Text by Arani Cuthbert and Jools Topp
Published by Diva Books, Auckland, 2018
Reviewed by Helen Martin
Never let it be said that the Topp Twins are one-trick ponies. Just when you think they must have exhausted their range they do something new – this time producing a brilliant 260-page book based on their award-winning television series, Topp Country. The names of the many others who also contributed to the book’s collaboration appear in the acknowledgements.
Why shower ‘Topp Country: a culinary journey through New Zealand with the Topp Twins’ with such unequivocal praise? For a start, this is no cheap production. It feels substantial and looks beautiful, filled with gorgeous, well-designed images of the food, land and people Jools and Lynda showcased in the first two series. The Dames feature a lot too; alongside their hosts from around Aotearoa New Zealand as they help prepare and serve fabulous dishes fashioned from home-grown, home gathered produce; together in photos that go from their childhood to the present day; and in their comic roles as Ken and Ken, the Bowling Ladies, Camp Mother and Camp Leader.
There’s never a dull moment. An incisive Foreword by Colin Hogg, who has known the Topps since their Grey Lynn days when “you could spot their place by the tractor parked outside”, clearly set-out recipes, background stories about the Topps and the Kiwis they meet along the way, snippets of supporting information and Ken’s poems provide a rich and varied smorgasbord of content, presented in such a way that you can dip into the book or read it cover to cover. Rather than take a linear approach, the narrative appears in sections under the umbrella ‘For the love of’, with stories on food-specific topics like ‘venison’ and ‘poultry’ and themes such as ‘decadence’ (where crayfish and chocolate have their moment), ‘spice’ and ‘garden’. While there’s an underlying theme that promotes ethical food production, the tone is one of unmitigated pleasure. Without having to read a word, when you pick up this book you can see it’s full of joy and laughter.
I bought my copy from Jools, who lives at South Head and was selling them from a stall at the Kaukapakapa Market. As she signed it, she chatted about her wonderful family, her horses, her enjoyment making the Topp Country programmes. What a bonus! The book is available in stores, including Helensville Paper Plus.