Earnestly admiring biography of the British cooking icon.
Alternating between breathless commentary and tough quotes from critics (serious foodies are not so smitten as the general public), British journalist Bowyer follows Smith from her lower-class childhood in a London suburb to her illustrious present. Tony Blair offered her a life peerage, the Queen honored her, and she is reputed to be worth over £24 million. Not bad for a woman who left school in 1957, at age 16, to work as a hairdresser in London. There, Smith began making interesting friends, learned how to dress, and in 1962 met a mentor: Leo Evans, a metallurgy professor by day and a chef by night who transformed her life. Working evenings at a popular restaurant for which Evans cooked, she soon moved up from washing dishes to preparing dishes under his tuition. Other cooking jobs followed, and she gave up hairdressing. Bowyer records Smith’s beginnings as a columnist for a London daily; her detailed but simple recipes soon made her a household name. She wrote books and had her own shows on the BBC; one series became The Complete Cookery Course, which on video has sold more than a million copies. A profitable association with a magazine connected to a major grocery chain has also helped make her very rich. Smith, a convert to Catholicism, has written religious books and donated generously to charity. To demonstrate how influential Smith’s cooking shows are, Bowyers points to her praise of a particular omelet pan—the manufacturer had to hire 15 additional workers to deal with the demand—and her use in a recipe of the unfamiliar-to-Brits shallot, whose sales subsequently increased by 2,000 percent. No one claims Smith is an innovative chef; Bowyer thinks much of her success is due to her ability to explain cooking in terms everyone can understand.
Dutifully assembles all the ingredients, but the result is a literary pudding without theme.