Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ideas in Food

After many months of waiting, the new book by Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot arrived in the mail today. For those unfamiliar with the authors, they have diligently maintained daily entries in their blog for years. Their first book, a photo collection of their culinary creations, shows their ingenuity and skill, particularly in developing innovative cooking techniques. They also teach classes and offer consulting. These are enormously creative people.

Their second book, entitled Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work, is filled with all the things I love about their blog. In everyday cooking, they often discover clever ways of making pickles, or melting cheese, and in more technical professional cooking, their innovation is cutting edge. Their courage to constantly challenge convention and ask, "Why do we cook like this?" is rewarded with sometimes surprisingly simple answers.

Almost any serious cook is going to have a copy of Harold McGee's great tome of food science, On Food and Cooking. The great advantage of Ideas in Food is that Aki and Alex are chefs. Mr. McGee is a talented scientist, and his applications of chemistry to cooking operations have had a tremendous impact on modern gastronomy. However, he is a scientist, not a professional chef, and that is how his book reads. When Aki and Alex get technical (and they are very capable of doing so), it is only moving towards the recipes, and illustrating the principles behind them.

In their introduction, their purpose is clearly established. "It is our job to illustrate why a deeper understanding of food and the ways in which it works are so important. Knowledge allows us to improve flavor, efficiency, and functionality in the kitchen. It a nutshell, it enables us to cook better." And cook better you will. There are ideas for everyone in this book, which is the truly beautiful thing about it. My mother could take a few clever tips from it's pages, and yet some of the most creative chefs in the world, like Grant Achatz in Chicago, and Johnny Iuzzini in New York, have been inspired by their ideas. It's worth the twenty five dollars you'll pay for the hardcover.