Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Ideas in Food by Aki Kamozawa & H. Alexander Talbot

Reviewed by Kevin Jeung of The Cookbook Store
It seems, and has seemed for a very long time, that cookbooks fall on either side of a line that divides complexity and simplicity. Even those that claim to possess both characteristics, oftentimes one finds that the book subtly leans to either side of the line instead of taking a committed step.

This is where Ideas in Food threw me for a loop. Much like David Chang's Momofuku broke the mould of bad fusion cuisine by simply doing it well, authors Kamozawa and Talbot break the mould by focusing separately on both the simple and complex aspects of cuisine and giving each the face time (page time?) required to competently inform us of the world on either side of the proverbial fence. In fact, the jump from the simple section to the complex is so drastic it evokes imagery of a dancer breaking from a slow, elegant waltz to the furious energy of a fox trot. I think, most of all, what makes this book special, is that if you were to split both components into separate editions, they would both serve spectacularly as their own respective volumes. The fact that both subjects come bound in a single package only acts as a bonus atop of what is already an excellent read.

Fans of Nigel Slater's writing prose will be absolutely smitten by the charm and dry wit that neatly and seamlessly fill the gaps between well thought-out and delicious recipes. With a book lacking photographs, such as this one, it's a nice thought to introduce a likeable personality through the short anecdotes and coy explanations that allow the reader to understand the recipes without having to be shown visual representations.

While there are merits in the first segment of the book that focuses on the simple aspects of cooking (though techniques such as the micro-stock are very much a popular restaurant technique, so put out of your mind any visions of tuna casserole or shake-and-bake chicken; this is still real cooking!), as a chef who has put quite a bit of time and study into the world of molecular gastronomy, hydrocolloids and liquid nitrogen, I must say that this book far and away explains this new catalogue of techniques better than any other book on the market. Pulling back the elitist clouds that have surrounded this cuisine since a chef named Ferran found out what happened when sodium alginate and calcium chloride were combined, readers are privy to the a boatload of information on molecular gastronomy that is both insightful and approachable.

So what is it about Ideas in Food that has perched it atop global "Top Cookbook 2010" lists before it has even been released? Well, accessibility for one; Martha Stewart has made it a habit of explaining simple recipes and having her volumes fly off the shelves, but it takes a truly gifted food-oriented mind to explain transglutaminase to someone and not induce sudden slumber. In the end, Ideas in Food succeeds not for it's diverse catalogue of recipes (to which it does have) or the vast number of people the writers consulted in it's conception (to whom they did speak), but for the fact that the authors are genuinely in bringing regular Joe's with them on their journey towards the next frontier of gastronomy.

Ideas in Food by Aki Kamozawa & H. Alexander Talbot (Hardcover, 320pp, $28.95)

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