Book review: On Fire

By Stefan Chomka

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SY23 chef patron Nathan Davies has released his debut cookbook On Fire

Related tags Nathan Davies SY23 Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards Restaurant Fine dining Michelin Cookbook

Nathan Davies’ debut cookbook is much more than just a celebration of the most primitive of cooking methods.

“Cooking with fire was like relearning how to cook. It gave me such a thrill,” writes SY23 chef-patron Nathan Davies in the opening pages of his debut cookbook. Given that his first crack at publishing is dedicated to this most primitive of cooking techniques one can assume that his passion for fire continues to burn today.

Indeed, it was a newfound love of cooking over fire that was a catalyst for the chef leaving his role as head chef at Gareth Ward’s feted Welsh restaurant Ynyshir to set up his own place close by, he recalls. Rather than cooking consistently good food as he was at Ynyshir, Davies was drawn to the more unpredictable world of cooking on raw heat, and the different challenges this brings.

On Fire​ details Davies’ journey into the world of the BBQ, including making his own, with the chef following in the footsteps of his nan, who welded Spitfire parts during World War II, to fashion his own BBQs and bespoke tools for the job. DIY enthusiasts will be disappointed that the book is not a manual on how to build a BBQ, but for those who already have one its chapters on fire building, the different types of wood to cook over, and using charcoal will be of interest.

For many readers, however, it is Davies’ cooking that will be the driver behind the purchase of his book. Since leaving Ynyshir his star has been in the ascendancy, with SY23 winning a Michelin star early on and also being named Opening of the Year by the guide, and his hyper-local approach to cooking is very much in vogue. For this part, the book contains just three chapters, from the sea, land, and garden, which encompass a wide range of dishes and styles.

Like his cooking, On Fire​ takes a thoughtful approach to its subject. Ingredients are given space to breathe with recipes punctuated by numerous pictures and text on topics such as foraging and tapping birch to keep a steady pace to the book. Recipes appear simple but require a deft hand, with ‘basics’ such as garlic ketchup, dill emulsion, scallop crumb, and sea lettuce in a soy pickle requiring to be on hand in order to complete them.

Davies says he worked on the book during the hot summer of 2022 and that, as a result, it is a seasonal tome. His hope is to produce further ones for each season so that he can share SY23’s journey throughout the year. If On Fire​ is maybe just a taste of what’s to come, it definitely whets the appetite.

On Fire
Nathan Davies
Number of pages: 225
Must try dish: Mackerel, spelt, furikake
Publisher and price: A Way With Media, £45

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