Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review: dirtcandy

I read cookbooks like a novel with a beginning, middle and end. The way the book is arranged tells a lot about how the author approaches the subject. Often, the preface opens with what the book will be about or approaches to cooking followed with an introduction to techniques, equipment needed, and any special ingredients. This is pretty standard.

Lately, there has been a push towards more porny books with huge centrefolds, closeups of food with gelled lenses. Many head notes describe the food in Penthouse forum detail along with the author's first time. This book, dirtcandy, kicks the shit out of these standard narratives by providing a real narrative. It is a cookbook told in a graphic novel format. This is part confessional a la Daniel Clowes and part Powerpuff Girls.

Here is, finally, a cookbook that has the same feel as the first time I read Kitchen Confidential. It seems as if it is a true peek into a restaurant. There is no glamour here. The monkey in the room is that this is a cookbook about vegetables made at a New York restaurant. Dirty secrets such as; why not to start a restaurant, expensive salads, vegetarianism's evil beginnings (and continued negative stances), and illegal workers take up most of the illustrations. There is a sense of movement and excitement in the panels that are more than just plain exposition. The graphic novel portion is fun to read by itself.

I appreciate someone saying that vegetables don't have to be boring and salads generally suck. I am not a vegetarian but I love vegetables.  It was nice to see an approach that started with what you have to do differently to get great flavours from veggies. The secret is to remove the water. Simple. It makes sense. I've dried tomatoes to make a powder and then used this to make ketchup. Who hasn't? Amanda Cohen's recipes are more like guideposts to making great food. Most are a step to making a larger plate of food, each adding a layer of experience to a plate but she explains how these work together.

The larger recipes that bring these pieces together allow for options but with the explanation of why the small pieces are there. Texture, acid, colour and repetition of a taste element all play large in the composition of the plate. Smoked Cauliflower and Waffles (with Horseradish Cream Sauce) consists of smoked cauliflower + waffles + horseradish cream sauce (separate recipe) + maple arugula salad (optional) + cauliflower bits (optional) + pickled cauliflower (optional).

More importantly, these recipes look as if they taste good. I don't buy many recipe books due to an already large size bookshelf that threatens to fall down but if a book offers something interesting, it can sometimes make its way onto it. This does mean getting rid of one of my more tried and true books. Last year's additions were 50 Shades of Chicken and Modernist Cuisine at Home, one for funny narrative and the other for technique. I already have stalwarts such as Vegetable Love by Kafka, an encyclopedic tome by type of vegetable but I have nothing like this.

I will be buying this cookbook and maybe never cooking a damn thing from it. However, the section on salads alone, suggests an approach that will help me construct better food. This will serve as a reminder on how to do this. Already, it has me looking at everyday items differently. I found a partially sprouted grapefruit seed in my grapefruit and tasted it. I think with a little pickle, it would add a citrusy acidic element to a salad or a contrast to a baked grapefruit.

The link that I provided to the cookbook is their website that includes a blog. I've started to go through some of the posts and think that this may be my current food crush to speak in terms of the new pornography of food.

Oh, I forgot about the recent interview with Serious Eats - here.

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