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Excellent Reference for All, But don't replace older edition
on February 13, 2007
`The Professional Chef, 8th Edition' by the faculty and staff of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), generally thought to be the best culinary school in the country, is truly a great textbook for, exactly as the title states, anyone who wishes to be a PROFESSIONAL chef, sous chef, line chef, garde-manger chef, catering chefs or even charity soup kitchen cook. It is NOT that good for people who may wish to simply be personal chefs, pastry chefs, bread bakers, or simply better home cooks. This is because every aspect of the book, starting with the recipes and including everything else, is oriented towards preparation for large groups of people. Virtually all recipes, even the bread baking recipes, are written to serve a minimum of 8, and generally between 12 and 20 people.
The other side of the coin is that this book contains hundreds of pages of information which you will not find in practically any other book. Much of this, such as the cost of serving calculations and other business considerations are not likely to be very interesting to the majority of amateur cooks (unless you happen to be managing a charity food service). But there are also lots that should be interesting to the average cook. Topping this list is the chapter on food safety. Most of us who read a cookbook now and then and watch our share of Food Network cooking shows (especially Alton Brown's Good Eats) will have a passing knowledge of food safety, but the material here will give one the confidence to know they are following the `professional' approach to food safety.
Even though virtually all recipes are written for larger than `home' serving counts, every serious amateur cook, even if they are cooking for only one or two, will be amply rewarded by reading large sections of this book and using it as a reference for many, many techniques.
To look at one of my favorite subjects, eggs, for example, I find several things I either never knew or have forgotten. For example, this is one of the few places where I've seen instructions on how to vary cooking time for hard boiling eggs based on the egg size. This variation, from 12 minutes for small eggs to 15 minutes for extra large eggs explains why I have seen cooking times everywhere from 8 to 20 minutes. The great thing is that in the amateur volunteer kitchen, one has it on GOOD AUTHORITY that we only really need 12 minutes cooking time, as long as we follow the other recommendations such as leaving two inches of water above the top of the cooking eggs. Staying with the egg section, one may be surprised at how few different major recipes there are. There are only 16 main recipes; however each main recipe, like the `rolled omelet', may have up to 14 variations. But there are still things missing. While we get a recipe for French toast, there is no recipe for any classic Italian or Spanish egg dishes such as the frittata or the tortilla Espagnole. There is not even a mention of `frittata' in either of the two indices.
The egg section reveals one annoyance I find with the book. It begins each major section, as in the Chapter 29 on eggs, with six `master recipe' multi-page presentations on important techniques. In this case, it has sections on `Cooking Eggs in the Shell', `Poaching Eggs', `Frying Eggs', `Scrambling Eggs', `Making Omelets', and `Savory Souffles'. Then, the chapter goes on to give specific recipes, repeating the same subjects, with overlapping and with additional information. And yet, there seem to still be little details left out. On the sections on scrambled eggs, there is nothing about cooking eggs in a bain marie (water bath), which is certainly tedious, but which by some of the very best authorities (James Beard, for example) is the very best way to achieve the pillowy moistness which distinguishes the best scrambled eggs. This two part approach to technique presentation (most of the best pics are used in the introductory section) makes the book a bit more interesting to read for ideas outside the kitchen, but it makes it less useful as a reference where the objective is to find everything you need in one place.
Those of you who happen to own earlier editions of this tome may be interested in whether the $70 you need to acquire this latest edition is really necessary. In a word, I believe the answer is `NO'. This edition has 1215 pages, compared to 869 pages in my 5th edition, but many of those extra 346 pages do not yield genuinely useful culinary training. For example, there are 106 pages in a new `World Cuisines' chapter that has much good to say about France, Italy, China, Japan, and other culinary hot spots, but it has not a single word, for example, on the United Kingdom or Ireland. On the other hand, 8th edition has 7 pages on health and safety while 5th edition has 20 pages, with much better graphics on things like the pH scale and on food cooling techniques. The 5th edition also does not have the noisome bifurcation of master technique and detailed recipe cited above. Therefore, you get much more information per page in the earlier edition. The 5th edition also includes the frittata and more detailed information on more different omelet techniques. I also think the pictures of techniques are better in the older edition. Last but not least, I think the presentations of English versus metric measurements are much better done in the older edition.
I think the bottom line is that if you do not already own an earlier edition, this $70 book is easily worth three or four other cookbooks as a reference and as an AUTHORITY, if you are a professional. But, if you own an earlier edition, don't bother buying the new one.