Amongst the enormous avalanche of cookbooks released this fall are a handful of titles that will probably spend very little time actually cracked open on your kitchen counter. Oh, let's be honest. They will probably spend absolutely no time being used in your kitchen. Why? Mainly because they contain very complicated, time-consuming recipes with multiple sub-recipes that require special equipment, or ingredients that are hard to find or hyper-local to the restaurant from which the book was birthed. I'm sure this will be a controversial call, but I'm here to say that I'm fine with this kind of seemingly unusable cookbook.
Read on for my defense of the uncookable cookbook...
First, let me start off by saying that the uncookable cookbook is not for everyone and I totally respect that. Some cooks just don't have the time, money or shelf space, nor are they interested in a cookbook that doesn't deliver on its fundamental promise: to give the home cook recipes that work well in a home kitchen. This is a perfectly valid stance which I understand completely.
But if you're someone like me who enjoys cookbooks for more than their practical application to deliver recipes, if you also own and read them for inspiration, or to dive deeply into the mind of an admired chef, or because they are objects of beauty to be browsed like an art or photography book, then the uncookable cookbook is a less problematic situation.
While some people may scoff at the 'coffee table cookbook' I feel they have their place in my life, especially if they are well-written and meticulously created as the three cookbooks feature here are. These titles spend more time on my bedside table than on display in my living room, and I have spent many a sleepless night learning quite a bit about how to think about food, cooking, ingredients, and technique.
And while I am looking forward to bringing a few of their recipes into the kitchen, I really appreciate these books first and foremost for what they teach about the more internal aspects of food and cooking, how they explore emotional and intellectual elements of food. I love how all three of the chefs are absolutely rooted in the place where they cook and how they have had to reach deep into their imaginations to solve the dilemmas presented by sourcing and seasons.
I might be exaggerating some by calling these books uncookable. It does seem possible to make some of these recipes (or maybe an element of a complicated recipe) at home. To illustrate this, I've found a recipe or two in each of the books featured below that appeals to me either because they can be done at home with a few modifications or that they introduce me to a new ingredient or technique.
Manresa: An Edible Reflection by David Kinch is a beautiful book with stunning photos and dozens of recipes. Manresa is a beloved two Michelin star restaurant located in Los Gatos, CA, just south of the Bay Area. The restaurant sources all of its vegetables from a neighbor farm (Love Apple Farm) or from the nearby Pacific Ocean. This restraint has sharpened the creativity and skill of Chef Kinch which has lead to some truly inspired dishes. I love his method for culturing the cream with yogurt and buttermilk before making a panna cotta and I'm also eager to try his Fennel Jam, which he serves as a accompaniment to sea bream.
Rene Redzepi: A Work in Progress is three books bound together with a fat yellow rubber band. One book is all photos, another is a diary, and the third features recipes. Like David Kinch, Rene Redzepi sources his ingredients from a very small area around his restaurant Noma in Copenhagen so many things will be difficult, if not impossible to find. But with some modification, you could recreate a few dishes at home. There's a recipe for Carrots, Watercress and Speck that could be adapted to a simple home recipe if you eliminate the sea buckthorn reduction and maybe skip the step where you dehydrate the carrots. The watercress sauce sounds delicious and is a pretty straight forward blend of watercress, mustard, apple balsamic vinegar, water and grapeseed oil.
Daniel Patterson's Coi: Stories and Recipes is a beautiful, 300 page love song to the Bay Area, so it has a special place in my heart. Patterson is also a writer and unlike many other chefs, he wrote this book himself without the help of a ghost writer. It is more narrative than recipe driven, a concept which is made obvious by the fact that the ingredient list and quantities for each recipe are listed in the back of the book and therefore separated from the photo, method and headnotes. So no, this is not a practical cookbook. Still, I'll be trying his Carrots Roasted in Coffee and while I may skip the fancy plating technique, I will garnish them with the creme fraiche and cilantro suggested.
So even if you relationship to cooking is purely practical, you still may want to check one of these books out from the library or give them a browse at your local bookstore. You might just discover something completely new that will spark your creativity. And if you're a hard-core crazy like me, you may want to treat yourself to one or more of titles this holiday season. Between the top quality production and art direction, and the deep, often very personal look into the mind of a chef (and yes, even the occasional recipe) I think you will find a lot that inspires your home kitchen here.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon:
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Image credits: Dana Velden)