I have a lot of cookbooks and food books, which is certainly not a big surprise given that I have this food blog and all. They are the books that claim priority in my limited bookshelf space these days. Novels tend to have to convince me that I'll want to enjoy them again and again to be worthy of their place in the community. Cookbooks are the "popular kids" around here. However, even with that sort of preferential treatment I'm also fairly ruthless about those that do stick around. If I haven't opened you in 6 months you are probably facing an eviction. Most people might subscribe to the notion of "just what the world needs, another cookbook", but I am always looking forward to new thoughts and ideas by new authors and those I've learned from before, so I'm always infusing my beloved collection with new tenants. Each time I crack open a new book with a cup of tea, I'm hopeful this book will become a classic in my collection, a book fully worth its cost and fanfare or worthy of more fanfare than it has received. You can't really know the relevance of a book such as a cookbook until you've spent some time with it in your home. Lately I've been drawn to reference food books. For someone cooking as long as I have, its important to keep learning and to trust your own instincts about things, but its nice to have some guidelines. Which leads me to the book I'd like to tell you about today.
The latest book by authors of Becoming a Chef, Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, has been around for a few months and has been on my radar since then. With birthday money in tow (thanks, sister), I purchased it last month and I'm not sure there's ever been a book that I have consulted more in 6 weeks than this one.
The idea is simple: a unique reference book that doesn't tell you how to cook but gives you tested flavour combinations to help you get creative on your own. Research for this book included interviewing countless chefs and food professionals about flavours they have combined in their dishes with great results.
The first chapter of the book covers the science of taste and aroma as well as the emotional, mental and physical realms of food and how they interact to create a harmonious flavour experience. The next chapter reminds us of the factors that help us make our food the best it can be- a reminder to eat seasonally and source locally, consider flavour weights of food and the old adage of what grows together goes together. While these opening sections have some interesting points and reminders as well as setting a frame work for the subject of the book, mostly its just leading us to the main act. The bulk of the book is a culinary thesaurus of sorts. It's organized alphabetically by ingredient with a list of flavours that work well with that ingredient. The authors have realized that within every flavour pairing there are some that are a little bit better than others. So they've used a system of print to differentiate between flavours that work all the way up to the flavours that are marriages made in heaven with everything in between all with simple text, boldface and boldface caps. This makes it very easy to use and glance at quickly. Along with this treasure trove of ideas are information about the season this ingredient is found in, recommended cooking techniques and general tips. Sidebars feature lists of dishes featured in restaurants to give you great inspiration and numerous quotes from chefs all over the country.
While its possible to come up with all your own lists, a book such as this helps to guide you in the direction you want a certain dish to go. While I have a fairly natural sense of pairing ingredients sometimes I'm torn between a few ideas, and this book has helped narrow my focus. Its also caused me to think differently about certain ingredients and to try things I would never thought of.
In conclusion, what else can I say about this book. Its a keeper, a long term resident and I predict one that will become a classic in years to come.