This was the May pick of the Slow Food Chicago book club, one of the four (five?) book clubs that I am in. I sometimes lament that I have given away some choice in my reading to these clubs. Luckily this book was one I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, and I found it both interesting and inspiring. That is what I call a resounding success in the world of book clubs.
This is a equal parts cookbook, historical text, and flavor bible. It’s a little hard to explain, so I’ll let the authors words from page 3 speak for themselves. This first excerpt differentiates it from a typical cookbook. “Most cookbooks are collections of recipes, little more. They tell you what to put together, but not why. They are, in effect, the footprints of their authors’ process of creating, and there’s much to be learned from repeating the recipes in them. But they don’t leave you equipped to go on your own way.” And here, they show what they aim to do in this text. “We aim to teach you to become a creative, confident cook who knows how to think about and respond to the ingredients available to you in ways that result in delicious memorable food.”
In my opinion, they were largely successful. I enjoyed that they maintained a good balance between the historical and the practical. I got a fuller understanding of how current trends in food and flavor came to be, and learned a lot along the way which has already changed how I cook. The only downside to this book, and this is less a critique of the novel, but more the concept, is that it made me feel incredibly self-indulgent. As in, how lucky am I that I can read books about how to impart better flavor in my cooking, when there are people that don’t have access to fresh vegetables? But I digress.
As a book club book it didn’t foster a lot of conversation, not just because most people present didn’t read the book, but also because this book didn’t have any controversy or conflict. The best book club books are polarizing, with divergent opinions on the author and content, but this was really just a “like it or didn’t” sort of situation. Still, as it exposed Slow Food members to new ways of thinking about food, it served its purpose.