Alphabet Soup with Emma


There are times when aspiring Food Writers have to take normal jobs to help keep the cupboard stocked with organic single estate coffee beans. And when I say ‘normal job’ I really mean the furthest thing from normal, and only normal in the sense that it’s what I do from Monday to Friday. There are times (as I’m sure there are in your job) that are exciting and thrilling, and then there are Thursday mornings, stretching out endlessly in front if you, achingly slow, and its times like these that you will wish you had an Emma to entertain you.

Emma and I have worked many tiresome shifts together, plagued by hangovers or seasickness, occasionally both at the same time (God help us). Emma, in her other normal job, is a nurse which makes her an authority on all things embarrassing and a bit gross. Oh, and she also helps make people better. Emma and I have one fundamental friendship factor in common – we are motivated by food. It’s no coincidence that we first met in a job that feeds you regularly and excessively every 2 hours. The only problem was; how to pass the 2 hour intervals until the next meal? Emma had the solution: “All you need is you, a friend (or not), and an open mind….oh and an understanding of the English alphabet. I think I stumbled across this beauty while travelling through South America in 2009. I’d say it’s kind of like “Would You Rather” but for food geeks. 
It’s pretty simple really, but can produce hours of delightful entertainment.”

Emma spoke to Katy’s Table earlier this week, “Cheese, chocolate, candy, carrots, chicken, cake, coffee, chips…… ‘C’ is an obvious winner in my eyes. As in, if I was forced to eat foods starting with the same letter of the alphabet for the rest of my life, what letter would it be? And that, is the premise of the alphabet food game.” Emma and I agreed fairly early on that C was the undisputed champion of the Alphabet Game. But then, there were other things that we just couldn’t live without. Avocado’s? That’s almost a dealbreaker and made me seriously consider moving over to A for a while. Asparagus, Apples, Anchovies, Acorns. Wait; it’s time for some assistance. Its time for the Food Lover’s Companion.

The Food Lovers Companion has well, been this food lover’s companion for many years now. I insist on having a copy in every restaurant, pantry and galley I’ve worked in. I own two copies, one in paper and the other digital for those on the road food terminology emergencies. The Food Lover’s Companion (FLC) is a reference guide and glossary of over 6700 entries listing ingredients, cooking techniques, equipment, recipes and regional delicacies. Inevitably, it has an American influence although ingredients and styles from all over the world are represented. My much-loved copy is annotated and bookmarked extensively, and if I’m not reading it for reference purposes then I’m reading it to remember the food curiosities I’ve discovered recently – chayotes, tomatillo, samphire, tamarind and faro are just a few of the stranger ones. The FLC is also really handy when trying to read foreign menus, particularly in French and Italian. And I ask you: Can any city-living Lady navigate through a sushi dinner without entries on kishimen, tsukemono, kobe, mizuna, ponzu or wakame? The answer is no, Lady, not without looking like a Food Philistine.

And just when you thought this little gem was the best thing since sliced biltong, let me introduce you to the rest of the family: Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst have not only given us the Food Lover’s Companion but also the Cheese Lover’s Companion, The Wine Lover’s Companion and my all time favourite Christmas Present for Hungry Friends: The New Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion with beautiful illustrations and a glossy hardcover.

Cabbage, cabernet Sauvignon, cake, camembert, Campari, candy, caprese salad, caramel, carpaccio, cashews, Champagne! When you find yourself on the next graveyard shift or queueing at airport security, or something equally soul crushing, feel free to pull the C- ace with a smirk. You are a champion.

Thanks for reading Katy’s Tables first post in collaboration with Nurse Emma. If you’re a designer – these pictures took me an absolute age. And if you’re a foodie – alphabet soup for kids is little more than watery ketchup; it went down the sink. Cold instant soup is no gazpacho, let me tell you.

love Lady Rose,

(not a Food Philistine)

Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst is available on order from Exclusive Books South Africa  or from

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