This volume is a fantastic introduction to Chef Michael Smith’s oeuvre. The volume opens with “The Real Food Pledge”, and although this is the first of his books I’ve read, I could speak this pledge right along with him: it’s as though he’s speaking directly from our kitchen. So you would think this a terrific match. And, mostly, it is.

Penguin, - PRH, 2016

Penguin – PRH, 2016

The pledge is followed by a a single-page food philosophy, which begins with “Real food nourishes body, mind and soul” and ends with “Real food always includes a homemade treat”.

The next section, “Real Food Strategies”, begins with “Be Deliberate” (elaborating on routines and effort) and ends with “Share a Meal” (speaking about connecting around a table).

Then, a list of “Superfoods” for your kitchen (beginning with kale and other dark leafy greens, ending with herbs and spices) and “Real Ingredients: Everything You Need” (which begins with meat and poultry and ends with dark chocolate).

There is a short discussion about labels and another about foods to avoid and, then, the heart of the volume for me: “20 Recipes for Real Food”. These are the kind of recipes that are often delegated to the back chapter of a cookbook, titled staples or basics.

That’s fine, too. But I do like the emphasis on the basics here; they are not segregated at the end, next to the index and on the wrong side of the dessert chapter (I’m all over Michael Smith’s ideas about a treat being an important part of real food).

The list of 20 begins with Bread and ends with French Fries. Neither item appears frequently on our table, but these recipes are simple and inviting.

How I wish I had discovered a cookbook like this when I was still eating sausage and sour cream; his recipes are straightforward and the ingredient lists very simple.

Many of the recipes incorporate meat and dairy and because they are such simple recipes, there would be little point to substituing; there are more complex and flavourful recipes in cookbooks which place a broader emphasis on plant-based meals which would better suit those who rarely/never eat meat and dairy.

(It’s possible that, if one were accustomed to fast-food, these simple recipes might be a little plain in terms of seasoning, but I also suspect that recommending the generous quantities of garlic and onion that we use at home would not be to everyone’s taste either.)

Two of the basic recipes immediately appealed to my sense of “But, that’s too hard to make at home”: marshmallows and mustard. I won’t be trying the former, but I will happily share it with those who do purchase/eat gelatin; I will be trying the latter.

(Having discovered a few years ago, how easy it is make my own ketchup, you might think I’d considered the possibility of making my own mustard. But, no. It seemed decidedly out of reach.)

My hunch is that a lot of readers will find their own “Who knew?” moments in this cookbook. I still vividly remember the moment I discovered a recipe for chocolate fudge sauce in another cookbook (and, yes, I’ve been making my own for years). Ditto for caramel sauce. (Are you sensing a theme here?)

Less-experienced cooks might find that all 20 are useful additions to their list of favourite recipes. This would make a great gift for anyone adjusting to cooking independently and a great investment for anyone seeking to place a greater emphasis on healthy eating habits with minimal effort and investment.

Those more experienced, who have already done substantial reading on food and health, might find the efforts to present this material in the simplest of terms frustrating at times; occasionally the impetus to present information succinctly glosses over helpful facts.

For instance, some generalizations about divisive concerns (e.g. the tap water vs. filtered water debate, the varying laws surrounding the use of antibiotics in animals raised for slaughter) could perhaps have been dealt with quickly in the pages of principles and precepts but elaborated upon in an appendix with additional resources (either print or digital) so that interested readers could explore further. (Not all tap water is the same; animals raised for slaughter are exposed to treatment which varies widely.)

Nonetheless, Chef Michael Smith does advocate asking questions and that process is an important part of getting to know your food. After all, it’s like any other relationship. It’s all about communicating.

This time, the conversation is between Michael Smith and readers. But, ultimately, it’s about your relationship to what’s on your plates. Cookbooks like this one give you something to talk about.