Cooking the books

What do you look for in a cookbook? The quality of the recipes, the pictures, or if you can actually cook anything from it?

by: Food24: Ilze Dreyer | 04 Nov 2008

Last month two of the greatest chefs of our time Ferran Adria and Heston Blummenthal both published their signature cookbooks unlocking the secrets behind their genius.

They are the Albert Einstein's of haute cuisine and can concoct a feast using Rice Krispies, pork chops, crackers and pineapple extract – cooking it with a blowtorch and spiking it with a bit of nitrogen.

And if you thought, "Oh pish tosh that's nonsense" just watch the video of Heston making bacon and egg ice-cream. Also think about the fact that Ferran's restaurant elBulli gets 2 million reservation requests a year and they handpick 8000 individuals who actually make the cut to sit down to a 30-course tasting menu.

Blummenthal's The Big Fat Duck Cookbook costs a very FAT R3000. But will you actually be able to cook anything from it? I seriously doubt it. Just because you have a manual of how to build a Ferrari engine doesn't mean that can actually put it together in your backyard... or kitchen.

So one can only assume that these two cookbooks will most likely be more at home on a coffee table – paged through with wonder and admiration – far away from the splatter any ingredients.

TV-cook elite
On the other-side of the spatula you have Jamie, Nigella, Nigel, Martha and Delia who sell cookbooks faster than you can say, "Banana Split!" Why? Because people can actually cook from them and they have pretty pictures too. Don't underestimate the power of a pretty picture for people who love food.

But it's getting SO very generic with Nigella, now 10 pounds lighter, still oozing sexy vibes all over the pages and Jamie still punting prosciutto in anything but now in a more preachy way with his Ministry of Food. Read The Quaffer's blog about the similarities between Jamie Oliver and Tom Cruise.

And don't forget the queen of fast cuisine Rachel Ray, who established a multi-million dollar empire on 30-minute meals. Just follow this link to see the small mountain of 'fast-food' cookbooks that is flying out of her kitchen. I am sure she's giggling all the way to the bank. Not bad for a girl who started at the candy counter at Macy's in New York City.

A cookbook full of life
Alas I think it's your interaction with a cookbook that actually makes it more enjoyable. I grew up with my mother's cookbook – a massive thick-backed notebook brimming with recipes. Some cut out from magazines over the years, others hand-written from various sources in the family, stained with coffee-cup rings and little fingerprints next to the cookie recipes. It's full of a life lived in the kitchen. First as kids helping mom stir and eventually daring to make our own mom-free lemon meringue tart from a recipe passed on through three generations.

There are three cookbooks that you should definitely check out this month:

  • Tortoise and Tumbleweeds from our own Food24-guru Lannice Snyman.

  • At my Table from Fay Lewis, if her previous From my Oven was anything to go by this one will be equally delicious.

  • The Karoo Cookbook from Rose Willis that's selling like hotcakes.

    Ilze Dreyer is the deputy editor of and wishes she had R3000 to blow on a cookbook.

    What do you want from a cookbook?

    - None


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