“So you read?” David enquired. Well of course I read I thought to myself, was I looking like somebody who didn’t? I was a little stumped, but I nodded anyway.

I had been exchanging chit-chat with that hardy annual of Norfolk’s Michelin starred cuisine, David Adlard, when the question was delivered.

I am running a few wine courses at his delightful Cookery School, so research and education were on both our minds that day. At close of play and with a couple of glasses of Chilean Sauvignon conveniently to hand, I had been sharing my thoughts on literature and the esoteric autobiography of the late Richard Olney. Outside of a limited professional circle, Olney tends to mean very little to most folks. But David knew of him and his remarkable recipe books. More especially, we discussed his celebration of French gastronomy The French Menu Cookbook, first published in 1970. (Reprinted as a result of the Observer Magazine’s recent cookery books poll, where it came 1st)

David wished to borrow Olney’s autobiography, entitled Reflections, and I agreed to post it on. We both recognised that it was neither a populist journal nor was it a page-turner, but it did illuminate some shady corners of the elusive history of rural French cuisine. To put it candidly, you have got to be extremely interested in the post war social excursions of some dubious, ex-pat bohemians, coupled with Olney’s Diagalev-like hold on the murky sexual politics of the day, in order to find the few illuminating nuggets of regional French cuisine between its pages. Richard Olney was a man of a different stripe, a gay American living in France (that is to say, an outsider in both post-war countries), who was nevertheless admired by the inner circle of French gastronomy as well as being revered by his publishers, Time-Life. He reinforced, if reinforcement were needed, that the three necessary bones in any gastronomic adventurer’s body are the  wish bone, the funny bone and above all, the back bone.

I think that David was merely confirming his understanding that I really did read if I was going to spend time burrowing into Olney’s lifestyle, merely to grasp the origins of Coq au Vin, Pike Quenelles, Canard a l’Orange or Chateau Y’Quem. So this was a book clearly beyond recipes and glossy pictures, and one that required more than a little philosophical stamina, hence the telling question.

As I appeared to have passed the test, he felt that his own recommendation would therefore not fall on fallow ground. “Try The Perfectionist next, I am about to read it for the third time” he said, “all about Bernard Loiseau, the Michelin chef in Burgundy”. It touched a nerve and the name rang bells, but I still had to ask “Bernard who?”

Monsieur Bernard Loiseau, was regarded as the tragic victim of the Michelin domination of French gastronomic circles. He committed suicide in 2003 fearing his fame was beginning to diminish and his precious three Michelin Stars were to be reduced to two. He need not have worried, they were never lost and ironically, his widow retained those three stars well beyond Bernard’s demise.

After pressing another all to convenient, ‘buy now’ button on Amazon, the book was in my hands within the week. I raced through it faster than the time it had spent in transit. It was educative, alarming and draining in equal measure. Bernard clearly had possessed all three arbitrary bones in his skeletal make-up too.

The book is a must for those who still get confused about Classic French dishes, Nouvelle Cuisine, molecular cooking or the often arrogant and centrist French view of gastronomy. It also provides an incisive pocket guide to the turbulent history of the Michelin industry and above all it illuminates the voice of a culinary craftsman in the wilderness of a fickle customer base.

Most importantly for me, is that it threw some light on a time honoured debate as to whether Rolls Royce made a Morris Minor safer, a moon landing made eggs easier to cook on Teflon, World War One tanks made diggers easier to drive as a result of the caterpillar tracking system, turkey cooks better with a disaster foil sheet wrapped around it or that catwalk fashions are imperative to Primark bargains.

In gastronomy, we often need chefs extolling the virtues and forcing the limits of ‘professional’ cuisine in order to enhance and support adventurous cooking at home. Long may this synergy continue, although after reading both books, the price in some cases can seem higher than we may wish.