A glaring pink book seeking the spotlight, giving us the whirlwind European tour from Michelin restaurants to back alley holiday fairs, Pastry in Europe 2011 provides a snapshot of the state of pastry across the diverse continent. You’ll be delighted with the cutting edge ingredients, old-school techniques, and the slew of chefs sharing what they’re doing right now. While the 2011 book has made greater strides than its two predecessors, it has yet to take center stage.
Books in the category: advanced audience
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.
“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.
Jacques Reymond and his restaurant are institutions in Melbourne, Australia. Over the years, the French-born chef has gradually introduced Asian elements into his cuisine. In some respects, he is the other side of the coin to Sydney’s Tetsuya Wakuda, who gradually fused French methods into his Japanese cuisine.
Cuisine du Temps is a book reflecting on Reymond’s career in the kitchen. Many recipes that people will recognise from his restaurant appear in this book, as do dishes that he learned during his time working in South America and the South Pacific. The recipes and photography speak for Reymond, but there’s a part of me that would have liked to read about the man himself and what motivates him.
What if Mozart or Einstein handed you their notebook and said, “Here, go have fun.” Such a gift would be overwhelming in generosity as well as challenge. When Paco Torreblanca offers this gift in Paco Torreblanca 2, he adds, “Now let’s see what we can do together.” A serious, no-nonsense book for people who take pastry seriously, Paco Torreblanca 2 focuses on integrating natural ingredients into microcosmic eye candy.
Once upon a time, the marking point of a chef’s success was the awarding of a Michelin star or equivalent. The professional recognition and a dining room full of satisfied diners was all that was needed to make your mark on the culinary landscape. But chefs and restaurants have now evolved to a stage where global brand recognition has become a part of the game. Cookbooks featuring the flagship restaurant are a part of that marketing strategy.
Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road is the flagship of Ramsay’s empire, and “Three Star Chef” is his homage to it. As you’d expect, it is a beautiful book that will draw attention whether you keep it in the kitchen or on the coffee table.
The photography is of a high quality and the dishes presented are remarkable in terms of the skills behind them and their presentation. Given the time, skill, and ingredients, this is food that would impress at a dinner party. Ramsay’s words display his customary bluntness when discussing restaurant life in the first half of the book, but change to a more encouraging tone in the recipe section. Does this book, like the restaurant, stand alongside corresponding works by the likes of Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, and Michel Bras? While the Ramsay book matches these others in terms of recipe content and production values, it falls short in that you never truly get a sense of what drives him, his food, and his restaurant.
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!]
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.
The Dessert Architect gives plenty of inspiration for a student of pastry arts to create his or her own impressive creations through 50 creative recipes. It also provides a few guidelines in creating your own plated desserts and what factors must be put into consideration in a professional kitchen. However, the photography needs some improvement in showing off the desserts. Also, the lack of instructions for specific plating techniques and the exclusion of newer methods in plating and construction keep the book from becoming an authority on plating in the modern pastry chef’s bookshelf.
In an era when pastry chefs are whisking unpronounceable ingredients into batters, creating neon floating effervescent micro cookie espumas, this collection of Alain Ducasse recipes anchors pastry artists with solid and glorious fundamentals. With little fuss or fanfare Ducasse Pastry Chef, Frédéric Robert, offers 250 fine-tuned dessert and pastry recipes that are a sure success. But this volume is not for everyone. A solid foundation in pastry arts is necessary. And that sparse, focused writing style is what I find most appealing. Reading three page recipes for cookies wears on my patience, and here, we find recipes that take lines, not pages, but they assume you know your basics.
In Cake Chic, London’s queen of couture cakes, Peggy Porschen, shares the secrets of her celebrated sugar designs. From cookies to miniature cakes, to stunning tiered creations, Porschen’s style is unrestrainedly chic and girly. Her unique style and enthusiasm are inspiring and will motivate home bakers to get busy in the kitchen, rolling fondant and piping royal icing. However, despite its casual, accessible tone, this book is aimed squarely at advanced bakers, with some discrepancies between the base recipes and decorating guides requiring careful and skilled adjustment and planning.
Along with Heston Blumenthal’s “The Big Fat Duck Cookbook” and Ferran Adria’s “A Day at elBulli”, Grant Achatz’s “Alinea” was one of three highly anticipated books on molecular gastronomy released in 2008. The merits of molecular gastronomy have been argued in many forums and over countless dinners. While Blumenthal’s book provides a strong case that there is substance behind the hype, Achatz’s book may provide ammunition for those who don’t support the culinary revolutionaries. The recipes in the book are visually stunning and the techniques can leave you in wide eyed awe, but there is a gaping hole in that there are too few words from Achatz about his creations. It is also noticeable that the most satisfying writing in the book was by other contributors. It is these weaknesses that left me disappointed in the Alinea cookbook. Remove the essays, especially the one by Jeffrey Steingarten, and you may feel that the emperor has no clothes.
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.
At 255 pages with glossy color photos on nearly ever page, there is plenty of eye candy in Pastry in Europe 2009. However, at $119.95 on Amazon US the book moves out of the price range of most frugal bakers. The book feels like a hard-bound glossy book you find in finer hotel rooms that seeks to serve the Edward Behr (Art of Eating) audience. It is a beautiful, densely packed book full of wonderful material, and not just recipes, but articles about culture, people, technique, yet they are abbreviated articles that leave you wanting more. If you have knocked out some killer mousse or chocolate bon bons, and have a fairly solid grasp of the concept and techniques, grab the book. It is unique, interesting, and informative. The book was worth the investment for one who is constantly seeking new techniques, ideas and flavor combinations, although it may not get the mileage of an Hermé book or an Art of Eating magazine
Walk into any chef’s kitchen, and dig around long enough, and you’ll find a buried treasure of recipes. Mine is a humble stack of tattered, splattered papers sitting on a shelf in unruly fashion. A more experienced chef will have a file cabinet, a binder with sheets neatly tucked into plastic protectors, or laminated sheets clipped on a wall. The Complete Robuchon is that treasure chest for Joel Robuchon and his army of cooks. “French home cooking for the way we live now” is the apt subtitle and this book, and deserves its place next to the other fat books in your kitchen. In fact, I suggest placing it right next to Bittman and between the two you really could cook anything.
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.
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.
Everyone who has ever tried to make macarons will know that it is not as simple as it might look. Like Pierre Hermé’s famous macarons, it would be difficult for any macaron book to surpass this one. There are 57 macaron recipes, each one very detailed. Something which is extremely helpful for both macaron newcomers and veterans: photo-illustrated step-by-step instructions for making shells and fillings. Although this book is in French, the recipes and instructions are clear enough that most macaron lovers would find a solution to the language barrier.
Si vous avez déjà essayé de faire des macarons, vous savez sans doute que la tâche est bien plus difficile qu’elle n’en a l’air. Tout comme les macarons célèbres de Pierre Hermé, son livre sur ces petits délices est sans égal. Cette œuvre contient pas moins de 57 recettes pour macarons, chacune bien détaillée pour aider tant ceux qui savent déjà en faire, que ceux sans aucune expérience. Les photos illustrent chaque étape dans la préparation des coquilles et des garnitures. Bien que ce livre soit rédigé en langue française, les recettes sont suffisamment claires d’ailleurs, même les amateurs de macarons non-francophones pourraient surmonter la barrière de la langue.
The 2008-2009 class of modernist cookbooks was stellar. It seems that chefs and authors have recognized that a growing class of home cooks has filled their pantry with calcium lactate, agar agar, gelatin sheets and lecithin. The days of flashy coffee table books filled with out-of-reach food porn have been pushed aside for star studded cook books filled with National Geographic worthy photos and accessible (albeit challenging) recipes. Among this class we can find Johnny Iuzinni, Grant Achatz, Joel Robuchon and Thomas Keller. The latter leads the class in its yawp to cooks and chefs across the globe that its time to look forward while keeping your roots solid and well honed.
At just shy of 300 pages with high quality color pictures on half of the pages, and more recipes than my vacuum packer can handle, this cookbook packs a wallop. Consider sous vide’s espoused virtues – “Fruits, which are especially susceptible to rapid oxidation and discoloration, remain bright when cooked sous vide rather than becoming dull and brown,” or “Fish, perhaps more than any protein, has such a small window of doneness that it requires the most finesse on the part of the cook. Sous vide makes cooking fish easier and more consistent, especially in a busy kitchen.” These are tidbits that welcome the home cook into the industrial kitchen with open arms.
If you’re interested in rolling up your sleeves, plugging in the circulator, and cranking out some amazing foods, then this is a great option for you.