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: factual stories/tales
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.
In the introductory chapter of his new book, “Medium Raw”, Anthony Bourdain asks “What the fuck am I doing here?” While that statement is made in the context of a dinner with chefs that he admits are countless levels above his own abilities, he also intends as a question about how he has ended up as a fulltime writer and television presenter. While he puts it down to a series of lucky breaks, the other factors he doesn’t mention are a combination of keen observation and very good writing skills.
“Medium Raw” is promoted as a sequel to “Kitchen Confidential”, and in one sense it fulfils that with chapters that update us on the lives of the people in that breakthrough book. But the book also offers writing about his own life, the food world as he sees it and, to his credit, saying how some of his views have changed over time. The usual Bourdain elements are there: the gonzo style of writing, his refusal to sugar coat his opinion, and a healthy splash of swearing. But with marriage and parenthood, a gentler and more sentimental Bourdain emerges too.
David Chang, owner of the famed New York restaurants Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar and Ko, chronicles his journey from noodle-eater to noodle-maker and guides us through more than 50 of his most popular recipes that showcase the fusion of modern technique and classic Asian comfort food. Throughout the book he gives us a peek into the creative process and the story behind each dish, citing his influences, failures, and inspirations. The recipes can be daunting and the flavors sometimes need tweaking, but ambitious home cooks should have little problem replicating or improving on the dishes, though the weak instructions and badly converted measurements might lead them astray. While there has been plenty of media focus on Chang’s “bad-boy” image, he still comes across as approachable and self-deprecating at best, and at worst annoying and trying too hard, but never offensive. Fans of modern Asian cuisine and the Momofuku empire will find the book both entertaining and fascinating. [Editor's note: Don't miss our book giveaway too!]
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.
Marco Pierre White’s publishers took advantage of his re-emergence on television in the mid-2000s by reprinting “White Heat”. First published in 1990, this book proved that the public had an interest in recipes that were not intended to be made in a home kitchen.
“White Heat” has been a book sought by collectors, professionals and foodies since its original release. Justin North, the owner/chef of Sydney’s Becasse restaurant commented recently that “This changed the way I saw food. I was an apprentice in New Zealand and it gave me an insight to the manic life of a chef; it made me hungry for knowledge about Michelin chefs.” Its impact in terms of kitchen skills, as a source of inspiration for chefs and cooks, and on the design of cookbooks, is still being felt twenty years later.
“White Heat” also set standards in other areas. The stark black and white photographs are so integral to the feel of the book that the photographer, Bob Carlos Clarke, received a prominent credit on the cover. The layout with its blocks of white space and oversized quotes by White owes more to cutting edge magazines like “The Face” than to the cookbooks of years gone by. Finally, there is the no-holds-barred commentary by White about the many aspects of the life of a chef. “White Heat” was an extraordinary book in its time, and it remains so today.
Big. Bold. Burning! Those words summarize this near flawless book from famed South American chef and restaurateur, Francis Mallmann, and author Peter Kaminsky. Seven Fires refers to the techniques that Mallmann uses when cooking: Chapa, Little Hell, Parilla, Horno de Barro, Rescoldo, Asador and Caldero. You ask, “Where are hibachi and sterno?” Not to be found in this book. Seven Fires is about serious grilling – the type that you dream of doing. The cover teases us with Mallman genteelly grilling over burning embers, but open the cover and whole hogs are split wide, splayed above massive infernos. But not to fear, this book is truly accessible to all.
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.
It’s 43cm long, 33cm wide, 8cm thick, weighs about five kilograms, has 534 pages, and was one of the most anticipated cookbooks in 2008. From the silver embossed slipcase to the photography and artwork, the writing and the feel of the paper, it would be hard not to notice and admire the Big Fat Duck Cookbook on the shelves of a bookstore.
On initial impressions, perhaps like the restaurant itself, the book appears to be an intimidating creature. Open it and you will be hit by Heston Blumenthal’s passion. Inside is the story of Blumenthal and his restaurant, the recipes and stories behind many of the dishes from the Fat Duck, and a series of essays explaining the science behind the food. Beyond the science, there are journeys into food history, philosophy, personal anecdotes, humour, and the sheer dumb luck that can trigger a great idea. It is a dizzying amount of information in one book. But for those who have read Blumenthal’s previous books, his newspaper columns, or seen his TV show will know that he has a gift for explaining complicated concepts in terms that the layman can understand.