Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg have been publishing innovative books about cooking and the chef world for longer than I have. Their popular Becoming a Chef was published the summer I was harrassing the Culinary Institute of America to let me in to write about, well, becoming a chef. I was mortified they’d beat me to it. It proved to be not just a different book from what I was attempting, but a valuable research tool for me then and throughout the years (its history of American restaurants and chefs with opening dates or significant restaurants is something I’ve returned to throughout the years). It remains a valuable book especially for people considering entering the profession.
Their most recent book, The Flavor Bible, published last year was one I kept hearing about. Finally I got around to having a look myself. What I’ve liked about their work is that they have consistently brought the unique perspective of the chef to their work, making it accessible to all without over glorifying or over-simplifying it. As I’ve said before, in many ways I’m anti-cookbook in my views. There are too many of them, and only a handful each years have anything new to offer. The Flavor Bible is completely unique. After opening chapters on how to build flavors in your meals, it is a glossary of ingredients and cuisines and all the flavors that go with them or are associated with them. Look up kale and you have a quick breakdown of seasonality, cooking technique and flavors that go well, one of which is cheddar cheese, something I’d never thought of, but hell, why not? Look up rhubarb or mint or basmati rice for pairings. When I need to come up with new dishes—what’s something new can I do with this lamb, for instance—this is a book I’ll be opening for ideas. A great gift for the cook who likes to improvise and experiment.
Another book I came across this year is Robert Danhi’s Southeast Asian Flavors, a book about one of the most dynamic cuisines in the world. Danhi was an instructor at the CIA (teaching Cusines of Asia beside Pardus, who called my attention to the book), and has traveled for years throughout Asia, exploring, photographing, and writing. He self-published this large format hardcover cookbook, and it went on to earn a Beard Foundation nomination last year. Two things in particular I like about the book. First, this is authentic cuisine, how it’s really done in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. Scond, throughout the book he has consistent sidebars to the recipes called “How and Why,” which explain the reasoning behind the technique. Highly recommended for students of Asian cuisines.
Two books I blurbed this year. For the literary food obsessed, there’s Novella Carpenter’s Farm City, an exuberant whacky story of raising food and livestock in a burned out section of Oakland—Novella is irrisistable. And for bloggers who want to write books, I’m sure you’re aware of Jaden Hair‘s first book, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook—if you’re not, you ought to be. It’s a fine first work, a perfect expression of the dynamo herself, and I trust it’s not the last we’ll hear from Jaden.
The oddest and most interesting magazine I’ve seen lately is Meatpaper, an odd mix of art and food writing devoted to meat. I’ve found something compelling and intriguing in the three issues I’ve recieved since subscribing.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ratio, though surely most people who come here are well aware of it, and the iPhone application has just been released. If you’re sick of me talking about it, stop reading here! What no one knows though is that I’ve gotten from readers the most gratifying thanks I’ve received for anything I’ve ever written, primarily regarding Ratio‘s taking the fear out of cooking. Herewith some comments; I’m truly grateful, thank you. (Update, just today Amazon eds picked it as the #1 Food lit book of the year! Wow! More sweet suggestions on their top ten page.)
It’s the only book I have that describes all things dough and baking in a way that actually makes sense to me. Somehow, it’s getting through my fear, and I’m actually making the stuff! Interesting + good info + actual cooking = good teaching cookbook!
Love the new book – I’ve already used it to tweak my pancake recipe (not enough egg before), make just the right amount of pizza dough, and whip up some fantastic mayonnaise.
I think you’ve nailed it here, an approach so important that most cooks never seem to grasp. I’ve been trying to teach much of that method for years—glad to know I’ve got your book to refer students to from now on—thanks!
—Stephen Durfee, pastry instructor, CIA Greystone
GREAT book. I baked bread for the first time today. I always just wrote baking off as being outside of my zone.
The simple codes inside of this book will change the way you approach cooking forever.
—Ryan, thisisreverb.com [intensely moody photo in current post, love it.]
Family believes I have taken my cooking to a higher level and love you for it. We made onion rings last night with your tempura batter ratio. Wife said they were the best onion rings she ever had.
Made a chocolate linguini with a vanilla creme anglaise using the pasta ratio. Everyone loved it.
… For the first time I feel like I am empowered to cook without being enslaved by recipes. I have always been terrified that if I didn’t do EXACTLY as the recipe said, not only would the food be horrible, but every one would know what a fake I am. Thank you for that as well.
—Channon G. Coats
My best friend today stood in my kitchen absolutely speechless and declared my ciabatta bread more beautiful than ones she buys at Great Harvest or Panera. Then she gobbled down three slices! It was the first loaf of bread I’ve ever done from scratch and I was terrified as I’ve never even successfully done it using a mix and a bread machine. …My husband hid the wild blueberry citrus cookies so he wouldn’t have to share when we had company today. [What I love here is that there IS no recipe for wild blueberry citrus cookies in the book!]
We adore Charcuterie and everything you write, but it’s Ratio that has changed my life.
—Shuana, aka glutenfreegirl.com
Again, thank you, everyone who has taken time to write to me over the past 9 months.