Plats Du Jour, or Foreign Food – Patience Gray & Primrose Boyd. Illustrated by David Gentleman – 1957
Plats du Jour was published half-way between Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking in 1955 and French Provincial Cooking in 1960. Although not as well-known as David’s books, initially at least, it outsold both of them. And by “foreign food” Patience and Primrose meant mainly French and Italian. This was 1957 after all.
By all accounts Plats du Jour is a very practical book. It describes a range of cooking methods from braising to roasting by way of larding and poaching. And there are chapters on Pots and Pans, Stoves and The Store Cupboard.
When it comes to the recipes, the authors laid out their stall in the opening lines, “In this book we have tried to set down the recipes for a number of dishes of foreign origin, in the belief that English people may be stimulated to interpret them, and in doing so find fresh interest in the kitchen.” This is not a million miles away from a sex-therapist recommending that a long-married couple should look for ways of finding fresh interest in the bedroom.
It’s a book I wish I’d owned when I learned to cook at university in the late-70s. My flat mate had a much weightier cookbook, the Good House Keeping Cookery Book; literally weightier, it was a whopping doorstep of a book. Mark and I vowed to work through as many of the 2000 recipes as we could. I suspect we managed about 20 between us, including an ill-advised attempt to recreate the glossy chicken and ham pie on the cover. As this was the 70’s, the book contained several references to foreign food. My signature dish was Liver Mexican. There wasn’t much that was Mexican about it and the liver was the cheapest we could buy from the indoor market in Cardiff. I shudder to think what animal it came from.
How we’ve moved on. These days I’m a confirmed Master Chef fan. You wouldn’t get me to enter it, but I watch all three versions; amateur, professional and celebrity. In every show we’re treated to a display of cookery styles from around the world, reflecting the true multicultural nature of the UK in 2020, more than 60 years on from the publication of Plats du Jour. I wonder what Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd would have made of Neil “Razor” Ruddock working alongside Zandra Rhodes on the lunch service at one of London’s top Korean restaurants.
Plats du Jour didn’t rely on the gleaming, full colour plates that made the Good Housekeeping book so alluring back in 1978. It’s beautifully illustrated by David Gentleman whose work can now be seen in Tate Britain, the V&A and the Northern Line platforms at Charing Cross station. Gentleman’s cover illustration of a family of ten sitting around a huge table reminds us of the sheer joy of eating and drinking together. It’s especially poignant on a day when England’s pubs and restaurants prepare to open for the first time in three and a half months.