A client recently asked, “What’s my favorite cookbook?” I had to think about it a bit as I often don’t actually use cookbooks to cook. I know that sounds strange but I typically buy them because I like the pictures, the author or I am interested in a particular topic or looking for inspiration. However, when I went to look at my cookbook collection one did jump out at me Culinary Artistry is my most used cookbook.
At first glance this would never be a book that I would buy. It is a humble black and white paperback book with no pictures! Yes, that right there deters me from this book but as they say, “don’t just a book by it’s cover”. This book is by far my most used resource. Mine is stuffed with sticky notes, dog-eared pages and “recipes” marked in the margins. I love this book because it speaks to food through art as a way of enjoyment in life rather than a need to fill hunger. Bringing the elements of nature, our ingredients treated with the chemistry of science to cook, composing a piece of edible art. Cooking pulls all the parts together to work as a harmonious whole. This book has very few actual recipes in it. The few that are featured in the section “Stranded on a Desert Island Menu” are given by accomplished chefs such as Rick Bayless, Daniel Boulud, Charlie Palmer, Nancy Silverton and Alice Waters to name a few.
The reason it is my most used cookbook is because it starts with laying out a list of the most common ingredients that are available by season. For example, in spring it lists items like asparagus, morels, and salmon; for fall – items like apples, leeks, pumpkins, and venison, so it can help guide seasonal menu choices. The rest of the book follows a similar pattern but takes ingredients one at a time pointing out flavor matches with other highlighting items that are considered classic, and widely practiced parings so you know they will taste good together making it easy to cook without recipes.
(Example of Apple pairings, a page in the Culinary Artistry book)
I use this book when I am creating new menus and dishes and looking for unique inspirational ideas for something new. You see when you know the techniques of cooking the rest is just a matter of combining flavors with a chosen cooking method. This is why when I teach I focus on method over recipe. Once you know the cooking method you can play with your food combining ingredients to make amazing meals simply with what you have on hand and what is in season so you always get a delicious quality meal. So for example if I am tired of the same old pork chop I usually I go to this book, look up pork and see what else to try with it like apricots, cherries, cumin, ginger, orange, plum, rosemary, soy sauce, walnuts and even whiskey to name a few.
It is a book for those who like to experiment, try something new and creative. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves cooking as a fun and unique cookbook they may never think to purchase on their own. Andrew and Karen also have a newer book out called the Flavor Bible; this one is a little more in-depth but features similar concepts. Whatever you do I hope you cook with joy and passion to create some beautiful and tasty meals for the ones you love. You are on your way to cooking like a pro and cooking without recipes.
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Pick up your copy of The Pretty Plate for more simple techniques and recipes, and learn about the five elements to make your everyday meals magnificent.