Cooking with Fernet Branca

Fernet Branca is a wine, but this is not a cookbook.   Gerald Samper  in James Hamilton-Paterson’s Cooking with Fernet Branca has a fixer upper villa in Tuscany – but this is not Under the Tuscan Sun.

This is one funny book.  If you appreciate droll British humor – like David Niven’s quip as the nude streaker ran by him on stage at the Oscar’s: “…isn’t it fascinating to think that the only laugh that man will probably ever get in his life was when he stripped off to show his shortcomings...”, you will be laughing out loud at and with the characters in this ridiculous book.

The story flips back and forth from Gerald Sampler, a ghost-writer for the memoirs of illiterate yet successful athletes – “an amaneusis to knuckleheads,”  and Marta, a refugee from Voynovia, a fictitious ex-Soviet Republic, who is composing the score for an R rated movie being filmed nearby.  Each has recently bought a house in the Italian countryside – right next door to each other.

As Gerald concocts his absurd recipes, e.g., live lampreys in sherry, alien pie (main ingredient – smoked cat), otter with lobster sauce, he sings fractured versions of Italian opera.  It’s sometimes better to skip some of his directions for cooking.  He falls down a ravine while trying to improve his view by dismantling an outhouse, staples his foot to the fence he is building, and keeps a running commentary on his feud with his neighbor, and the world  in general.

Marta is inspired by Gerald’s falsetto tones and incorporates them into her musical score.  More ingenious incidents involving helicopters and movie sets add to the craziness.  Throughout, Gerald and Marta drink the Fernet Branca (45% alcohol) and eat Voynovian delicacies.

If you need a plot, you will be disappointed.  But, if appreciate the turn of a phrase, the nuances that make you chuckle, and general frivolity – Cooking with Fernet Branca will lighten your day.

If you need more, there’s a sequel – Amazing Disgrace.