Alice Waters' latest cookbook seeks to teach basic, 'learn by heart' cooking techniques to encourage us to approach the kitchen instinctively and to find pleasure in cooking good food. Does she succeed? Read on for my review.
Title & Publisher: In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart, by Alice Waters. Published by Clarkson Potter, 2010.
First impressions: Hardcover, with a cheerful green cloth spine and a lovely, welcoming picture of the author on the cover. There are dozens of high-quality photos throughout the book, including several portraits of famous cooks and chefs.
Number of recipes: Over 50, including basics such as buttermilk biscuits, guacamole and a simple tomato sauce.
The angle: The premise of this book is to teach essential cooking techniques in support of sustainable, local food. To do this, Ms. Waters asked prominent chefs and cooks at the 2008 Slow Food Nation to offer their recipes and sit for a portrait by photographers Christopher Hircheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Included are Deborah Madison, Thomas Keller, Bryant Terry, David Chang and others, doing everything from shucking corn to making bread and whisking mayonnaise.
Sales from this book support Ms. Waters' Edible Schoolyard, a foundation that offers schoolchildren the opportunity to learn how to grow, harvest and cook organic food in order to foster appreciation for the natural world and promote environmental and social well-being.
The other stuff: There's a table of contents and index, with additional sections on how to stock an organic pantry and season dishes, what cooking equipment to have on hand, and how to purchase and use a kitchen knife, as well as a Green Kitchen Manifesto.
Recipes for right now: Hearts of Romaine & Green Goddess Dressing; Thomas Keller's One-Pot Roast Chicken; Roast Leg of Lamb; Chicken Noodle Soup with Dill; WHole Wheat Spaghetti with Kale
Recommended? Yes, but with reservations. This would be a good book for supporters of Ms. Waters' Edible Foundation and other folks who share her organic vision. But like Ms. Waters herself, this book is strong on inspiration and vision but lacks practicality and seems to turn a blind eye to the problems of affordability and privilege. How many of us can plop a whole organic chicken in a pot just for making stock? While the stock recipe doesn't ask us to discard the solids, it doesn't tell us to save them either.
I'm a little confused, too, about who would actually use this book. It opens with a very basic lesson in how to clean and dress lettuce for a salad but then goes on to offer a recipe for fish soup that involves filleting a fish and making a stock from the bones before going on to poach the fish, all which would be rather intimating for a new cook. So a little too basic for experienced cooks, yet not consistently basic enough for beginners.
That said, there are many of my culinary heroes represented here, including Ms. Waters herself, and I support the spirit in which this book was written and its underlying intention: to educate the American public, including children, on how to cook and appreciate good food and the pleasures of the table. I would give this book to someone who has some experience in the kitchen but is looking for guidance and inspiration to be more sustainable.
• Buy the book: In the Green Kitchen by Alice Waters, $18.48 (Amazon)