If someone were to ask me what my current favourite cookbooks were, I’d have no trouble answering.
Regular readers will be familiar with my fascination with the first of these, and the spectacular results I’ve hewn from the raw ingredients listed in its hallowed pages. It’s a great book, and the recipes are extremely forgiving. You can’t go wrong. Like eating meat? Then buy it.
The second choice is perhaps less obvious. Cooking using this book is more of an exact science, but with a little preparation, decent ingredients and the right frame of mind, exceptional examples of culinary architecture are within the reach of any half-decent cook.
The best thing about Bourdain’s book, however, is his use of language. While most great chefs are rightly passionate about their craft, this passion rarely comes across in their prose. Watch Gordon Ramsay on TV, and you realise very quickly how much he cares about food, how important he feels it is, how much both good and bad cooking stir his emotions. He’s brilliant. But read his books, and the passion simply isn’t there. The recipes are exceptional, the photos majestic, but there’s no real fire, no animation, no rapture, no spirit. Bourdain has all these in spades.
Here are a few choice quotes:
- “As this recipe serves twelve, I suggest throwing a big, rowdy party, getting your guests all liquored up, and, when they finally start complaining, “Where’s the guacamole and the remaki?” hauling out a big, beautiful tub of steaming hot guts.”
- “Don’t worry. Lobsters are essentially big fucking bugs too stupid to know they’re dead.”
- “I’m no fan of Donald Rumsfeld, but if he makes a good sandwich, I’ll certainly eat it.”
- “Now scrape! Pick up your wooden spoon and scrape, you magnificent bastard!”
See? Genius. I like to imagine Bourdain at his station in the kitchen, cigarette dangling casually from lower lip, half-empty bottle of Burgundy to one side, starched uniform covered in blood as he rustles up another batch of mouth-watering cassoulet. Listening to the Ramones, probably. My kind of cook.
But even Bourdain gets it wrong sometimes – witness my recent e-mail to his restaurant.
I recently purchased Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook, and although there is much to admire in Chef’s spicy prose and no-nonsense approach to life in the kitchen, I must take issue with one of the recipes.
Page 277: 450°F/230°C for 40 minutes? Are you insane? What is it you’re trying to make? Clafoutis or charcoal?
All the best,
Ramsay, btw, cooks clafoutis for 20 minutes at 190°C. This is much more sensible.
Les Halles have yet to get back to me. Perhaps I’ll ask again when I eat there next month.