A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
This week’s title is a reference book that will help you create your own recipes.
If you have ever wondered how chefs come up with food combinations that sound so odd but taste so wonderful on the plate, you will find The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg fascinating. As one might infer from the long subtitle, The Flavor Bible is not actually a cookbook in the traditional sense, i.e., a book full of recipes. But it is the perfect resource for people who care about what they cook – both those who feel constrained by recipes, and those who, like me, feel insecure about cooking without them.
The authors are award-winning writers on culinary topics, having already written a popular reference book for chefs. For this book they interviewed dozens of the most creative chefs in America, asked them about their most recommended food pairings, and examined their menus and cookbooks. They compiled the results into an easy-to-use alphabetical listing of over 600 foods and ingredients, with a ranking system of what goes best with what, based on how many of the experts recommended the combination. With this book, you can put together a whole dish on your own or just figure out how to season those green beans, with confidence that they will taste good when you’re finished.
Scattered throughout the listings are quotes from some of the chefs, and ingredients listings for some specific dishes prepared in their restaurants. Many listings also have Flavor Affinities at the end, naming multiple ingredients that go well together. Color photos add inspiration.
To illustrate how this book works, let’s take a look at the listing for “Lamb – General.” (There’s a separate listing for “Lamb Chops.”) Here you will learn, after a brief listing of the meat’s characteristics, that there are three top pairings for lamb – the strongest, most classic matches of all. They are garlic, mint, and rosemary, all written in capital letters, boldface type, with asterisks next to them. Other excellent pairings with lamb, in the second tier of recommendations, include lemon, mustard, fresh thyme, tomatoes, and many others. Two more tiers list pairings that are still good but less commonly used. In all, there are 129 pairings listed for lamb, including a wine suggestion.
Following this list are 26 Flavor Affinities for lamb, for example, lamb + cucumber + mint + tomatoes. There is also a side box with a dozen menu items, including one from Carrie Nahabedian of Chicago’s Naha restaurant, and another from Mario Batali of Food Network fame.
One of the first things I used this book for was figuring out how to serve beets from our garden. After learning about the combination of beets + Gorgonzola + hazelnuts + vinegar (which turned out great, by the way), I started noticing similar combinations on restaurant menus. That’s when I realized that this must be the way real chefs work, understanding affinities first, and then playing with them to come up with something creative. With this book, you can too!
Reviewed by Nancy