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Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A reader's cookbook, or porn for foodies. Highly recommended., May 29, 2010
This review is from: Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection: Reinventing Kitchen Classics (Hardcover)
I distinguish between two categories of cookbooks. Primarily I turn to "what to make for dinner" cookbooks for inspiration and instruction, as I expect you do; that forms the large part of my 300+ cookbook library. (I do try to cull it, honest I do.) But I also can appreciate cookbooks that I know I likely will never cook from. I might fantasize about making a death-by-chocolate sort of dessert, but realistically I recognize it's unlikely to happen. And that's perfectly okay, because I enjoy learning food techniques and history... or at least looking at pretty pictures. There is no better example than this book. I'm in love with it, and am reading every word cover-to-cover.

After catching a few of Heston Blumenthal's episodes from the UK TV show In Search of Perfection, I ran out to find the accompanying book. Blumenthal's premise isn't that there is only one right way to make a dish, but this rather his attempt to re-examine the roots of dishes that everyone in Britain knows and (when done right) loves. There are actually very few recipes in the book -- just 8 meals. All of them are familiar, most even to American readers: roast chicken and roast potatoes; pizza; steak; spaghetti Bolognese; fish and chips; bangers and mash; Black Forest Gateau; treacle tart and ice cream.

But you won't mind the limited recipe list a bit, because each "dish" is really an in-depth discussion of the chemistry, social history, provenance, and travelogue about the ingredients. The roast chicken chapter, for instance, has several pages on "the cult of the chicken" including a trip to the source of the best: French Bresse chickens. He interviews someone who raises the chickens, explains the peculiar ecology that makes it unique (such as the lack of chalk in the soil), and shares plenty of details. Moreover the text is EXTREMELY entertaining and useful ("The chicken that fulfills this regime ends up decorated like a war hero: an identity tag on the left legs bears the name and address of the rearer; the coveted AOC red diamond label adorns its body; and a tricolour metal seal with the name of the dispatcher is attached to the neck.") Then he compares the expensive French chicken to the local options; he doesn't just assume that "most expensive is best." This is a long, long way, from "Buy a free range chicken." The author also goes far in-depth on the chemical comparisons of ingredients, such as measuring each type of potato for "dry matter" and subjecting each to his test kitchen to determine the ideal way to make, say, mashed potatoes.

It's all far, far more than I would try at home (though he wrote the book as though I *could*). At one point he discusses with a sausage expert the possibility of cooking sausages in a vac-packer, and the expert suggests that it might be too fussy. "'No, no,' I contradicted. 'It's impossible to get too fussy. Not if it results in a better end product.'"

The recipes themselves reflect this. The mushroom ketchup that accompanies the steak dinner has you start 24 hours ahead to pickle mushrooms before adding to simmered red wine, red wine vinegar, mace, pepper, cloves, and shallot, which at least is make-ahead. But that's just for a dab of ketchup. It is all very fussy, yes, but wonderful reading.

The end result is a marvelous book that will appeal to any foodie who wants to curl up with a cup of coffee and an educational diversion. And if you DO cook anything from the book, please invite me over!
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 3, 2010, 5:22:56 PM PDT
I just ordered a copy after reading this review and watching a few of Heston's shows on YouTube.
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