Orlando Gough, composer and Oxford-educated mathematician, has published a cookbook.
Even he is a little surprised.
But he’s been cooking for most of his life, for comfort, pleasure and as pleasant distraction from the more cerebral pursuits.
He is the sort of cook, writes his friend James Seaton, who can “apparently effortlessly produce a delicious threecourse meal for 12 people while all those people are in his kitchen, drinking copious wine and talking loudly.
And he can do it while joining in the conversation”.
The recipes have been transcribed from Gough’s dog-eared, splattered, handwritten collection into a slim, elegant volume published by Toast, the high-street fashion brand of which Seaton is creative director.
They span from Gough’s 1950s boyhood (rhubarb crumble; baked eggs) through his squatting days in north London (corned beef hash cooked on a Baby Belling) right up to the present when he makes plums with star anise in his kitchen in Southwick.
At a time when tables in bookshops threaten to buckle under the weight of cookery books and TV programmes unrelated to food are becoming extinct, Gough is sheepish about adding to the canon but says, “In a world of celebrity chefs, I thought it might be refreshing to have a book written by a keen amateur in a home kitchen.”
Far from the slavering “food porn” of many cookery books, Gough’s approach is resolutely down-to-earth.
He will not, he promises, witter on about the virtues of organic eggs or extra-virgin olive oil – “by the way, how can something be extra-virgin?
Surely virginity is strictly binary?” – nor will readers find him waxing lyrical in the preamble to recipes.
“It’s true to say one doesn’t exactly get thinner when eating this,” he writes of a Sussex Pond Pudding, “But it’s worth it.”
For him, cooking is about “enjoyment, hospitality and sociability”.
“I do a job (composing) which is mostly solitary, and which I find difficult and elusive.
Cooking is an opportunity to do something comparatively easy with comparatively quick and reliable results.”
The book is filled with amusing anecdotes and remembrances that relate to the recipes.
Introducing a tomato and anchovy tart, he writes darkly of his lack of success with puff pastry, something he made only once for his wife Joanna’s 25th birthday dinner.
“It was a hot day in August and I failed to keep the pastry cool. It gradually turned into a shambolic sticky mass which I threw out of her kitchen window in a rage.”
He ends by explaining that these days he is very happy making shortcrust.
Although fond of all the recipes, he has a particular affection for the Galacian fish stew – “a stonkingly nutritious dish” – and the scones he used to eat for Sunday breakfast.
“They’re the simplest scones and the best in the world. Do you bake? Try them!”
Even in the throes of a big project (he’s just finished work on Roadrage, a comic political opera for Oxfordshire’s Garsington Opera and has written Glyndebourne’s Imago) Gough is not one for a rushed sandwich.
“I’m so greedy that even in extremis I’ll cook. Even working 15 hours a day there’s always decent food.
All that stuff about not eating under stress? Not for me.
It’s absolutely essential to eat well.”
*Orlando Gough’s Recipe Journal, published by Toast, £11.99