Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Oh Internet, how do I tell you that I have been guilty of this appalling sin, not once, but twice today?

I was walking by Readings bookshop today, and noticed a cookbook in their display of new releases in the window. The Cook's Book. It is published by DK, and frankly, it had a look of that kind of compendium, put out by publishers of crappy cookbooks, which involves just a rehash of many of their crappy books, lumped together in one volume. But there were several copies in the window, which is a highly coveted space, and there was a poster as well. Now this really struck me. How bad could it be if it was deserving of a poster?

I popped inside and had a look. And oh, I blushed to the bottom of my boots. The Cook's Book is edited by Jill Norman. You know, "long-time editor of Elizabeth David's cookbooks and now literary trustee of the David estate". That Jill Norman. Each chapter of this massive tome is written by a chef. Such luminaries as Ferran Adria and Charlie Trotter. Gordon Ramsay's second in command. And the Australian crew - Christine Manfield, David Thompson and Greg Malouf all contribute their pages, covering Asian, Thai and Middle Eastern food respectively.

It is a huge, huge book. so heavy that I could not comfortably hold in in my arms and wander through it. This is the kind of book that requires reading at the table, with a glass of wine in one hand and probably a notebook in the other. There are step by step photos and from recollection, each recipe was granted two pages.

I suspect this is going to be a big seller with the Christmas crowd. In Australia, it's retailing for $79.95, although there's usually a bit of discounting in December. And in the UK, the recommended price is 30 pounds. I have to go back and have another look. After all, do I really need another cookbook? But there were many breakdowns of techniques which interest me and so on and .....

Anyway, back to my second sin. I have been an admirer of Pierre Herme for a while now and have longing lingered at his Desserts and Chocolate Desserts books. Now I first heard of Pierre Herme on Chocoate & Zucchini, and don't ask me how, but I got the idea that he was this kind of etheral genius, I guess. I pictured a gaunt man with greyish hair, tall, lanky and driven, constantly obsessed with the best in flavour and texture.

There is a picture of Pierre Herme in The Cook's Book. Each of the contributors has a photo at the front and I believe he wrote two of the chapters. I looked at the picture and then again, as if my eyes were surely deceiving me. I flicked to his chapters and there was his photo again and no, this was definitely him. There was nothing of the frail, manic pastry chef I had carried in my head for so long. This man, this Pierre, looked as if he was more likely to be drinking beer in the front row of an illegal boxing match in the Bronx. And yet, chefs don't often look like we'd imagine, I think.

Anthony Bourdain said of Marco Pierre White in White Heat, that for the first time, here was a photo of a chef looking like the chefs he knew. Then again, he was also talking about men who were "gaunt, driven, unkempt"! Now the book and the chef genius both most definitely need a second look. And this time, I promise not to be so judgemental at first sight!


At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Barbara said...

I heard the end of a Jill Norman interview on radio last weekend. I wished I'd tuned in earlier as she sounds fascinating.

At 8:58 PM, Blogger Cathy said...

I actually had seen Pierre Herme (as a guest on a cooking show) before I had heard of him. I remember that he was very soft spoken - also not typical of what you'd imagine a big-name chef to be.

At 9:55 PM, Blogger plum said...

Hi Barbara - I don't know a huge amount about her, but she's obviously had an interesting life. I must look in my Elizabeth David books and see what's said.

Hi Cathy - welcome! That really intrigues me, the soft spoken part. Oh well, with all this conflicting information I shall just have to try to engineer a meeting with him and straighten the whole thing out! What do you think? I decided that I didn't need his Desserts book because I don't make dessert all that often (and when I do, it tends to be chocolatey), and then I peeped in it and some of the combinations just made me swoooon! I am going to wait for a special occasion before I give in to temptation though ...


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