Beyond Essence by David Everitt-Matthias

Beyond Essence
David Everitt-Matthias
Absolute Press, £30
ISBN: 978-1-906650-78-0
I have known David almost as long as I have been in England, probably dating back to the very early days of Le Champignon Sauvage, which opened in 1987. I first went there when I was about 21. I was working at La Tante Claire and chef [Pierre Koffmann] had been down to eat at David’s and spoke highly of it.
My then wife planned a gastronomic weekend for me – at Redmond’s in Cheltenham, Le Champignon Sauvage and L’Ortolan (with John Burton-Race) – and I remember having an amazing experience at David’s. I’d come from London to the countryside and at David’s had something as good as anything we were doing at Tante Claire.

David’s wife Helen, who so expertly commands front of house, had intuitively picked up that I was a chef, and I guess felt that I was someone who David would be comfortable meeting, so she asked if I wanted to meet the chef. The next thing I knew, it was 2am! It’s hard to imagine if Helen had not made the connection that night, David and I may not be friends today.
I have continued to visit David every so often, and each time I have noticed a change in his food and technique. The same can be said for his third and most recent book, Beyond Essence, which he has written some seven years since his first award-winning book, Essence.
Beyond Essence illustrates how David keeps pushing the boundaries while still using humble ingredients. But that’s no surprise, have you seen his library? We all buy books and leaf through them, but David reads every page, and he’s continuously on top of the latest releases.
He has always been able to marry ingredients beautifully. One of his greatest skills is taking inexpensive ingredients and propelling them to a graceful and refined status.
Take his brandade – the epitome of French cooking. I have been brought up on brandade. I can remember having it as a kid, that salty fish with boiled potatoes, desperately trying to swallow it. What does David do? He makes it elegant, chic.
Then there’s his pressed terrine of pork cheeks, smoked ham hock and leek – all, arguably, poor man’s ingredients – but he gives it colour, texture, makes it pleasing to the eye.
The photography, by Lisa Barber, who has worked with David on all three of his books, brings strong imagery to the book, and it’s great to see candid shots of David and Helen with their “family” – their team – and, of course, their dogs, foraging together.
When I look at his book I see beautiful French food. He cooks like a Frenchman, and yet he does it from Cheltenham.
In fact, I think he may well be a Frenchman, a Frenchman in an Englishman’s skin.
If you like this, you might like these:
● Essence: Recipes from Le Champignon Sauvage and Dessert: Dessert Recipes from Le Champignon Sauvage, both by David Everitt-Matthias
● The Square: The Cookbook: Savoury, by Philip Howard