EACH person develops their own Zen approach. Mine is: when you cook, you must cook. Just accept it. Let your imagination guide you. That's how my musing goes while contemplating a challenge disguised as a request from a friend: “Tell me what cookbooks are essential."
First, you need to know a few things. Celebrity cookbooks are conversation pieces but they are not always the answer to world peace. Second, there are cookbooks and then there are American cookbooks. That's just the way it is, because Americans usually eat like people at the funeral of someone who owes them money.
And third, there are a bunch of cookbooks that should form the core of any collection: Elizabeth David's A Book of Mediterranean Food and French Country Cooking; Fergus Henderson's The Complete Nose to Tail; Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty; Marcella Hazan's The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking; Larousse Gastronomique; Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food; Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Irma Romauer's Joy of Cooking; and Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible. There are many cooking gurus, one for every taste and style — that's why I've been devouring Ottolenghi's books since I got involved with a vegetarian.
Somewhere between Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater, Ina Garten, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, you can also find a bit of indulgence. I'm always looking for the new Bob Dylan of the kitchen, or the new Jimi Hendrix of the dessert table. There's nothing more delightful than a fresh approach that stimulates the imagination of a hearty eater.
That's why this week I'm listing a bunch of recent (and not-so-recent) cookbooks that you must have.
What cooks need to know
Taste, the things you experience — how do you build the elements you want to bring forth in a sauce, a soup, any dish? This book is not heavy on recipes, but it contains everything a cook should know about creating flavours. You will never again do something dull in the preparation of food. Go to the gym to stay fit and keep The Flavor Bible close at hand so your taste organs can remain agile.
The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg was published by Little, Brown & Company and costs R897 at Exclusive Books.
Methods and implements
This book, with Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, is the most elegant way for anyone rich in enthusiasm but poor in cooking experience to access the great culinary adventure. Everything you want to know about techniques, the marriage of flavour elements and precisely what you need to get things done, from tools to ingredients.
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman was published by HarperCollins and costs R790 at Exclusive Books.
Here's the thing: Television series such as The Bear make cooking look like an adventure full of drama and pleasure. Implicit in this portrayal is the expertise that the chef and their staff have in mastering the kitchen processes. Samin Nosrat provides the background that every chef must have, and it will help us, the toilers of the suburban kitchen, to become heroes in our own right. I read it before coming across The Flavor Bible and How to Cook Everything, and it was striking that many of the fundamentals Nosrat lays out so thoroughly are simply accepted as common knowledge by their respective authors. The cherry on the cake is the recipe section, which is, on its own, a culinary masterclass. Everyone should have a Samin Nosrat in their life.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat was published by Canongate Books and costs R669 at Exclusive Books.
Braam Kruger once told me that his restaurant, Kitchenboy, functioned so exotically because he didn't want to plan logically when it came to stock management. Chef David Chang tells the story of how his restaurant group (Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar and Ko) came to be, how the recipes developed and why his food is unique. It's contrary to everything you'll learn in Karen Page and Mark Bittman's books. The other side of indulgence, Japanese-Asian-American. You'll realise that restaurants are the hardest work imaginable.
Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan was published by Absolute Press and costs R776 at Exclusive Books.
I have great scepticism about chefs who rose to fame in front of the camera. Mistakes can be fixed on the editing table. There is no process of skill evolution in the kitchens of restaurants where the celebrity has worked. Giada De Laurentiis is an alumni of Food Network but she does have a restaurant background. And she comes from a family of comfort-food chefs. Everyday Italian is a book for those days when you feel like eating something different but are too lazy to spend hours working on the end product.
Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis was published by Clarkson Potter and costs $22.40 at Amazon.
Chrissy Teigen has entered the consciousness of foodies via her Twitter posts of the food she cooks at home. Her Cravings is somewhat chatty and deceptively superficial in a Twitter-like manner, but she is clearly a culinary savant and her recipes work one hundred percent. For example, she will make crispy bacon with garlic and use it generously as a garnish for a cherry tomato and scrambled egg dish that is not suitable for people taking blood thinners. But you read the recipe, and you know this is next-level for bacon enthusiasts. Crispy.
Cravings by Chrissy Teigen was published by Penguin and costs R718 at Exclusive Books.
The original Moosewood restaurant was in Ithaca, New York, and it was a place where homely skills dominated the kitchen. It was operated by a group of friends who took turns cooking for a small table setting. Everyone wrote down their recipes, which was necessary because the menu varied all the time. As the chefs grew older and travelled more in their spare time, the dishes began to show international influences, especially in the vegetarian direction. The result is this eclectic collection of recipes. One of the cherished gems in my library.
Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen was published by Random House USA and costs R427 at Exclusive Books.
According to the marketers, Alice Waters led a food revolution. With her renowned Chez Panisse, she emphasised seasonal produce that she could source from the local market and focused on simple meals that involved family and friends in the cooking process. I admire her, but I lack some of the advantages she has in a northern hemisphere country with many accessible local markets. You have to make adjustments and concessions for the limitations imposed by local supermarkets. And then the Chez Panisse revolution will sweep through your life, too.
The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters was published by Random House USA and costs R747 at Exclusive Books.
Fergus Henderson is honest about what he wants to achieve with this publication. You can use it to improve upon the food he made at the restaurant Sweetings. I'm not so keen on it — I simply don't care about eating every last morsel of the pig or cow. However, Henderson and Gellatly are two people who can cook with anything that moves. There are many offal recipes that I haven't even looked at, and recipes for northern hemisphere birds. What tickles my fancy are their fish dishes and brilliant sections on vegetables, sauces, breads and pastries, puddings and more puddings, plus tempting ices or ice creams. More than enough for a lifetime.
The Complete Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly was published by Bloomsbury and costs R1,380 at Exclusive Books.
Roast is a restaurant near the Tate Modern gallery in the Borough Market district of London. Marcus Verberne is the head chef, and one doesn't have to be a patriot to acknowledge that with his work at the restaurant and with this book, he has done an incredible amount to prove there is such a thing as a true British culinary tradition and that it is unique. Many of the dishes will be beyond our scope for geographical reasons, but many others can be translated into South African terms. The “Mighty Full Borough" breakfast is legendary, and the chef says in its description that it is so much food that you won't think about eating again until the evening. It includes four thick slices of black pudding (blood sausage).
Roast: A Very British Cookbook by Marcus Verberne was published by Absolute Press and costs $25.00 at Amazon.
I love meat. And yet, my greatest pleasure in recent years has been the discovery of a vegetarian approach to culinary delight. Moskowitz and Romero's approach is very American, but don't laugh — they have convinced me that a gas grill is not an evil thing and that it holds the key to an unexpected enjoyment: the vegetable barbecue. Their introductory chapters are essential reading. And there are 300 recipes, some of which may require a trip to Sea Point or Illovo for the more exotic ingredients.
Veganomicon by Isa Moskowitz and Terry Romero was published by Hachette Books and costs R747 at Exclusive Books.
♦ VWB ♦
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