I have a stake in two of the big cookbooks coming out this season from multi-starred chefs but before I write about these, attention must be paid to The Big Fat Duck Cookbook, by Heston Blumenthal and his team.

When I saw the price, retail $250 (157.50 from Amazon), it’s size (11 pounds/5 kilos), I thought, What can possibly be the point of this?  When the unasked for copy arrived from the publisher, it quickly became clear that this monster cannot be denied.Big_fat_duck_2

I showed it to my 13-year-old daughter.  Her response: “Who would buy this?  It won’t even fit on a shelf.  You’d have to have a yacht or jet or something to put it on.”

But as she began to leaf through its pages, the extraordinary illustrations by Dave McKean captivated her, and by the time she got to the food, she was actually gasping and covering her mouth and saying “Oh my god” and “That is so cool.”

More or less my response, too.  I have never been so captivated, visually, by a cookbook (my own books excluded, of course), primarily by the illustrations, the playfulness of them, the exuberance of spirit they convey.  A brilliant move to include these.  Dd_nitro_green_tea_2The food photography is stunning, I think, because it’s so big and Blumenthal’s food is so dramatic. I haven't tried the recipes so I can't vouch for those–worth a cook-the-book blog if the right voice were to find it.

The first 125 pages of this 448 page book are given over to history (and a fine intro by Harold McGee)—a first person account of Blumenthal’s beginnings, his interests, his being largely self taught, his opening Fat Duck with astonishingly little restaurant experience, and so on, up to the statement on the new cookery with Keller, Adria and McGee.

Part two comprises 50 signature recipes, each introduced by exhaustive, story-like headnotes describing the origins and reason for the dishes.  And part three describes all the science and equipment pertinent to Blumenthal and his food.

The table of contents is in the middle of the book, in a big fold-out.

There are so many pictures and illustrations of Blumenthal and his signature android-like countenance (bald head, futuristic glasses), that along with the sheer size of the book, you might be tempted to think this young chef is a colossal megalomaniac. He may well be.  But I spent a couple days with him last year and he is nothing but a pleasure—natural, fun, articulate and relentlessly inquisitive.

Big books take a huge teams.  I can’t imagine how this one came together, but I’m very glad that it did.  I hope culinary schools and libraries will invest in a copy (along with a stand to put it on)—so that the people who can’t afford a $250 luxury item (most cooks, for instance, and, well, come to think of it, writers, illustrators, artists, musicians—in fact the people most likely to value it) can see it.  Huge congratulations to Blumenthal and his team for this over the top, way over the top, effort.


32 Wonderful responses to “Big Fat Duck”

  • Guy Anderson

    I hope it is a good read at $22.75 #. One thing I hated about the CIA Prochef that we lugged around was the fact it weighed a ton – now I know why I have been diagnosed with 3 slipped discs and a anterlothesis of L5 – I will wait for the library to get it or win the lottery. But I can say the magazines of Olive, Delicious that has his articles in them – they are really cool.

  • amazing weight

    At almost twice the fattiness and 1.5x the dimensions of Alinea, and I can’t even imagine trying to hold this open and thumbing. crazy times.

  • Eliane

    Wow. That looks amazing. But not a cookbook. At least not for mere mortals in the home. Still I wouldn’t say no at Christmas if it turned up under the tree. Oh and if your readers are in Europe it’s cheaper – 60 pounds = 89 dollars from

  • Mensch71

    I dearly love books about cooking, especially your books… but this is kind of ridiculous. 11 pounds? It should be an encyclopedia of cooking at that weight. I’d be curious to see if it ends up being more of a vanity project as opposed to a real educational and inspirational piece. Don’t tell Carol about this book or she’ll end up cooking through it too!

  • w.

    Mine’s in the mail and I cannot wait. While I know there’s no way I’ll be able to ever pull off one of those cook-the-entire-book things, I’m just hoping to try a handful of the recipes from this one. My meal there this year was phenomenal and it would be so awesome to be able to sort-of relive just one or two of those moments at home.

  • Adam

    @Eliane: Awesome tip – thanks! Puts the book in the “justifiable” category!

    Blumenthal did two series in the UK called IN SEARCH OF PERFECTION which is incredibly inspiring. He does come across as remarkably natural and fun-loving.

  • acidspit

    I’m skeptical about the book. Tbe first 125 pages of this 448 page book are given over to history? So… like a mini biography? And honestly, only 50 recipes? Even alinea had more than that (although the ones in this book are probably easier to make.) At this price, given the current belt-tightening, this book isn’t for me. If you could write it off as some sort of tax deduction, maybe.

  • ChuckEats

    I haven’t seen the book but Dave McKean, one of the greatest illustrators/designers of our time, is a perfect fit for Heston’s food.

  • Cameron S.

    Will be ordering this today. Looks like a fun and big read. I pay $40 for thin little volumes so this looks like a good value per pound. The Beef brisket of books.

  • Kate in the NW

    Wow – I want this after seeing the photos you posted. It looks like it should go on the (top) shelf right next to The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker. I love how cookbooks are really crossing into beging serious “Art Books”. Shouldn’t it have always been thus????

  • Dana

    Why not? Many of us would consider buying a piece of art that weighs 11 lbs and hanging it on the wall and thinking that at $250 it was a steal . . . this way you get art, literature and sustenance in one place. Unfortunately I doubt if my B&N will have this one in stock any time soon.

  • bob

    not unlike my copy of Alinea, I’m sure I’ll need a spotter to read this book in bed…

  • Amy

    I recall this book mentioned in several blogs and I also believe NY times (or was it LA news?)…

    I am intrigued by this book. Just wish I was able to scan over it thoroughly before purchasing….Tho’ there’s a good chance I may purchase it anyways…one day.

  • Tdub

    I unabashedly have a permanent hard-on watching Heston on ‘In Search of Perfection’. From the start of the catchy and cool intro right through to the end, he’s mine. It’s definitely not for every chef, but any chef that seriously questions the why and how of food will do well by reading this book. “Culinary alchemy”, as is often used to describe Heston’s style is such a terrible, clinical term. I prefer to think of him as the ultimate craftsman; one who wants to find out how to absolutely perfect every step along the way (for reference of this, pretty much any ISoP episode, but I think the Peking Duck one sums it up nicely).

  • Laurence

    This bad boy is quite a handful. I had to read it laying on my side, because it was too big to rest comfortably on my lap.

    I thought Alinea and Day at El Bulli were big, but this one tops them easily. It does seem like all the books I have gotten recently are of the BIG variety.

    I am currently reading the history of HB and the FD, and there are a LOT of pictures and illustrations. It’s a good read though, if a bit quirky, like his TV series In Search of Perfection. Can’t wait to get to the recipes.

  • bloviatrix

    I love the photo showing showing the scale of the book in relation to Bouchon and TFL. I have a bookshelf devoted to Artisan books which I think would buckle under the addition of Fat Duck.

    Alinea is on my Hanukkah list. Still debating whether to add this one.

    Jessica’s Biscuit is carrying it for $150.

  • Peter

    I’m excited to get my hands on this book, but at that size and weight, I wonder if it would have made a better, functional *cookbook* if the 50 recipes were in a smaller, removable section. Or maybe the books should have come as 3 volumes — that way we’d get 3 incredible covers instead of 1. 🙂

    Recommending books so good (including all of Ruhlman’s), they’ll keep you up past your bedtime. 😉

  • chadzilla

    You’re right about the major points of this book. I received my pre-ordered copy today. It the unnecessary pix were cut out, the book could easily be half as big… especially with the over-sized fonts.
    The information seems great on the surface. Let’s just all wait to see how the recipes hold up. This is the main selling point that separates the cookbooks from the references.

  • S. Woody

    $157.50 at Amazon. $150.00 at Jessica’s Biscuit. Either way, it’s outside what my budget has room for.

    Maybe I’ll wait until it comes out in paperback…

  • Nick

    If I bought this it would give me a solid reason to redo my kitchen.

    I could build in a counter just so I could have that book splayed out at all times.

    Looks cool, but man. Maybe they will make a Sparknotes version?


  • Garee

    Hey Michael! Great book review/promo. I might have to drop the bucks and get that one. Do you have to have rights to use the picture of the guy looking at the potato? He looks like me, and I was thinking I might use it.

  • johnny damon

    It ends up being around 105 USD shipped if you buy it from amazon UK even if you’re in the US.

  • craig thornton

    went and bought the book the other day, well worth the 250$ but i dont knwo about paying 100$ for shipping from anywhere, thats just crazy. really good book, it doubles as a barbell.

  • johnny damon

    no…105 shipped as in book+shipping costs around 105 varying slightly with the exchange in, it’s way cheaper to buy the book from even if you live elsewhere.

  • Pierre Lamielle

    As an illustrator/food writer with an illustrated cookbook on the go this book is terrifyingly awesome. I love Blummenthal and McKean, but how is anybody supposed to make a book to follow up this piece de resistance?
    There are not many illustrated cookbooks out there: Pied de Cochon, Pork & Sons, Looney Spoons and now this monster of all illustrated cookbooks is set to stomp them all out and any others that are coming.
    I sure as hell hope my modest little illustrated cookbook doesn’t get trampled in the dust next year.
    Hey Michael, remember the pig shirt I gave you in Vancouver, wanna do me a huge favour and scribble out a quick little review for the back when it’s done in the Spring? I need all the help I can get against this Goliath…