Monday, August 23, 2010

And The Winner Is

Last week I wrote a post about the Guardian's top 50 cookbooks.

They were being coy and kept us all waiting with baited breath for the top 10, initially only giving us 50-11. I made some guesses about what might be on the top 10 list, and now that I see what they picked I realize that some of my guesses weren't weighty enough. I did get one right: Simon Hopkinson's autobiographical Roast Chicken and other Stories. I should have guessed Nigel Slater whose book Tender my friend Ian who lives in London gave it to me - it's an incredible and exhaustive look at how to cook/make every kind of vegetable imaginable and some not imaginable as you've never heard of them! Slater is a Brit, perhaps not so well known here, but probably Britain's best food writer. The guardian choose his book The Kitchen Diaries which I know have to have!

Elizabeth David (#2), Marcella Hazan (#8), are obviously dead on choices. The folks at the Guardian are trying to cover all bases: Italian, International (Robert Carrier's The Great Dishes of the World - just in case anyone felt left out), Chinese, well specifically Sichuan (Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop), British (obviously here because it is a British publication), Jewish, which I thought an odd choice, but then in reading the blurb about Claudia Roden's seminal work The Book of Jewish Food you realize it's an extensive overview of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking and as the blurb tells us is:

"less a cookbook than a cultural over view of the entire Jewish diaspora, with appropriate recipes attached. It is a mark of just how reliable a piece of scholarship it is that, on publication, it was greeted with almost universal acclaim; a rare achievement for any work wading into the notoriously rancorous Jewish community."

Which struck me as funny the notoriously rancorous Jewish community... here in NYC we would just call it kvetching which somehow, to me, sounds less, er, difficult?

The cookbook I kick myself for not buying when it was on sale at the Strand is David Thompson's Thai Cooking. I ate at his restaurant Nahm in London twice and as someone who has traveled extensively in Thailand I have to give Mr. Thompson his due: the man really knows his way around Thai food!

In the end it's the French who win the top 2 spots, not a surprise, but I was hoping for something a little more, oh I don't know, OK well, yes, surprising.

I suppose that the number 1 book on the list, Richard Olney's The French Menu is written by a Yank is kind of revolutionary and if you think about it kind of a slap in the face to Julia Child who hitherto has always been to go to gal when it comes to Yanks and French cooking.

In the end, as much as I have a problem with the whole list thing, I still can't help but get sucked into it, trying to figure out the justification for why they included one book and not the other. I'm making up my own list in my head (which certainly wouldn't be a top 50 maybe a top 15).

The only book I feel they were way off base not including, in particular as they seem interested in having cook books from all cultures included, which I had guessed (wrongly) would be on the 10 ten list, is Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuni Devi, one of my personal all time favorites and certain the most thorough and encyclopedic Indian cookbooks ever written.

Check out the top 10 and let me know in the comments section what your favorite cookbooks are and which ones you think they missed or where just plain wrong in including.

Here's Nigel Slater from a promo for his book Tender talking about cooking beans, that he's picked fresh from his garden:

Having read a fair amount of cookbooks by Brits I have to say when it comes to vegetables you could reduce their philosophy down to this: everything is better with melted cheese on it.

Certainly a philosophy I can get behind!

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