Mark Latham and Alan Jones cook up a storm in the kitchen
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Mark Latham and Alan Jones cook up a storm in the kitchen

You can "add a new dimension" to pumpkin soup with a little fish sauce, ginger and lime juice. This is not advice I ever expected to receive from former opposition leader Mark Latham, nor talkback radio star Alan Jones.

Yet it's included, along with plenty of other suggestions ("Who would have thought maple syrup could be such a good seafood sauce?") in the pair's new cookbook, Conversations in the Kitchen.

Alan Jones and Mark Latham enjoy a chat in the kitchen.

Alan Jones and Mark Latham enjoy a chat in the kitchen.

A cynic might note that Latham could do with some good PR after losing several media jobs over controversial commentary, but the introduction says the book is about Jones' and Latham's desire to show "that there is such variety in food now — it’s amazing". Taking them at their word and resolving to keep an open mind, I invite a few friends round to try some of their dishes.

The cookbook is simple, with family-friendly recipes and no-frills food photography interspersed with "conversations" between Jones and Latham. The overall effect is Women's Weekly for men's rights activists.

The first thing that strikes you when you look at the table of contents is the extraordinary number of curries Jones and Latham have included. A critical reader might note that the large "Classic Indian" and "Asian Favourites" sections belie the authors' anti-immigration politics, but there's no such cynicism here; I even choose chicken kofta curry as my main. Spicy pumpkin soup will be the entree and caramel pecan sundae the desert.

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Spicy pumpkin soup.

Spicy pumpkin soup.

ENTREE: Spicy pumpkin soup

The first course is a different take on a standard pumpkin soup, with a base that includes ginger as well as onion, sautéed with red curry paste. Before serving, you add fish sauce, lime juice, coconut milk and brown sugar.

While I struggle to peel the pumpkins, the guests have time to check out the “conversations” between Latham and Jones that separate the sections of the book. In these a lot is made of the supposed differences between the pair. One of the first "conversations" is headed "What do you both have in common? You both seem to be so different?"

The answer, if you ask Jones and Latham, is that they're both very intelligent and believe in free speech. This mutual admiration isn't really surprising: Latham and Jones might have had their differences when the former was opposition leader, but they're essentially fellow travellers now, cookbook authors with huge public platforms who earn large sums of money railing against "elites".

Much as I take issue with that, I can’t fault the soup. It's hardly Heston Blumenthal, but it's a hit. The fish sauce gives the pumpkin extra umami depth, while the lime juice adds freshness. The guests note that given the sweetness of the pumpkin it could have done without the brown sugar, but that's a minor quibble. Score one to the shock jocks.

Chicken kofta curry.

Chicken kofta curry.

MAIN: Chicken kofta curry

This seems like the kind of multicultural fusion of which Jones and Latham would normally disapprove. The kofta are made of chicken mince, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and coriander. The idea is to roll them and let them set a bit in the fridge before browning them and making a korma curry sauce using store-bought paste.

A guest suggests there's a mistake in the curry recipe: nowhere does it say you should add the browned meatballs back into the curry sauce. As much as I want to stay true to Jones and Latham's vision, I also don't want to get food poisoning from undercooked chicken, so I chuck them back in.

As they bubble away, we try to remember what it was that got Latham ousted from Sky News, where he met Jones. Ah, that’s it: he called a Sydney school student “gay” for appearing in an International Women’s Day video. He also got stuck into fellow Sky host Kristina Keneally and ABC Radio presenter Wendy Harmer.

For a couple of straight talkers, Latham and Jones have trouble addressing this head on. “We’ve had some difficult times as well,” says Jones. “When Mark left Sky it was difficult but we all stuck together.” (Stick together they did: Sky still allows Latham to appear on Jones and Co.)

Nor is anything said about Latham’s harassment of 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty. In fact, Jones celebrates Latham as a “leading light in Australian political discourse” with a “very significant audience” thanks to his Mark Latham’s Outsiders Facebook page.

That would be the same Facebook page that regularly posts demonstrably false racist and islamophobic conspiracy theories.

“He is a good researcher. He does his homework,” says Jones.

Maybe both men should have done more homework in the test kitchen. When it's done the chicken kofta curry falls flat. The kofta themselves are flavoursome and well cooked, but the curry is watery and looks nothing like the photo. Jones' and Lathams' dish is a luminous creamy orange, while mine is more of an insipid chocolate brown, leaving me to wonder whether yoghurt or coconut milk was left out of the recipe.

The guests, who by this point are quite hungry, don't hate it. "It's all right but it's pretty stock standard," says one. "It just tastes like good curry paste," says another.

Undiscouraged, I press on to the third and final course.

Caramel pecan sundae.

Caramel pecan sundae.

DESSERT: Caramel pecan sundae

This recipe might more accurately be titled "caramel", since it's just a sticky sauce poured over store-bought vanilla ice-cream with nuts on top.

The cream, brown sugar, vanilla extract and butter take about 15 minutes to coagulate on the stove, which allows for further inspection of the "conversations".

At times they have the manic quality of a Sky News presenter's monologue, starting on one topic before veering off into something else entirely. In a section on how Australian cuisine has changed, Jones begins by discussing his mother putting cakes in tins to keep them fresh ("It's funny that people don't do that any more. You buy a cake now and it's a rock in two days!"), segueing to a diatribe about the prices fruit growers get from supermarkets before Latham jumps in to question why Australia imports seafood.

Speaking of which, my local supermarket doesn't stock pecans, so I'm forced to make do with the humble macadamia (product of Australia; I'm sure Latham would approve). This turns out to be a more than adequate solution, and the desert, though simple, is pretty good: an ever so slightly upmarket version of a McDonald's caramel sundae. Several guests go back for seconds.

Which leave us where? With its softly lit portraits and anodyne conversations, it’s hard to believe Conversations in the Kitchen was ever meant to be a serious culinary offering. A more reasonable explanation would be that it’s an attempt to rehabilitate Latham while glossing over his extreme views and appalling behaviour. Consequences are for people who aren’t Alan Jones’ mates.

But if I had to judge Conversations in the Kitchen solely on its merits as a cookbook, we should be fair and say it was never designed for dinners parties. The recipes were all inexpensive and easy, and I'd even cook the soup again.

On the other hand, one recipe turned out nothing like it should have and the meal was nothing special. Heading out the door, one friend describes it as "deeply OK".

Essentially, Latham and Jones’ cookbook is 20 years out of date. In 2018, there are plenty of Australian "weeknight" cookbooks out there – try Adam Liaw, Jill Dupleix or Matt Preston – full of more interesting and, dare I say, more authentic, recipes.

These days you can also get your cooking ideas and barely edited ranting on the internet. The recipes in Conversations in the Kitchen, like Latham and Jones themselves, are just a bit behind the times.