Book Review: Mile 8 by David Higgs

March 26th, 2019 § 0 comments

“AG NEE FOK!” I thought as I fanned through Mile 8. “Wow. Thank you,” I said to my husband who looked extremely pleased with his choice of gift. We watched two seasons of My Kitchen Rules together and at some point during every episode I’d chime in with “David Higgs has a very delicate touch. Incredible palate.” So, why the cloudy face?

Because how am I supposed to pull THIS off in a plaaskombuis?

After Bolognese, pork neck and red cabbage marshmallows is my go-to easy weeknight supper.

With no Thermomix, sous vide machine or dehydrator in sight. What even IS iota carrageenan, I wondered? And can I harvest chlorophyll* straight from the garden? Because I think my local might be out of stock.

I have always admired David Higgs for the restrained elegance of his food. Impeccable technique, superbly balanced flavours and the right note of acidity to ensure the meal rests well in the body. Mile 8 is a true reflection of David’s artistry as a chef. The styling and photography is exquisite but – to the home cook – the cumulative effect could be daunting. It is definitely a book that every young chef (and a few older ones) should have.

Less is moreish

I took a deep breath and started reading. What a good decision that was.  You really should not skip the intro titled A WORD OF ADVICE (READ THIS). Decades of experience condensed into a few pages of common sense, plus encouragement to use the recipes as guidelines. Thank you, chef. Fly the foam and sponge if you like, add elements and plate to your own preference.

Yes, I thought, I’ll make the carrot cake. Except it will be plain and round and smothered in cream cheese frosting. And perhaps some pineapple crisps while I’m at it?** Which I’d normally never do. Let’s be honest, I don’t really bake. But I was feeling oddly inspired.  A possible side-effect of reading books that punch above one’s culinary weight?

 

David’s carrot cake with pineapple sorbet, dehydrated pineapple, carrot foam and carrot dust.

 

Reconstructed, suburban-style. There’s a delicious David Higgs carrot cake under all that icing. I would never, ever ice a ring of bread rolls just for the camera. NEVER!

The book is an interesting read, which allowed me to chill about my lack of ingredients/equipment/courage to perfectly recreate a complete recipe from Mile 8. And then I hit the Fundamentals section. The book has over 90 dishes and 150 recipes, with Fundamentals consisting of roughly 60 concise recipes. From favourites like vetkoek to recipes requiring a bloody siphon gun bit more skill. It is a lovely collection of what should ideally become kitchen staples. Who doesn’t want caper mustard, lemon gel, pork crackling powder or salmon trout skin crisp on hand to add a pop of flavour and some cheffy shine to what you’re making.

At second, third and fourth glance it all seemed a lot less intimidating. Snoek with patat, vetkoek and mom’s apricot jam sounds completely doable, right? Ditto the lamb neck with dumplings and onion. If you want, you could go the extra 8 Miles and make spiced pumpkin brûlée with grilled pumpkin, chiffonade leek and granadilla dressing.

Fortunately I’m not much of a dessert person.

Buy the book if you want to know more about David and his food journey. I’ll share three of the things that stood out for me:

  • He really, really loves eggs so I’m taking all the egg advice on board.
  • During his “salad years” as a young chef he used to wolf down Hartlief’s meat salad or fleischsalat – a mayo-based mixture of cold cuts – which makes perfect sense for a Namibian boy in the big city. This reminded me of all the Hartlief meat salad I stuffed into salzstangen over the years. And now I’m craving German polonie cold cuts in mayo.
  • Reading about Marble’s start is humbling and inspiring. Tempering the beast that is open fire proved more challenging than anticipated. At one point the grill team had to wear special cooling vests with ice pockets.

It’s a beautiful book and I have apologised to my husband for my less-than-enthusiastic initial response. Recipes have been segmented in a clever way that enables the cherry-picking of components. Each chapter introduces a different phase of David’s life, followed by the corresponding recipes. I like the separation of stories and recipes as it can be distracting to pick through memories when you’re navigating your way about a recipe.

Mile 8 is a work of hardcore, professional perfectionism. I had to weigh the eggs for the carrot cake as the recipe calls for 75g whole eggs, which I now know is roughly two standard eggs. I’m going to take my time with this book and use it to push myself a bit. Or a lot. And I might ring Wild Peacock to ask if they’ve got iota carrageenan.

* Yes! You can make your own chlorophyll (see p. 319 for recipe).

** No, I didn’t use David’s recipe for Dehydrated Pineapple because I don’t have 24 hours to dry pineapple at exactly 54 degrees. Hence my floppy Pineapple Crisps (I need to change my attitude or this book will whip me).

Mile 8 – A Book About Cooking (R550) available online and at good bookstores.

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