Cookbooks or PR Materials?

Jack once again points me to a great essay in the NYTimes, entitled “Real Food Doesn’t Hold Still” (LI/PW – accidental/hedonist), which brings to light an issue I briefly touched upon during my recent review or Mark Bittman’s new cookbook: that many of the cookbooks out there are not cookbooks in the traditional sense, but rather a publicity tool used to heighten a food personality’s caché and credibility.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

As the writer of the piece, Andrew Scrivani points out:

…I own cookbooks that will never make their way into my kitchen. One is Thomas Keller’s “Bouchon” (Artisan, 2004), so heavy and cumbersome that as Kramer did on “Seinfeld,” I could put legs on it and turn it into a coffee table.

I also exclude “Bouchon” and the recent “Nobu Now” by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (Clarkson Potter) from my kitchen for philosophical reasons. To me, they are not cookbooks but extraordinarily beautiful advertisements for very successful restaurants.

My standard for cookbooks is simple. They have to make me want to cook. I’m not looking for the perfect recipe, because how does one qualify “perfection”? Instead, when I look in a cookbook, I’m moved to recipes that teach and inspire me to get into the kitchen. When I look at Bouchon, I get inspired as well, but I get inspired to head out to a top tier restaurant.

Again, not that this is a bad thing.

But it is crucial as a consumer of cookbooks to know what the intent of a cookbook is. If you’re buying a 40 dollar cookbook, and you’re afraid to get flour on it, my guess is that you purchased a cookbook that’s meant as promotional material.

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