As a self-taught chef, I am constantly on the lookout for books that will expand my training. Traditionally, books published by culinary schools have been written to accompany classroom instruction making them poor tools for independent learners. Francisco Migoya of the Culinary Institute of America takes a different approach to his books and his latest is certainly a winner for serious students of pastry.
Books in the category: Food information and history
Eat Me is the latest compilation of food design intended by and for designers but a joy for chefs, food lovers and art appreciators. In 2010 I reviewed Design Culinaire which had similar goals, but fell short because if its lack of breadth of contributors. Not so with Eat Me. Over 250 pages representing some 87 different designers and artists with works ranging from whimsical to oblique to functional. Eat Me will surely inspire you to find your own creativity and appreciate the role of designers in our daily gastronomic lives.
In Pastries, Hermé takes on 50 monuments of the pastry world from ancient to modern times, and reimagines them in unique and inventive ways. At times the metamorphosis can be a head-scratcher, and the book doesn’t include details about the creative process behind the transformation. However, any fan of food history and pastry will appreciate up to 50 new recipes from one of Paris’s finest.
In Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage, Professor Barbara Santich sets out to provide “justification and legitimacy” for those foods and ways of cooking and eating that are recognised as “distinctively Australian”. Santich draws on a wide range of sources including newspapers, diaries and memoirs, recipe books, and the work of other academics to present a thorough and approachable survey of Australia’s gastronomic heritage. Well-illustrated and with valuable and informative primary source material (newspaper articles, letters, advertising etc.) reproduced on almost every page, this book is a welcome reference for anyone interested in the historical background to the Australian diet.
Mediterranean Street Food is a celebration of both the food and the culture of the countries bordering the Mediterranean. Street food has been part of the way of life in this region for centuries and the history of all these countries, from Spain and Morocco in the west to Turkey and Lebanon in the east, is written in the food the people eat. Anissa Helou brings her natural curiosity and her innate cultural understanding to this collection of recipes gleaned from the street vendors themselves. Covering a broad range, this book is a very good introduction to both the similarities and subtle differences between the cuisines of the Mediterranean with an appealing range of recipes easily achievable at home.
Giorgio Locatelli is often referred to as one of the world’s best Italian chefs (or words to that effect) so it goes without saying that he knows a thing or two about Italian food. In this book he takes the reader on a most enjoyable journey around Sicily as he explores and explains the traditions and history of Sicilian food, meeting growers, producers and restaurateurs along the way. Locatelli’s enthusiasm and personality and the collection of recipes which admirably demonstrates the simplicity and strong flavours of Sicilian food make Made in Sicily both a good read and a good resource for anyone wanting to capture a little bit of Sicily for themselves.
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.
Bold design, sumptuous photography, genuinely inventive recipes; all have become the hallmarks of any new book by Australian chef Christine Manfield. Exciting stuff for book lovers, especially lovers of cook books, her stunning new Tasting India is no exception.
Jennifer McLagan’s final stage of her trilogy, including the much lauded Bones (2005) and Fat (2007), is a comprehensive exploration of those animal parts that are ignored or tossed in the bin, and the word fascinating would be the ultimate understatement in describing this book. Odd Bits is her final manifesto to the world of daring or squeamish cooks to take a new look at less common parts of the animals, and is one of the best cookbooks of 2011.
Infiniment is a wonderful addition to Pierre Hermé’s growing bibliography, with more than 100 never-before-published recipes of breakfast treats, appetizers, tarts, cakes, sundaes, and plated desserts. However, the art direction takes an approach different from his previous works, with photographs of abstract representations of the desserts instead of helpful images of the desserts themselves. Nevertheless, the sheer breadth and imagination of the recipes is sure to please any fan of modern pastry.
At a certain point many foragers grow hungry for bounty beyond mushrooms and cattails. They seek meat – raw and wild – yet making the leap from acorn gatherer to elk killer is a daunting one that seems beyond grasp. Hank Shaw’s Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast narrows that gap with an entertaining, informative and approachable perspective on all forms of wild dining.
Publishers Quadrille have produced a version of Eliza Acton’s famous Modern Cookery for Private Families, first published in 1845. Essential reading for anyone interested in food and history, so much of what Eliza Acton had to say is as true today as it was more than 150 years ago. Acton gives valuable insight into the Victorian kitchen, and her prose is a pleasure to read.
This is the second feature article about the Great Food series from Penguin Books. This article reviews books by Claudia Roden, Dr A.W. Chase, Alexis Soyer and Colonel Wyvern. Slim paperbacks with pretty covers, the GREAT FOOD series is a hit with many food lovers. We asked our reviewers to have a look at a number of them and give their thoughts.
Penguin Books has released a set of 20 books of writings by authors who penned their food wisdom anywhere between 400 and 20 years ago. Slim paperbacks with pretty covers, the GREAT FOOD series is a hit with many food lovers. We asked our reviewers to have a look at a number of them and give their thoughts. Part 1 features reviews of books by Alexandre Dumas, Samuel Pepys, Pellegrino Artusi and Alice B. Toklas.
Some people design couches. Others design cars. Stéphane Bureaux designs food. And what’s a food designer to do when he wants a collection of the best contemporary food design? Why, design a book to feature food design of course! Design Culinaire is a collection of notable design intended to document and inspire food artists.
An impressive, compendious work about ice cream and other frozen sweets for home cooks. The much-awaited revision of an earlier book by the authors has yielded a greatly expanded range of delicious recipes, plus some additional history and trivia. The authors’ insistence on precision and recommended formulae for making ices is undermined by their own mistakes and inconsistencies, but despite this, Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide is a work worth considering for any avid home ice cream maker.
If a book’s worth can be measured by the number of dog-eared pages, then Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work could turn around the international financial crisis. In fact, my copy has so many turned page corners that I’m expecting a ‘Cease and Desist” order to arrive at my home any day now. Well over 75 pages are marked as requiring my re-reading and note taking. And lest you think I’m a chronic book destroyer, a quick scan of my most favorite and used books show less than ten dog-eared pages in any one book. This is one worthy book for anyone who cares about the inner workings of their food or for anyone who wants someone to do the homework for them so they can simply follow instructions and put out great dishes.
How the British Fell in Love with Food is the sort of book you could either read from cover to cover, or simply pick up casually from time to time to read a chapter or two. The articles from members of the Guild of Food Writers, many award-winners, provide an interesting historical perspective on modern food history in Britain, combined with a fair range of recipes. The book is not without a few quirks, not least of which the choice of period (mid-70s to 2010). The book only includes works by the Guild’s writers, as it was published to celebrate the Guild’s 25th anniversary.
“Thai Street Food” is David Thompson’s homage to the markets, food stands and mobile vendors of Thailand. As with his groundbreaking previous book, “Thai Food”, Thompson explains the evolution of the food, and the systems and culture that sustains it. However, readers should not think of this book as being a street food version of his first book – to do so would only lead to disappointment. Thompson’s aim here is to give the reader an insight into what Thais eat every day and how it fits into their lives. The hour-by-hour changes in the food available to Thais in the street markets is constantly emphasised in the book. The combination of his writing and Earl Carter’s photographs is so seductive that it’s hard to resist the urge to catch the next flight to Bangkok to experience the culture Thompson has adopted as his own.
In a period of enormous culinary innovation, often involving clever, insightful or entertaining combinations of ingredients, we bring you a feature about many of the books (and a few websites) that focus on pairing foods and flavours. Where many people have been familiar with the pairing of wine and food, these books instead look at flavour combinations in the kitchen.
Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi is the culinary equivalent of one of those books you find in a museum gift shop – impressive, beautiful, inspiring… but not likely to get opened much after its first reading. And yet, this book will fill you with hope in our culinary future, inspire you to expect more out of your local restaurants, and re-examine the food on your plate.
Recently released in paperback version, Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions, brings renewed life to this James Beard Foundation book award winner of 2005 (originally published in 2004). Numerous books have been written about native or indigenous cooking in the Americas, but most focus on a small subset of people, and are rarely written by accomplished chefs. Fernando and Marlene Divina, in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, have created a book that documents important cultural history, and thankfully convert it into a useful culinary tool.
The Complete Mushroom Hunter is the only mushrooming book that will introduce you safely and with confidence to the hobby of mushroom hunting and gathering. Gary Lincoff escorts you from getting equipped for mushroom forays to preparing and serving the fruits of the foray.
Ever wondered why one flavour works with another? Or lacked inspiration for what to do with a bundle of beetroot? The Flavour Thesaurus is the first book to examine what goes with what, pair by pair: a reference book that will immeasurably improve your cooking.
Full of ingenious advice on styling in any media, Food Styling reveals every trick of the trade, from making a beverage appear to sweat to producing those perfect grill marks on meat. This is an ideal resource for both experienced foods styling pros and first-timers alike.
Field Guide to Candy packs a lot of recipes for homemade candy from around the world in a compact volume. It manages to include several lesser-known recipes from outside the US, UK and France, even though there are a few glaring omissions and curious inclusions. However, the lack of detail in the recipes make this more suitable as a reference book for more experienced candy-makers.
Massimo Marcone ventures into the bizarre world of food delicacies. Whether it’s shark-fin soup, scorpions, or seal-flipper pie, Marcone approaches his subject with the zeal of a scientist, but also with flabbergasted amazement at what human beings are willing to eat for sustenance.
The National Trust’s (UK) book on apples is probably everything a good British gardener would need to develop an orchard of delicious lesser-known apple varieties. One of a series of useful little books, this volume covers some history of the apple, culinary and cultural, the supposed health benefits, origins of various cultivars old and new, and horticultural tips for growing trees in various settings. This is a valuable and charming book for British readers and for curious fruit growers and apple lovers in other places.
Cake: A Global History explores the origin of modern cake and its development from sweet bread to architectural flight of fancy, with the meanings, legends and rituals attached to cake throughout the world, while relating the food’s place in literature, art, and symbolism.
An enjoyable book containing an impressive range of information about common and exotic ingredients, including many pictures and nutritional information. It’s suitable for people who already know a bit about ingredients, although the organisation of the book can be quite frustrating. For beginners, this would only be suitable for US readers, with some reservations.
Now in its thirteenth edition, this classic text is the resource for learning how to prepare and serve quality food in quantity. This book provides reliable quantity recipes and methods for planning, selecting and preparing menus for all types of food services.
The Modern Café is an excellent guide and inspiration for culinary professionals and those aspiring to have a great café. Beautiful photographs and informative side boxes generously fill the pages. The knowledge is invaluable, the recipes are fresh and exciting, and the business acumen could move you from failed restaurant to the star of your community.
This contemporary introduction to cooking and food preparation focuses on information that is relevant to today’s aspiring chef. It emphasizes an understanding of cooking fundamentals, explores the preparation of fresh ingredients, and provides information on other relevant topics.
The Healthy College Cookbook is intended for American college students with no knowledge of cooking and perhaps little time. The 300 recipes range from simple healthy breakfast dishes to desserts, with a good range of savoury dishes between. The range of recipes feels modern (though maybe underseasoned) and the advice is very helpful, making this a useful and tasty book, though perhaps a little dry for some students. A good gift for many students or young people living alone.
Based on the food served at Edinburgh’s best-known Italian deli-cafe, Valvona and Crolla, this new recipe book makes for an evocative and mouth-watering read. Organised around the four seasons, there are recipes, personal stories and mini-travelogues, hints and tips, and detailed ingredient information specific to each time of year. Inspiration abounds throughout, supported by recipes which are as reliable as they are tempting. All in all, ‘Valvona and Crolla: A Year at an Italian Table’ is a veritable feast for foodlovers.
The most renowned encyclopedia of food, the Larousse Gastronomique, has just appeared in its fourth English edition. Attractively presented with a bronze cover and black slipcase, it’s the latest in a series of impressive, fascinating and somewhat quirky editions in both French and English. Each edition is a translation and adaptation of a preceding French edition, and the fifth French edition was published almost exactly two years ago, in mid-October 2007. This feature provides an overview of the various editions and some of the interesting issues and changes over the years.
Basic ice-cream books are fairly common, but informative or innovative ones are few. Lola’s Ice Creams & Sundaes has been hailed as a welcome addition to the innovative side of things and I’m happy to agree. This attractive book by Morfudd Richards, owner of the UK’s high-class ice-cream van Lola on Ice, presents a very good range of delicious and inspiring recipes and some flawed explanation of the knowledge needed to become a confident and creative ice-cream maker.
Lobel’s Meat Bible from the eponymous butchery in New York promises “All you need to know about meat and poultry”. It’s a bold promise and the book doesn’t deliver. This visually attractive “bible” is both very informative and incredibly disappointing.
A buzz of joy courses through some readers when they discover certain books of special note. Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti had this effect on me. The author’s prose has that rather stiff, knowledgeable and cheekily irreverent prose familiar in parts from writers like Elizabeth David or MFK Fisher. From discussion of the probable diets of different classes of people in classical times to descriptions of contemporary foodsellers to notes about making your own tomato extract, Simeti captures the culinary atmosphere, context, attitudes and flavours of deepest, hottest Sicily.
“(T)he book vividly evokes the country households of two generations ago. It includes personal opinion, trucs and tours de main (personal tricks), even alternative versions of the same dish, all offered in a warm, practical and personal voice.”
That was Australian chef and food icon Stephanie Alexander on La Mazille’s La Bonne Cuisine du Périgord, but I would say much the same of Alexander’s own work, Cooking & Travelling in South-West France, published in 2002. A record of Alexander’s visits to the region between July 1999 and November 2000, this is part travel diary, part cookbook and 100% addictive.
The author of the massively popular blog Chez Pim attempts to guide us to appreciating food, dining, and cooking (again) with her unique brand of sass and humor. While the dining tips are useful and the recipes look delicious, some of the material appears simply a supplement to (or derivative of) the blog. Her guide is a mixed bag of earnest, well-thought-out advice and odd name- and place-dropping that somehow makes being a foodie synonymous with being well-traveled and well-connected (or synonymous with Pim’s life), contrary to her stated objectives.
Hilary McNevin’s Guide to Fish is a handy, modern reference for Australian consumers. Not only does it provide helpful information about sustainable species, buying and cooking tips, but also a great range of interesting, tasty recipes for each of the fish presented. Although you could always wish for more detail, this book achieves what it needs to within its clean, compact format.
An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, a collection skillfully pieced together by Elizabeth David herself, is the perfect introduction to the breadth and depth of her writing. First published in 1984, this collection of articles spanning many decades was inexplicably out of print in Britain for some years (but still available in the US). Here you will find remarkably candid – often hilarious – reviews of books and restaurants; historical essays sit comfortably with the well-loved romance of markets in rural France. Culinary gems are peppered throughout.
In Notes on Cooking, Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich provide us with 217 insights into what it takes to be a good cook – what they call a “concentration of the culinary craft.” Though each item is brief, most are immediately useful, insightful, and will have an impact on your kitchen habits. It makes an excellent gift for the starting and intermediate cook, but even experienced cooks will benefit from reflecting on the wisdom in it.
In Kim Sunée’s coming-of-age-memoir, she travels the world and uses food to find herself and the home she never felt she had. Sunée’s narrative is an intensely honest, earnest telling of her story, with a poetic, yet unfussy writing style. Trail of Crumbs details Kim’s life, from early memories of her childhood abandonment in Korea, to her adoption and upbringing in New Orleans, to her travels around the world. Most chapters conclude with a few recipes, appropriate to the setting. The recipes don’t necessarily inspire the reader to jump into the kitchen, but they are a nice touch and complement Kim’s journey in this heart-warming story without a classic happy ending.
Planet Cake is the book from the famous Sydney boutique cake shop of the same name, renowned for its elaborate sugarcraft creations and celebrity customers. The book promises beautifully decorated cakes that are “fabulous, professional, and easy”, and it seems to deliver in most respects, combining Planet Cake’s distinctive decorative style with good base recipes. The chapters of this book are very well structured, making it easy for beginners or more advanced decorators to find their way around. Whilst no-one would pretend that becoming a cake decorator is a simple feat, for the motivated home cook, Planet Cake can give you the tools to get there.
Chocolate is a mammoth work from the Chocolate History Group at the University of California, Davis. The culmination of ten years of anthropological and archival research, this is a book for a narrow range of readers with interests in food research, anthropology and history, or for those whose curiosity will be sated by an enormous range of fascinating tidbits about chocolate. As a volume representing the final output from the group, it is a collection of 56 academic essays covering anything from the religious significance of chocolate in pre-Colombian and post-colonisation societies to advertising cards in 19th century Europe and North America. As might be expected, this is no light reading and generalist readers may find it hard going. Despite the title, the remit of the research group was strongly oriented towards the Americas, leaving European chocolate history rather neglected in the final product.
The “Blue Ribbon” of this title is the traditional blue ribbon awarded to winning entries in country shows and specifically the various cookery sections (Classes) of the Horticultural and Agricultural Shows throughout South Australia. From cover to cover this is an attractive book, with well laid out pages, clear and easy to read text and nice sharp images to delight the eye and stimulate the taste buds. The prize winning cooks are women, men and children of all ages and mostly from towns and farming communities close to particular show venues. The recipes range from the humble tomato sauce, various preserves, jams and jellies, through baked goods from biscuits to sponge cakes and a State Competition winning entry of a rich dark fruit cake.
Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio promises a lot. He seeks to teach home cooks about the basic relationships between ingredients that form the basis of so many preparations – from custard to bread to sausages to mayonnaise. Bread, for instance, is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water. These relationships, ratios or “codes” for combining ingredients, are more fundamental than the specific weights and volumes of today’s flood of “new” recipes.
I was excited in anticipation of this book, but was greatly disappointed with the outcome from this otherwise good author. Ratios are a great approach to reviving cooking “sense”, but they require skill in definition and explanation. Somehow Ruhlman’s sense for communicating about cookery didn’t conquer the demands of explaining a mathematical relationship clearly to a range of possible readers. It was never going to be an easy task, especially when trying to apply chef sense to something which domestic cooks have largely forgotten. Nonetheless, despite its failings, the existence of this book is truly valuable and can be of utility to certain readers – those who are already familiar with ratios in cooking, perceptive novices who need no visual material, and perhaps some others who might want to explore their own understanding of cooking fundamentals.
The Seafood Handbook is a well-illustrated and easy-to-read guide of 210 species of seafood in North America, and is a great resource for buyers of seafood, or even your everyday seafood fanatic. However, parts of the introductory chapters, “crash courses” in the seafood industry and seafood handling, are poorly written and seem to evade issues that people who are serious about the seafood business should care about.
Extensively researched and beautifully photographed, Izakaya is an inspiring, enjoyable tour into this cornerstone of Japanese food culture. In addition there are more than 60 authentic recipes straight from the chefs of some of Japan’s best izakayas, making this book a must-have for anyone interested in Japanese cuisine. More than a cookbook or a guidebook, Izakaya is the next best thing to being there.
The recipes contained within this unassuming, un-illustrated reissue glow. They openly embrace the full spectrum of ethical eating. The vast majority, in fact, are vegan. None of the ingredients (bitter almonds excepted) are difficult for a home cook to locate but, most importantly, this is a book of delicious, exquisite food; simple to make, exotic enough to tempt jaded palates and written in an elegant, spare style. Instruction is straightforward and, where appropriate, Haroutunian’s introductions, themselves short and sweet, are peppered with wisdom from classic Arabian literature. I only wish the word Vegetarian could be replaced with the word Vegetable in the title. It deserves a wider audience.
Tessa Kiros’ latest offering, Venezia, will no doubt have turned up in many food lovers’ Christmas stockings. From the gilt-edged pages, to the stunning photographs of Venice, to the ornate food styling, it is a truly beautiful book, enhanced by Tessa’s romantic prose.
Marketed as “Tessa’s diary jottings on the life & food of Venezia”, one can’t help but wonder, why Venice? Apart from a brief mention of her “half Venetian sister-in-law”, Kiros doesn’t seem to have a personal connection with the city, nor does it seem that she has spent an extended period of time there – all the pictures seem to be from the same, distinctly wintry period. A strength of her previous books was the impressive authenticity of her international recipes – from Finnish meatballs to South African babka – no doubt testament to Kiros’ famously global upbringing. So whilst I wouldn’t count her recipes as authentically Venetian, her status as a veteran traveller makes her an excellent guide for us outsiders to Venice.
In the public imagination, the leading light of what has commonly been called the Molecular Gastronomy movement is the restaurant elBulli and its head chef, Ferran Adrià. For many years, elBulli has produced large, beautiful volumes of innovative dishes, techniques and the philosophy of their creation, first in Spanish and then, with some delay, in English. Unattainably expensive for many chefs and non-chefs alike, these books have provided one of the few clear insights into what Ferran Adrià and his restaurant is about, minus the breathless enthusiasm of food critics or hyped “weird-shit” descriptions of lesser food writers. At last there is a book that is aimed at the public, perhaps leading to better understanding of what this approach to cooking and eating is about. Sceptics might not make it through to the interesting bits, however, as this book is a vanity work of many pages and photos that only becomes interesting the further you look. In many ways this is little more than a coffee table book, yet fails in that form. It is simultaneously dull, unwieldy, informative and complex. The “potted guide” to elBulli, to use a slightly old fashioned term, just without the brevity!
David Lebovitz moved to Paris in 2002 to start a new life. After cramming all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment near the Bastille. But as this career pastry chef and cookbook author would soon learn, it’s a different world en France.