Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Cookbooks: The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors by Robert and Molly Krause

I’ve been wanting to write about The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors (Fair Winds) for several months now, but was never really sure where to start. For one thing, the subtitle -- 101 Surprising Flavor Combinations and Extraordinary Recipes That Excite Your Palate and Pleasure Your Senses -- almost seemed like a mini review. After all, when all that’s been said, what all needs to be? Yet The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors is a very special book; one quite worthy of mention. And so here we are.

When looking at cookbooks with an eye to sharing information about them -- as in a review -- I always try to consider who the book has been created for. Obviously, every book has a different end user in mind. Quite a lot of books are intended for beginning home chefs: people with no or practically no kitchen experience. Others are what I call aspirational: they're books, sometimes quite beautiful, who very few people will ever cook from at all. And, of course, there are lots in between, but I don’t ever think I’ve come across a book that seemed quite so intended for me as The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors, which seems to be written for experienced amateur chefs who consider themselves to be either fairly talented or fairly accomplished. Or both.

While beginning chefs can anticipate to get something out of The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors, I think almost anyone would. But those with a fair amount of kitchen experience -- those who think they’re already pretty good -- will find themselves pushed to a new and better place. It’s an extraordinary feeling. This book is not just about big flavors, but also about combining unexpected flavors to intensify them. “Cooking is about combining flavors,” the authors say at one point, “as well as applying different preparation techniques.” And yet that’s a revolutionary thought for a cookbook, is it not? When all we ever seem to see is how to chop this or slice that or even grill something over there.

And so here we have a whole cookbook organized not by season or various meals, but by flavor. “Timeless with a Twist,” and “Unexpected Pleasure,” (Can you say fig, apple and anchovy? I knew you could!). Chapter three is “Complex Concoctions” and so on, all the way to my favorite: Chapter Seven, “Decidedly Decadent.”

The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors is not a book for everyone. It is a book for accomplished home chefs who want to push things to the next level. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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