Friday, February 13, 2009

Culinary jazz

What separates a good cook from a great cook? A good cook can follow any recipe and prepare a wonderful dish. A great cook can create their own recipes. I used to work at a restaurant where the owner would prepare soups from instinct, knowing which spices worked well together and what flavor was missing or too powerful. She would get inspirations from cookbooks, but would rarely follow a recipe.
With our new book The Flavor Bible: the essential guide to culinary creativity, based on the wisdom of America's most imaginative chefs, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg give you that fundamental knowledge of flavors, seasonings and ingredients that allows you to understand why certain things compliment each other and other foods should never be used in the same dish. Even better, their interviews with chefs from around the country help explain the underlying factors that can elevate a dish from good to great. Are you using foods appropriate for the season? For the climate? Is your cooking technique overpowering the strength of your ingredients?
After a couple of chapters of theory and explanation, the book gets down to the nitty-gritty: an encyclopedia of spices, techniques and ingredients that lists what compliments the item (in three different levels of affinity) and often what combination of foods works well with the item to create an overall dish. I looked up rhubarb - which is abundant in Southeast in the spring, but has limited appeal to me - and saw that it's a medium-weight food with a strong flavor that works well being baked, stewed, sauteed or pureed. It pairs best with strawberries, cream, ginger and sugar (all of which I knew), but I also found out that caramelized sugar works well for rhubarb because it doesn't make it too sweet. Blood orange juice, mint, almonds, game birds and Stilton cheese are all recommended, as is angelica (which I had to look up in the dictionary).
So give this book a try and see if it doesn't open up some new possibilities for you in the kitchen. Remember that scene in Sabrina where Audrey Hepburn returns from Paris and whips up a meal at Humphrey Bogart's office using tomato juice, crackers and eggs?

1 comment:

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I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further develops, the possibility of uploading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about all the time.

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