Some people are already buying this book, Serious Eats is GIVING it away, this book that’s intensely important to me—and I have scarcely written about it. It is time. I’m just beginning to promote it, and will be traveling for the next five weeks, schedule below. I intend to promote it heavily—I’m going to make Hillary and Barack look like slackers. I am seriously stumping for this and preaching the gospel of salvation through cooking. Seriously. Learning to cook can save your life, or at least change it in many excellent ways.
An early, favorable review by Mark Knoblauch in Booklist describes the book: “This indispensable compendium of cooking information for both professional and amateur cooks constitutes a precise, unpretentious, unencumbered culinary handbook.”
I call it an opinionated glossary of cook’s terms, everything you need to know in the kitchen about how to cook, everything that chefs know from having worked in kitchens for decades that I think everyone should know, and eight brief essays on some of the big fundamentals of cooking.
How the book came about. My wife Donna and I were driving back from the Greenbrier food writing symposium two and a half years ago and were talking about what I should write next (I’d just published House: A Memoir). She said, “You should write the ten most important things you know about cooking.” A few days later, with that in the back of my thoughts, I was thumbing through Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, and a bell went off in my head: I can do this for the kitchen! And that’s the model I used.
But the goal was considerably more modest. I set out simply to write down definitions and opinions of everything that chefs know as a matter of course but that home cooks ought to know. Everything, in fact, that I’d needed to know when I entered culinary school. Terms like nappé, mise en place, what “salted water” means, why does everybody mean something different when they say “blanch.” But it also made me think a lot about the finer points of cooking, and these wound up as essays: stock, sauce, salt, egg, heat, tools, books, and the elusive “finesse.” I love this book, and so far everyone except Publisher’s Weekly does too. (The PW review, which you can read on the amazon page and B&N page for the book, was awkwardly critical—perhaps a reflection of the anti-French sentiment that’s au courant?)
Who I hope buys this book. Every home cook who cares about getting better and every soul who is in or about to attend culinary school. I want all the young cooks who never went to culinary school and have always been nagged by the not-knowing-what-they-missed (probably not as much as they imagine) to buy it. I want every chef to buy it for his or her line cooks. And maybe most of all, beginners—I can’t imagine a better starting reference for cooking terms to go along with other food books. I want every professional cook to buy it for the people who cook for them when they’re not at work. In short I want everyone who cares about cooking to buy this book.
My friend, Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin told me he sat down with this book and read it for three hours. This is what he had to say: "The combination of size makes The Elements of Cooking simply the best reference book and educational tool available for anyone interested in the basics of the culinary arts." (Know what he said privately when he called? "Wish I’d thought of this.") Thank you, Eric!
And one of the country’s very best cooks, Paul Kahan, chef of Blackbird and Avec in Chicago, offered this very cool observation: "More than a culinary dictionary, The Elements of Cooking is the essential codebook for young cooks and culinary students who want to learn the secret language of the kitchen."
Secret language of the kitchen—I love that.
Here are a couple other links:
A recent podcast phone interview, about 10 minutes, with Tampa Tribune writer Jeff Houck, discussing blogs, Next Iron Chef, the nature of reality cooking, what happens in cooking school, The Elements of Cooking, what tools do you really need in the kitchen, Bourdain and other food stuff. Jeff did a nice interview, he should be on NPR. Here’s his story in the Trib.
A review of the book is in this Kirkus cooking special section (link is to the html version—click link at top for the pdf), but the whole thing is on food books coming out this season and is excellent.
The tour. Please come out and see me and I’ll post updates on a new web design that should be in place this week. In cities where I’m doing demos I don’t have general public signings scheduled (St. Louis, Atlanta, Nashville, as well as Seattle), but I can try to some drop-by signings if anyone wants (please suggest a good independent bookstore in the area):
11/8 St. Louis, 2 hour talk and demo*
11/9 Atlanta, 2 hour talk and demo*
11/10 Portland, OR, Wordstock, panel on food writing, ironically with the two women mentioned randomly in the last item on this post
11/11 San Francisco, Book Passage
11/12-13 Seattle, dinner at Serafina, talk at Arts Institute of Seattle
11/15 Nashville, 2 hour talk and demo*
11/16 Cleveland, 2 hour talk and demo*
11/17 Cleveland Heights, signing at Borders
11/18 Shaker Heights, Shaker Heights Library (big local author book fare, excellent)
11/20 Cincinnati, Joseph Beth
11/28 Hyde Park, NY, Culinary Institute of America
11/29 New York City, Degustibus Demo at Macy’s
12/3 New York City, Barnes and Noble, joint event with Bourdain and his new book, God help me.
12/4-6 Vancouver, event schedule to come.
*These are demos at Viking stores, click here then click the location you’re interested in and scroll down to the calendar and the date you want.
I hope to get my new site up soon, as well as this: a second blog for Elements of Cooking, specifically to discuss fundamental issues of cooking.
UPDATE, ANSWERS TO COMMENTS, 11/5, 9 PM: First, thanks for all your incredibly good wishes and pleas to visit more than the cities mentioned. Hoping they’ll extend tour. Badger, I DO define dice and mince and the distinction. Tom F, Viking demos will be talk and cooking, refined home cooking, fun stuff but techniques that teach about the way food behaves. I definitely need to how to cure your own bacon demo–yes, that’s where it will start. How does book compare to larousse? good question–this book is different from larousse and food lovers companion in that it is about COOKING terms, not about food, not about food history. Everything a COOK needs to know. Whether you’re eleven or eighty-three. question about still needing iodide–we don’t–check your mcgee! criminal, i’m trying to arrange a stop by signing at elliot bay on monday early eve. and jordon, grant finishes radiation this week I believe and tumor virtually gone, docs enormously hopeful. if surgery is necessary, i’m told it will be minor.