The Sorcerer’s Apprentices is the only reasonably unvarnished account of what it was like to work at el Bulli. Alongside occasional descriptions of the creative process involving Adrià and his key chefs, the book’s main focus is on the life of the unpaid apprentices lucky enough to have been selected to spend a season at the restaurant. The book provides interesting insights into the workings of this very special restaurant and the experiences of the people involved, but I found it long and heavy reading. Opinions of this book are likely to vary greatly.
Books in the category: 2-star
Alison Thompson’s Macaron is a nicely presented book that offers 35 flavors ranging from classic to creative. However, for such a notoriously difficult petit four to make, the recipe presented is too temperamental and the information too lightweight, with little to offer in terms of troubleshooting and technique.
Students seem to have been a new target for publishers in 2009, with at least four student-oriented cookbooks appearing. I guess publishers anticipated that students wouldn’t be able to afford the stereotypical diet of burgers, chips, pizzas, noodles and beer. An entertaining and attractive book, From Pasta to Pancakes, the Ultimate Student Cookbook is the work of young British food personality Tiffany Goodall. Unfortunately, despite the innovative presentation and the worthy intention of teaching food-illiterate students how to cook, the book is disappointing.
Feed Me Now!, Australian chef Bill Granger’s latest book, promises a “joyful, practical collection of recipes that cater to the day-to-day food dilemmas of busy modern families” that use few ingredients and require minimum fuss. While the recipe difficulty varies, they are easy to follow. However, the book still contains quite a few not-so-instant recipes, and the photography, while beautiful, appears at odds with Granger’s laid-back style.
Sudi Pigott’s fun little book, How to be a Better Foodie, is a tongue-in-cheek look at high foodie-ism. Bulging with tips, advice and foodie facts, in an extreme level of detail, it’s entertaining and informative in parts, but laughably bad in others. Pigott’s boundless enthusiasm comes across as pretentious numerous times, which often makes for painful reading.
The Barefoot Contessa’s new cookbook retains the same qualities of reliability, versatility, and simplicity consistent throughout the Barefoot Contessa series, but it has enough flaws (expense, a few obviously throwaway recipes and sections, over-the-top richness) and references earlier books in the series too much to be truly friendly to new readers of Ina Garten.
An attractive book presenting the story of the family of an Australian Vietnamese restaurateur and the Red Lantern restaurant in Sydney. It combines narrative with recipes. The photography is warm. Decorative patterns add a great deal to the appeal of the pages and to the fabric cover. The book is both saddening and frustrating. Despite the visual attraction and the promise of delicious food, Secrets of the Red Lantern presents a bleak narrative and has serious flaws which greatly mar the experience for some readers.
Few Australians have much understanding of the refugee experience or, more to the point, the Australian Vietnamese experience. It is good to see an attempt to recount the situation of people escaping Vietnam to seek a new life, the treatment as refugees in camps and then Australia, and how they have struggled and changed over the last thirty years. Combining this with the theme of food is logical. Many evocative books on food combine personal experience with the web of memory and emotion sustained by food. However, the story of this family involves so much suffering — largely at the hands of the writer’s father — that I found it uncomfortable to read this in what is clearly meant to be a cookbook. By ‘uncomfortable’ I don’t mean confronting; instead, I felt the narrative was out of place in this book.