Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Phaidon Cookbooks

A few years ago, Phaidon, a publisher known for their fancy art and architecture books ventured into the world of cookbooks. They published The Silver Spoon, an Italian cookbook purported to be a kind of Italian Joy of Cooking. I made it a staff pick when it came out and it is now my most frequently used cookbook.

After the success of the Silver Spoon, Phaidon continued with a series of "Joy of Cookings" for other European countries; 1080 from Spain, Vefa's Kitchen from Greece, and I Know How to Cook from France. More than just cookbooks, all of these act as snapshots of their respective cultures through their recipes. You learn what animals, what cuts, and what vegetables are important to which countries, as well as what preparations dominate and what flavors are revered. They are an anthropology dissertation waiting to happen.

Along with their tour of Europe, Phaidon also released one of the most interesting cookbooks I've ever seen; A Day at elBulli. elBulli is the restaurant of world renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adria. Adria pioneered entirely new techniques for cooking, employing, among others, a chemist to help develop his recipes. His recipes challenge ideas and expectations about how we eat, what we eat, why we eat, and what it means to eat. Unless you keep agar agar handy, A Day at elBulli really isn't a cookbook you'd get recipes from. Rather it's an exploration of the process of one of the world's most creative people. It is a source of inspiration, rather than ingredients.

Phaidon's cookbook being released for this holiday season is closer in spirit to A Day at elBulli than to The Silver Spoon. In Coco, ten world renowned chefs, including Ferran Adria, Mario Batali, Alain Ducasse, Gordon Ramsay, and Alice Waters are asked to select their ten favorite contemporary chefs. The result is a collection of profiles and recipes from 100 diverse and dynamic chefs from around the world. The organization of the cookbook is oddly intuitive. Each of the ten master chefs is assigned a color, and a colored book mark. The selected chefs are presented alphabetically by their name with a stripe of color on their pages indicating which master chef selected them. It's a brilliant way to organize the important information without preferencing any chef over another through the order in which they appear. The book closes with a recipe from each of the master chefs. Alice Waters gives us Chicories Salad with Brandade Toast, Mario Batali Two-Minute Calamari, Sicilian Lifeguard Style, and Alain Ducasse Provencale Garden Vegetables Simmered with Crushed Black Truffle.

This is the perfect book for foodies looking to stay on the absolute cutting edge of cooking, as well as travelers looking for the best meals around the world. Though it's unlikely I'll be making the sweet potato based espresso recipe or crushing much black truffle in my own kitchen, a cookbook like this provides fuel for my imagination and opens my eyes to the unexpected potential of the cabbage I have to cook before it goes bad.

1 comment:

Marie said...

I'm so interested in buying I KNOW HOW TO COOK but so intimidated by its size! It's an end-table! :)

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