The Art of Eating Cookbook: Essential Recipes from the First 25 Years
by Edward Behr, James McGuire
Publisher: University of California Press, Country: US
ISBN: 9780520270299, Year: 2011
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Recipes that are timeless. Recipes that have endured. Recipes that hold enough cultural significance that they’ve adorned the pages of Art of Eating magazine. The Art of Eating Cookbook is a no fuss, no frills anthology of recipes that work, taste great, and are doable by any level of cook.

Review

I must confess that I am an Edward Behr fanboy. I was first introduced to his The Artful Eater book (2004) by a food perfectionist friend. In that book Behr focused on ingredients and how to select the best of each – knowledge that I use on a daily basis. That led me to The Art of Eating magazine, which publishes quarterly and boasts a focus of tradition, place and simplicity. And now with the magazine’s 25th anniversary cookbook, the same foci and commitment to perfection are continued, and as such this review could be about any of Behr’s works.

So what will you find in this perfect cookbook? Nearly 150 recipes ranging from breads and dips, charcuterie (co-authored with James McGuire), soups, pasta and polenta, cheese, eggs and salads, vegetables, fish, poultry, meats and desserts. Each recipe should be at least remotely familiar to any lover of the classics (Green pea soup, Cheese focaccia, Potato gratin, Coq au vin), yet don’t be put off by the seeming simplicity to it all. Each recipe is prefaced with a bit of history and context (a shorter version of what might be found in the magazine. Recipes in the magazine are preceded with a journal length article about a place, point in time, or ingredient), and then finished with superbly written instructions that are realistic for any cook to replicate. While there are the occasional “but I don’t measure” comments, his ingredients are clearly measured and common sense around adjusting to taste will guide the reader to the finish.

In addition to the numerous recipes straight from the pages of the magazine (some of which Behr has reworked for the book), there are also original recipes such as his section on fresh cheese. As someone who regularly makes fresh cheese, and who has become overwhelmed by other recipes, Behr’s instructions were clear, concise and easy to follow and, again, realistic. Like many of his recipes, Behr is quick to say “if you can’t find [such and such ingredient], simply replace it with [another ingredient].” Behr’s pragmatism makes this book one of the most accessible high-quality books I have ever read.

Is there a need for another cookbook of classics (primarily foods rooted in Italian or French tradition)? This is very different from Mastering the Art of French Cooking or The Complete Robuchon or The Silver Spoon. Those books seek to be exhaustive. Behr presents not all the hits, nor the greatest hits, but the must-knows. These are not must-knows because of importance, but because they are great and should be a part of every cook’s collection. In The Art of Eating Cookbook you’ll be interested in and motivated to cook your way through the entire book because the recipes all sound perfect. In most cases the exhaustive books simply become resource fodder and paperweights, not something that you’ll want to cook your way through.

The design is sparse and that may turn away some readers, but they aren’t the target market for such a book. There is a handful of original artwork by George Bates, but elsewhere simply the word. Readers of the magazine will possibly be upset at the omission of their favorite recipes, but there is plenty here to keep a cook busy. As the Art of Eating universe continues to expand, my hope would be a tighter integration between all of their efforts including online access to all 25 years of recipes including full-text articles that prefaced each recipe… but that’s for another anniversary perhaps.

The Art of Eating Cookbook is a wonderful addition to any cook’s repertoire, but will be most enjoyed by those who have previously explored the classic dishes. My hope is that this book will be the gateway for those unfamiliar with Behr to discover his other works and share our obsession with perfection.

[For collectors, Behr personally signs all copies ordered through the Art of Eating website.]

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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