Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cooking From The Books 1

I was thumbing through the newly condensed edition of Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck Cookbook at my local bookstore and was naturally impressed by its sumptuous pictures, no doubt culled and re-dressed from his huge three volume original. What exquisite joy, what superb colors and combinations, what exotic reverie! Then I snapped out of it. Slick and luxurious, this book seemed to have more in common with the fashion industry than cuisine. I might have been flipping through the pages of Vogue rather than a cookbook. Actually, this was more like flipping through Tatler or Vanity Fair.

The cult of chef-auteur often obscures the fact that this is just cooking, dishes offered for gastric consumption. It's all very well being a Blumenthal or Keller, and they are often truly inventive and immersed in deep knowledge, but the back-work and elaborate preparation and assembly of an executed recipe in their kitchens is carried out by a multitude of sous-chefs and assistants in their employ. Like most amateurs I don't employ anyone to cook with me and I doubt if we would fit in this kitchen anyway. It's an extreme challenge for an individual to reproduce one of the more elaborate dishes within these pages, let alone a menu. Blumenthal even has a "lab" where scientist cooks carry out experiments to test his "recipes".

I must admit I have the Fat Duck Cookbook on my Christmas wish
list, but I have not succumbed to Keller's tomes even though his Sous Vide book is very tempting. It may be partly because, if I detect a precious element, I resist. Grant Achatz's Alinea cookbook is the closest book I own from the molecular gastronomy pack, and I confess I get great pleasure from it, despite never having cooked from it. If I ever choose to I do possess local sources for all the ingredients and chemicals cited within Alinea's seductive pages. I find I learn more about the philosophy of using cooking to create something rare and unique from these books, albeit a temporary and singular uniqueness, from these arcane alchemies. But perhaps food has always been about fashion. I would like to emphasize that the recipes in all these books give new meaning to the term "processed food".

Illustrated here: this year's Thanksgiving Turkey with Italian sausage stuffing before and after cooking.