Be My Guest by Fay Lewis

For those who love entertaining guests at home, this book is for you.

It is with great pride that I review a South African author’s cookbook for the first time. Fay Lewis, based in Johannesburg, is a well-known and respected food writer and cook in the culinary community. After 25 years in the industry she knows a thing or two about what it takes to successfully entertain at home and has plenty of useful advice laid out in a simple to understand manner. Want to know how to lay the table properly? Pairing wine with food? It’s all in here.

The table setting ideas and photos are truly inspirational, if only I had the budget to buy all the knicks and knacks. The food photography is top class, although a bit different. It struck me immediately that most of the pictures were taken in sunlight, a stark contrast to northern hemisphere books that rely heavily on artificial lighting. The food styling is also top notch but in parts a bit overly frilly, reminiscent of 1970’s/80’s era. I guess I have just gotten used to the European/American style where less is more, i.e. minimalist but chic.

For me of course, a book is all about the recipes. Do they actually work and taste fabulous? The answer is a big resounding yes but I have a few grievances.

I honestly believe Be My Guest is a worthy competitor on the international market but it unfortunately hasn’t catered for foreigners. All the recipes are in the metric system which to me isn’t a problem but I can hear Britons and Americans scream bloody murder about ounces and cup measurements respectively. Yes, on the last page there is a conversion chart but from personal experience I have found it majorly annoying to having to look up conversion tables halfway through cooking. It’s better just to have alternative measurements in brackets in the ingredients list in all the recipes.

White Chocolate Panna Cotta

My other problem is the vagueness of the ingredients used. Granted, most recipes don’t have this problem but e.g. the panna cotta I made used “cream”. What type of cream? Whipping, [heavy] double, [light] single or sour? I ended up using double which worked out fine even though the dessert was a bit on the heavy side. Readers told me the results were fabulous when they used [light] single cream. Gelatine powder wasn’t catered for which created havoc while I had to improvise and do calculations, hoping that it won’t be a flop.

The most desirable recipes are ones that don’t use brand name products, e.g. Tennis biscuits, simply because they can’t be attained everywhere in the world. It would have been nice if alternatives, i.e. generic products, were suggested.

Beef Meatballs with Curried Banana Sauce

With the meatballs I came across the same problem again. Everyone in South Africa might know what “brown vinegar” is but I sure didn’t. Stand in front of any speciality shop’s oil and vinegar shelf and your mind will be blown away by the varieties that exist in this world. I opted for malt vinegar in the end which worked okay although I found the sauce a bit astringent. But all in all it was a very creative and enjoyable dish.

Chicken, Almond & Orange Salad

Lastly the Chicken, Almond and Orange Salad was quick and straight forward to prepare; ideal for a bright, sunny day when the last thing you want to do is stand in a hot kitchen.

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  1. says

    I think the problem with the vague ingredients is not that she didn’t try to be specific, but rather, the limited variety of options available in South Africa. Eg cream – I never know what is meant by heavy or single or whipping cream in American/British recipes. There are only two types of cream available in SA – normal and sour. And if you’re lucky, reduced fat. Does that translate into single cream? Who knows…

    So, I think it’s equally frustrating on both sides of the coin. We just have to accept that not everyone uses the same context – isn’t that part of the whole diversity concept though? Embrace it, I say.

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