FOOD FOR THOUGHT
By (Ukjent person)
There are two kinds of cookbooks in the world: the Vogue school and the Good Housekeeping school.
Actually, there's a very large third category — the Silly Concept school, including such classics as the book focused entirely on ways to use ramen.
But of the other two, it must be said, both have their uses.
Vogue-type cookbooks are visually fascinating. They're expensive, sometimes obscenely so. The recipes, like the layouts in a fashion magazine, sprawl over multiple pages. Sometimes, they're puzzling; you sit there like a dog hearing a strange, high sound, tilting your head from side to side, trying to make sense of what is being conveyed. (Shaved Soy-Stained Torchon of Foie Gras?? Cocoa Squab Liver Pate??)
And also like the fashions in Vogue, the recipes in these books are nothing that the average person has any use for, except to look at and marvel over. A stellar example of the Vogue-type book is the just-released "Susur, A Culinary Life" (Ten Speed Press, hardcover with magnetic double-bind, $50), a collection of essays by Jacob Richler on the life of Susur Lee, a Hong Kong-born celebrity chef with the striking bone structure and wind-blown tresses of a fashion model. His Toronto restaurants, the elegant Susur and the more casual Lee's, are, like the on-location sites in a magazine photo shoot, places to see and be seen. The food in the book is as exquisitely styled as a fashion layout and as wildly overdesigned.
The entire book, in fact, is a monument to design: It is two hardbound books, each the size of a thickish magazine, joined at the edges of the back cover of one and the front cover of the other, so they can be opened accordion-fashion to reveal a dramatic two-page photo of the Susur restaurant entryway.
Useless, but yummy.
But we don't read cookbooks strictly for practical reasons any more than we read fashion magazines to rush out and buy the products therein. Books like "Susur" fall into the category of "food-porn," just as Vogue is fashion-porn.
Good Housekeeping-type books are like that battered wooden spoon without which you couldn't cook a thing: homely, utilitarian, unremarkable. These are the ones that end up bookmarked, sauce-splattered, annotated and deeply loved.
The trouble is, you don't know if you've got your hands on one of these until you take it home and put it through its paces. I've invested the equivalent of a kid's college education in books that ended up in the library book sale box after I copied out a recipe or two (if that). As the holiday avalanche of giftable cookbooks ensues, I'll try to point you to some potential keepers in upcoming columns.
Reach (Ukjent person) at (unknown address).