It’s fitting to review a cookbook entitled Easy Weekends* while indulging in a rare, phone-less, relatively easy weekend myself. This recent-ish cookbook by award-winning and celebrity chef Neil Perry** arrived on my doorstep with perfect timing: it was late in the work week and I was yearning for a quiet couple of days in.
With his Rockpool restaurant a little out of my price range, and with my cooking skills (and subsequent cookbook-buying habits) poor, the closest encounters I’ve had with Perry’s food have been through Qantas in-flight meals. He’s been advising them on menus since an inconceivable 1997. (I’m feeling old, because I remember when the partnership was announced and I swear it was no more than a handful of years ago.)
Suffice to say, I cracked the spine of this book with relish.
Shot in Perry’s home (or a kitchen styled to look like his home) and featuring and dedicated to his daughters, Easy Weekends has a relaxed, family focused feel. Featuring both Eastern and Western influences, and broken into Friday, Saturday, and Sunday sections, it contains more than 100 recipes designed to be whipped up on a laidback weekend.
Perry advocates good, fresh food eaten in variety (he writes so in his introduction). He doesn’t deny himself anything, but eats certain foods in moderation. ‘Drink plenty of water, and wine in moderation,’ he writes. Then: ‘I should listen to my own advice…’
He also writes that ‘good shopping, good cooking, good living’ has always been his mantra. He hopes the book helps us buy quality ingredients and be inspired to cook for friends and family. The exquisite food styling and well-lit photos help with this inspiration, of course, with the book ticking the box of one of my dealbreaker cookbook requirements: every single recipe is accompanied by an image of what it should look like. Seriously, I’ve often thought how someone should do some research into the correlation between how likely recipes with images are to be cooked than ones without.
I also like that the book is paperback—good quality, sturdily covered paperback, it should be noted. But a book that’s designed to be used rather than the hefty porn-like cookbooks we buy and admire, but with which due to their heft we do no more.
My one criticism is that the recipes contained within Easy Weekends are far, far, far too meat- and and eggs- and dairy-heavy. Important disclaimer: I’m vegan. But I’m not a finger-shaking one. I’m simply pragmatic about how meat, eggs, and dairy are fraught from ethical and environmental perspectives.
Meat production, for example, contributes up to 25% of the preventable greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. The United Nations itself advocates switching to a vegan lifestyle to avert the worst effects of climate change.
Meat production also takes up vast amounts of water, something we should be especially conscious of given the drought-plagued nature of our continent. The water required to produce the meat for four hamburgers is equivalent to a year’s worth of showers. Put simply: You can save more water by not eating meat than you could by not showering for a year.
My gripe is that Perry’s book sends the wrong message. He is a chef with clout who could shift the conversation and eating habits of significant numbers of people should he set his mind to it. Instead, I found myself scouring the book in despair. Even the few listed salads had prawns or yoghurt or something unnecessary to ruin it. I eventually found a green lentil curry with spinach on page 175. Of 240.
Sure, some of the recipes (and I emphasise ‘some’ rather than ‘most’ and nowhere near ‘all’) could be adapted to be vegan. But this defeats the purpose of buying the book. Also, all the meals are pretty heavy. Weekends are arguably for indulging, but still, I think you’d find yourself in a food coma after ingesting even one or two of these. And Australian summers are so fierce (and only getting more so as a result of global warming), there are some long stretches of time when most of us just want to ingest something cold and light.
I’m obviously not the target audience for this book and therefore not its best reviewer, but I can appreciate it’s a well-put-together book and Perry’s culinary skills are immense. I’d just challenge him to release a more ethically and environmentally responsible cookbook. That one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.
* This appears to be a reissue of a 2012 book. The image featured is of the 2014 version as the 2014 wasn’t available on the Boomerang Books site as at the time of writing.