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Posted on 14 May 2015 in Non-Fiction |

MARGARET POMERANZ and PHILIPPA WHITFIELD POMERANZ Let’s Eat: A cookbook celebrating film, food and family. Reviewed by Jeannette Delamoir

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letseatThis charming volume gives us a combination of food, occasions, glamorous name-dropping and glorious places, all mixed up with the closeness and fun of family.

Film critic Margaret Pomeranz appeared on SBS and the ABC for almost 30 years, the longevity of the shows largely due to the dynamic between herself and co-critic David Stratton. She bounced off Stratton’s more restrained, dignified persona, appearing by contrast warm, delightfully silly, volatile, with her trademark earrings and her gorgeous hiccupping laugh.

Given her screen personality, Pomeranz appears as someone who would be a fantastic dining companion, and this book, written in collaboration with daughter-in-law Philippa (Pip) Whitfield Pomeranz, confirms that any invitation from them would be worth accepting.

Non-foodie celebrities do write cookbooks. Gwyneth Paltrow has. So has Karl Stefanovic. I wondered what this Pomeranz duo could add to this overcrowded market sector.

Well, it’s emotional. On the opening page, Margaret reminds readers that food isn’t just about nourishing the body. ‘I do not even remotely pretend to be a chef,’ she writes …

… but I do love to cook for family and friends. I like to provide a groaning table – it has to groan – for us to gather around in a perfectly relaxed fashion, eating, drinking, laughing, playing stupid games, sharing our lives with people we love and trust.

And what type of food does she like to present? She sums it up a few pages in: food prepared by people who are ‘hectic, busy and time-poor’, for ‘a collection of finicky food eaters around a common table’.

Undoubtedly, that approach will strike a chord with many stressed folks who crave both good food and the sense of community that is generated by sharing food.

Each of these two authors has her own sections identified by a discrete initial (M for Margaret, P for Pip). Although they write about their personal experiences and introduce recipes from their own repertoires, their voices aren’t notably different. In spite of Pip’s greater predilection for chilli, their tastes, personalities and perspectives are harmonious; it’s an entirely different dynamic to Margaret’s and David’s clashing outlooks.

Both women pay tribute to their relationship. Margaret writes:

It was Pip’s initiative, this book. She wanted us to share a journey and it has been a glorious thing, this mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship.

And Pip adds:

Let’s face it: the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship is one loved by moviemakers. It usually features the crazy, controlling mother-in-law, the daughter-in-law who’s trying to figure out her role in a new family, and the man they both love stuck in the middle. Luckily, I scored big time in the mother-in-law department …

The entire family – Pip, as well as Margaret’s sons Josh and Felix – works in the film industry. Pip has many connections in Los Angeles, and her years spent there result in a pronounced Mexican influence in her recipes. See her Mexican Chopped Salad or Turkey Chilli, for example, and the Skinny Margarita. There is also Pip’s take on American traditions, like her up-till-now-secret recipe for Thanksgiving Turkey. Many LA-style salads find their way into the collection, such as Kale and Tuna Salad, and a Summer Salad from the kitchen of singer Taylor Dayne.

Margaret’s visits to international film festivals inspire other dishes. Salad Niçoise, for instance, is linked to Cannes (which is just down the road from Nice, after all). Apparently an Australian producer recommended it to her as ‘the only dish to order at one of these [producers’] power lunches  … because you can eat and talk at the same time’. Her recipe for Risotto Primavera pays tribute to a menu item regularly ordered at a restaurant in Venice where, in an opening night ritual, Margaret and David meet a group of friends every year.

The recipes are for social food: high on flavour, low on fussiness. They are appealing although not particularly original. And there are some that probably don’t need instructions, such as Ham, Cheese and Tomato Toastie.

What is really important is the feel. The tone of warm informality, so clearly established in the text, is emphasised by every element. The layout is a montage of vintage family photos, candid snaps at film festivals or of Margaret in the makeup chair. There are artfully rustic professional food shots alongside items of film memorabilia. This ‘scrapbook’ is annotated with notes ‘sticky taped’ in.

It all seems very freewheeling, free-spirited; the chapter structure barely makes sense, given all the other material slotted in beside the food. In the first chapter, ‘Breakfast and Brunch’, for instance, recipes are side by side with unconnected stories about living by the sea, and about interviews with Russell Crowe and Sean Penn.

But the book is charming precisely because of this jumbled-together combination of food, occasions, glamorous name-dropping and glorious places, all mixed up with the closeness and fun of family. And it can’t really be critiqued as a taking-itself-seriously cookbook, because it isn’t intended to be.

It is, in fact, entirely successful in meeting the terms it sets for itself: ‘a cookbook celebrating film, food and family’. Diving into it feels just like sitting down at a table, having a few drinks (lots of references to alcohol make that an integral part of the fun), and letting the conversation wander where it will.

We learn a great deal about Pip, the Pomeranz boys, and especially Margaret, who is not averse to revealing her cooking disasters (under the bald heading ‘The Failures’). She also tells a funny story of a night in Cannes, when – locked out of her own apartment, tired, emotional, and in need of a loo – she barges into Stratton’s room and, to his horror, promptly falls asleep on his spare bed.

In this way, as Margaret unconcernedly shares her failures and minor humiliations, her old co-presenter is unavoidably caught up. She sweeps away his carefully cultivated dignity just as she scattered his notes, tidily laid out on the spare bed in Cannes. In recalling the years of their professional partnership, the book is a tribute to Stratton and to their differences – to those aspects of relationships that energise by setting us apart, as well as those that bring us together.

Can’t you just hear hear Margaret hiccupping with laughter as you both sit over a big bowl of her Ginger Chicken and she talks about how her snoring kept David awake?

Margaret Pomeranz and Philippa Whitfied Pomeranz Let’s Eat: A cookbook celebrating film, food and family ABC Books 2015 PB 239pp $39.99

Jeannette Delamoir is an ex-Queenslander and former academic. She combines her passions for writing, reading, culture and food by teaching at WEA Sydney.

You can buy this book from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.