I’ll admit it — one of the better things about having a food blog is the various people sending me their books to plug. As an admitted book fiend, it was difficult for me to come to terms with receiving these books and still maintain a fair amount of “ethical objectivity” that us bloggers are said to be required to maintain.
I’ve gotten over that little hump. I will gladly accept free books. I just can’t promise to read them all, let alone give them reviews.
This leads me to Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World, a book that showed up on my doorstep late last week. It’s also a book that’s been getting a fair amount of play on other food blogs, so don’t be afraid to get other opinions about this cookbook aside from my own.
From my own perspective, a cookbook should intially accomplish one thing: Get a person off of their couch and into the kitchen.
Cookbook publishers would disagree with me, because to them, a cookbook should make money. Some cookbook authors would also disagree with my statement, because to them, a cookbook should serve to promote the author of the cookbook — or in some cases, the author’s restaurant. But to me, a cookbook unused is like an unread book in that it’s not fulfilling it’s potential. If a cookbook is unable to get you into the kitchen, it’s not really worth owning.
Luckily for Mr. Bittman, his new release passes this test. Looking through the book made me want to cook. Part of it was the sheer number of recipes, and how thorough he was in ensuring that all continents were covered including Africa, a continent often forgotten when people talk about cuisines of the world. Another reason the cookbook motivated myself was that Mr. Bittman writes in an easy style, readily accessible to those who may be intimidated by their oven. In looking over the book, it was apparent that he is aiming this book at those who are frustrated by the intricacies of “The Joy of Cooking” and other similar cookbooks.
But there are some flaws to this book. As others have noted, he seems to pick and choose which recipes are entitled with how they are known in their native land, while others are entitled with either an English translation or simply the ingredients within the dish. It would have been more engaging to carry both variations of titles on the recipe.
The other flaw found in the book was discovered by chance. In the initial recipe that I had picked to recreate in my kitchen, the recipe missed a small, but I believe crucial, step. When such an error is discovered in a cookbook, it makes it difficult to approach other recipes within it without a fair amount of suspicion. I’m quite willing to concede that it may have been a simple mistake that occurs time to time in publications, but it will affect my future use of the cookbook.
Which leads to the second goal of a cookbook — to be used often enough to be considered a reference book. I think that this is where “The Best Recipes in the World” will fall short. There are several other cookbooks in my collection which will always get the first look. It remains to be seen if this book will make it into that upper echelon of my collection. But in considering all of the above, I’m not sure that it will. Talk to me again in about 5 months or so.
What this means is that this is a good cookbook, but not a great one. Mr. Bittman’s previous cookbook “How to Cook Everything” is a much better resource for the new chef. Once you’ve mastered the recipes in that book, there are better cookbooks out there for foreign cuisines.