fun as cooking the recipes they’ve created.  I’ve written before about my love of curling up with a cookbook and reading it from cover to cover; there’s nothing better on an autumnal afternoon with a cup of tea!

So I was delighted to receive a copy of Lionel Strub’s new book, From Alsace to Yorkshire: the making of a passion. Not least because it contains Lionel’s life story, which gives you a delightful insight into his career and passion for cooking. 

Working in his Grandfather’s bakery from the age of six, Lionel trained at the Ecole Hoteliere de Strasboug.  I’m jealous. I think that sounds awesome. Both the bakery and the stint in Strasbourg. After pottering around Europe for a bit, working in fabulous restaurants, Lionel settled in England and is now running the Mirabelle restaurant in Harrogate.  I love how Lionel makes it sound like such fun although it was undoubtedly very hard work.  You’ll have to read the book to get the details, but take it from me that the pottering included stints at Michelin starred restaurants and a year’s national service in Germany; a fascinating read.  The story of Lionel’s career is no less enthralling; and I was extremely pleased to read of the continued rise of Mirabelle.

And it really informs you about the food choices Lionel makes. Once you understand the background you can see and understand the cultural influences which run through his recipes.  I remember my first ever meal at La Grillade, the first restaurant Lionel worked at in Yorkshire. I was taken as a treat by my Godmother, who told me to have whatever I wanted off the menu.  The wine waiter winked at me as he solemnly put an inch of wine in my glass – I was all of about ten years old – and asked me to taste it.  I was in heaven!  You can see the other culinary influences too, from family recipes to regional specialities.  

And the recipes are, for a chap who has won the Yorkshire Professional Chef of the Year, remarkably easy to follow. You can see that they’ve developed organically and instinctively as well, creating some incredible fusions of flavours.  And they come with helpful little hints, dropped in and amongst the recipes. Lionel is a great believer in the value of using quality ingredients, from local producers, and gives fantastic tips to those who might not be so confident about buying meat or fish from a specialist rather than a supermarket. But at the same time he is realistic, balancing this with suggestions of stocks and sauces to buy in.  

I’ve tried the chowder and the chargrilled lemon and coriander chicken; both big hits in the Apple household.  The apple and pear tart created a storm of foodie love, almost resulting in a fork fight for the last slice.   I love the twist in the fish pie, and drooled over the Toblerone cheesecake, and will be making these for a family lunch in a few weeks. On reflection I’d say this is more of an ‘occasion’ cook book than an every day one; but if you want to impress and you have the presentation skills to help stack and decorate like the pictures then this is the book for you.

High on the list of recipes I really want to try are the Cassoulet de canard and the scallop ravioli, both of which I reckon would work well for seasonal dinner parties.  Most of the recipes would do well for entertaining; and stack neatly together to give you a menu.   They also showcase Lionel’s sense of humour – I can’t wait to try the Pate en Croute a l’Anglaise: or posh pie and peas with port sauce!

Seeing as how we’re nearly into the festive season, dare I suggest this would make a lovely stocking filler for those who are enthusiastic about food, passionate about Yorkshire, or for those who want to read about the rise and determination of a brilliant, award winning chef.

You can buy the book via Amazon, or from the Mirabelle itself, either in person or via their webpage. If you’d like to visit the restaurant you can find it at 28a Swan Road, Harrogate, HG1 2SE. Call them on 01423 565551 or email info@mirabellerestaurant.co.uk

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