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Classic Cookbooks

by Ami Kealoha in Culture on 24 November 2005

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For some, Thanksgiving is the one day of the year when cookbooks come off shelves and get put to use. With last month's English-language release of the Italian classic The Silver Spoon, lauded as the bible of Italian cuisine, and the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Joy of Cooking in 2006, we decided to take a look at other books that have made it into the culinary canon. Here, we check in with Rose Levy Beranbaum, who's been using the Joy of Cooking since 1963 and is an author of a classic herself, the renowned Cake Bible. Monkey Town chef Coleman Lee Foster tells of the pivotal moment he stumbled on the Futurist Cookbook and how its cutting-edge polemics influenced the experimental cuisine served at his restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And, the founder-chef of NYC's forthcoming Trellis Fine Catering, Peter Swanson, weighs-in on the old-school French techniques of Escoffier.

The whole story follows after the jump.

Rose Levy Beranbaum is the award-winning author of eight books including The Cake Bible, The Bread Bible, and a regular guest on shows like Martha Stewart, The Today Show, and on The Food Network. Just over two weeks old, her blog, Real Baking With Rose is her latest venture and future four-color book illustrated with step-by-step pictures with the working title Heavenly Cakes is in the works.

When did you first come across The Joy of Cooking?

I was married at 19 and I didn't know how to cook at all. My husband got me that book. It was what everyone got for Christmas that year. I wanted to cook my way through The Joy of Cooking. Years later, in 1972 I wrote to Marion Rombauer Becker and she wrote me back. I still have the letter. I was going back to school and I was comparing her book to M.F.K. Fisher's How to Un-Seduce a Man, because they're two different styles that can really make people salivate.

What kind of role does the book play in your cooking?

My masters was on the effects of sifting on yellow cake, comparing mixes to cakes from scratch. It served as the foundation of The Cake Bible. I wanted to explain why the recipes were different. I never thought i was scientifically-based, but the true spirit of science is in my approach. A cookbook will have four recipes for buttercream but they won't say why. Especially with bread, there are ways to standardize things. I was totally influenced by The Joy of Cooking. I wanted my book to be like The Joy of Cooking.

The Joy of Cooking is available from Amazon, along with The Cake Bible and The Bread Bible.

Coleman Lee Foster started his career washing dishes at age 16 and moved his way up. Thirteen years later, after stints at premiere New York restaurants like Bouley Bakery, he's co-founder and head chef of Monkey Town, a new Brooklyn restaurant that serves cutting-edge food alongside curated video and performance art.

When did you first come across The Futurist Cookbook?

I found it right after i moved to the city and got my first job, about nine years ago. It was just on a bookshelf in a bookstore and I remember being awestruck and standing there for like an hour. It's very old and beat up now, but i still own it.

What kind of role does the book play in your cooking?

I use cookbooks as a foundation. I don't do a lot of pastry, so I can afford to be more visceral about the whole procedure. The Futurist Cookbook for me was more about freedom, the courage to try new things. The recipes don't sound that tasty. In one, you're served a rectangle that has velvet on one side sandpaper on the other and you spray perfume in air. Everything is a full sensory experience and a lot of that went into Monkey Town. Like, the Curried Fish Fry is one of my favorite dishes. The rose yogurt sauce kind of tastes a little bit like rose, but it's more about the smell, the experience.

The Futurist Cookbook is available from Amazon.

Though primarily self-taught, Peter Swanson, has worked under James Beard award-winning chef Ken Oranger at Clio in Boston and logged hours at The Fat Duck, which has earned three Michelin stars, and at the one-star Vineyard, both in England. Built on classic cuisine, his NYC-based personal catering service, Trellis Fine Catering, is due to launch late this year.

When did you first come across Escoffier?

It was like five or six years ago. I bought Escoffier and just started cooking a lot out of that. It was this old dude who was a really good chef and put down a bunch of recipes, more or less the bible of classic French cuisine. I was into doing stranger stuff, stuff you wouldn't usually do - not so much of buyng the most expensive steak. I was always more interested in doing more outlandish things. Escoffier is more about dishes and didn't have to be protein, starch, vegetable.

What kind of role does the book play in your cooking?

It's a go-to source for how to build dishes. I haven't cooked from a recipe in years. The main thing is for me is its a doorway for looking and getting ideas for recipes. Like, I wanted a Poivrade sauce and I saw the main components and how they could accentuate the best flavor of the Venison. I learned the classical version from Escoffier and then built my own. You're going to find a lot of gems in there and then you can concoct new combos of flavor. It's literally like an encyclopedia of sorts.

Escoffier is available from Amazon.

Related post: The Silver Spoon

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