Not Cooking with Fernet Branca

Cooking with Fernet Branca is the October/December featured novel for Cook the Books.  Simona is hosting and you can read her announcement post here.

About the book:

Gerald Samper, an effete English snob, has his own private hilltop in Tuscany where he whiles away his time working as a ghostwriter for celebrities and inventing wholly original culinary concoctions––including ice cream made with garlic and the bitter, herb-based liqueur known as Fernet Branca. But Gerald’s idyll is about to be shattered by the arrival of Marta, on the run from a crime-riddled former Soviet republic, as a series of misunderstandings brings this odd couple into ever closer and more disastrous proximity . . .

“Provokes the sort of indecorous involuntary laughter that has more in common with sneezing than chuckling. Imagine a British John Waters crossed with David Sedaris.” —The New York Times

About the author:

James Hamilton-Paterson is a poet and novelist. He is one of the most reclusive of British literary exiles, dividing his time between Austria, Italy and the Philippines.  Besides writing many novels, he has also published two works of poetry, children’s books, and non-fiction works.

What I thought…

John Waters crossed with David Sedaris?  Now, that’s a huge personality.  (And, I adore Sedaris!!!)  I’m not sure that Gerald (or Hamilton-Paterson) lives up to that send up.

The tale of these two mismatched friends is told through alternating POVs.  Gerald starts out first and from his initial description I was already anti-Marta.  What an idiot, I thought.  Then, as soon as I read from Marta’s perspective, I immediately thought of Gerald as the quintessential rube.

I wanted to laugh out loud but sadly, I did not.  Maybe I needed to read this novel as more of a satire or parody.   Perhaps, Hamilton-Paterson meant it as such; I mean, why else would some of Gerald’s recipes call for smoked cat?

There were visions of potential greatness here, especially between the internal banter between Gerald and Marta.  Some of it was just silly (and perhaps a bit disturbing).

I love a good Sedaris-like wit and I like a weird read.  I just didn’t get this.

 The food…

I won’t list the bizarre and inedible recipes that Gerald dreams up.  The only food that even sounded palatable was Marta’s food from Voynovia.  (That in itself is saying something about the quality of the food in the novel.)

I found nothing to be culinarily inspired by except kasha, a rustic fiber-rich dish Marta feeds to Gerald after one of his near death experiences.  (I think this one was when he propelled himself down a cliff in a dilapidated outhouse.)  Marta also receives some blackberry kompot from her infamous family in a care package.

To celebrate my finishing of  this novel in the early morning, I decided to have some yogurt with oatmeal (my homage to kasha) topped with blackberry jam.  Of course, Gerald would have added some anchovies to it.

Breakfast Parfait with Blackberry Jam


An easy breakfast with just a hint of sweetness.


  • 8 oz. plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 pkg. instant oatmeal (I used cinnamon spice.)
  • 1 dollop of blackberry jam
  • additional drizzle of honey (if desired)


  1. Prepare the oatmeal according to directions.
  2. Layer the yogurt and the warm oatmeal in a bowl or parfait cup. Add jam and drizzle with honey (if using). Eat.

Yield: 1 serving

If I’d had more time, I would have made my own buckwheat granola or real kasha.  But, I had zero time.  I didn’t even drizzle the honey on this dish.  This recipe is simple but delicious.  I do apologize it’s not a Fernet Branca cocktail.

While this was not my favorite read of the year, I am still glad I experienced it.  Thanks to Simona for hosting.  Our next selection for Cook the Books is  Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman.  Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) is hosting for December/January.  Look for an announcement post at Cook the Books soon.

3 comments to Not Cooking with Fernet Branca

  • Gerald’s recipes are surreal-to-disturbing. He is insightful when it comes to the people whose life he writes about and then totally blind about himself. An easy, flavorful breakfast is a lovely way to start the day. Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books 🙂

    • That is so true, Simona. I wish I could re-read this novel with different eyes. I guess my expectations were set too high. Thanks again for hosting, Simona.

  • Well even if you didn’t really enjoy the satirical humor, at least you had a tasty breakfast!