As a student, Len Deighton worked in some of the best kitchens in London and Paris, earning a living and building up expertise and appreciation of the techniques of classical French cooking. He is someone who knows his food and reflects that in his writing.
It is his cookstrips - little cartoons he created for himself to follow recipes without needing a cook book to hand - that ensure Len Deighton, the writer, a place in the annals of food writing and cooking, revolutionary as they were in providing a new take on the communication of cooking techniques to a wide public audience. His Action Cookbook and subsequent other books - all built to some extent upon this simple innovation - demonstrated not only his unique application of design and illustration to cooking but his impeccable taste and knowledge of gastronomy and the science of food.
He put this knowledge to good use as one of London's celebrity dinner party hosts in the nineteen-sixties and 'seventies, entertaining the Beatles, Sir Michael Caine and many other stars in his London home with food he prepared himself. Even today, in his 'eighties, he cooks regularly with his family.
The books in this section reflect the contribution Deighton has made to food communications, something frequently reflected in the positive regard cooks and food writers have for his cook strips and their impact on the amateur chef.
To get a flavour of Len Deighton's unique approach to food writing and appreciation, check out any of the books in this section.
In this section you will find links to all of the cook books written by Len Deighton.
While many of them adapt the original cookstrip idea and develop it further with each subsequent edition, some of the later books Deighton wrote on food were broader appreciations of the French cooking culture with which he had developed his culinary skills in the nineteen-fifties in London and Paris.
All of these cookbooks remain well-regarded among food writers, with the Action Cookbook frequently appearing in lists of the most influential cookery books of the last century.
The cook strip - designed initially as a simple kitchen aid by Deighton when cooking at home - is arguably one of the most influential contributions to the communication of food and cookery skills over the last half century.
So revolutionary was the application of simple graphic design principles to the act of communicating the different steps to preparing a meal that the cookstrips - as they became - contributed to something of a revolution in the relationship of the British public to good, well-cooked food, which in the 'sixties was still somewhat ambivalent compared to the more sophisticated French palate.
Their transition from kitchen guide to international cookery phenomenon was down in no small part to Deighton's friend Raymond Hawkey, who saw the commercial potential of the cookstrips and featured them in The Observer magazine, where they proved a hit with the readers. Each cookstrip carries Deighton's characteristic illustration style with heavy black outlining and a healthy disregard for perspective and proportion where it got in the way of communicating an idea.
Proving the quality of the original concept, nearly sixty years after they first appeared, cookstrips have - since 2017 - run again in The Observer Food Monthly Magazine. This time, Deighton is producing them in partnership with his son, Alex. The concept is still as fresh as it was when they originally appeared - simple instructions, clear illustrations, no jargon, and straightforward, often classic recipes.
Each of the cookstrips in the gallery below demonstrates Deighton's skills in communicating the numerous complex steps required for complicated recipes in three, four or five simple boxed illustrations.
Len Deighton has written many popular cook books. However, all good cooks will turn at one time or another to other cooks and food writers for inspiration.
Here, writing exclusively for the Deighton Dossier, Len sets out his own favourite, go-to cookbooks:
"In 2015 The Observer asked me to resume production of the cookstrips and they are now appear each month in The Observer Food Monthly. My son Alex (Bebop) Deighton works with me and tests and modifies each and every one. I have had many readers ask me what are my favourite cookery books. I possess hundreds of cookery books, so I have listed the books to which I go most often.
Previous cookstrips are available in my Action Cook Book and also in French Cooking for Men [the new edition of the Action Cook Book, renamed]. I also did a book called The ABC of French Food which my publishers have, for reasons unexplained to me, not reprinted. It is available from internet retailers and I hope it fills a place in the bookshelves of serious cooks and even those who enjoy reading menus.
Below are some of the books to which I frequently turn.
They are not all recipe books. Some, like the books of Harold McGee, Alan Davidson and Merle Ellis and Larousse, deal with food and cookery, while the remarkable Shirley O. Corriher combines recipes with the theories upon which they depend. One of the Pepin books is an autobiography, but wonderfully informative for all cooks."
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