50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste

50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste

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by Edward Behr, Sean Runnette

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Edward Behr, founder of the acclaimed magazine the Art of Eating, presents the definitive guide to the foods every food lover must know.See more details below


Edward Behr, founder of the acclaimed magazine the Art of Eating, presents the definitive guide to the foods every food lover must know.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Ed Behr is one of the great food writers, and this book may be his best work. Any book that increases culinary knowledge is must-have in my opinion . . . 50 Foods is a book that every chef and home cook should have." —David Chang, author of Momofuku
Publishers Weekly
In his elegantly composed, alphabetically organized primer on the most tasty ingredients in good cooking, Behr, the founder of the Art of Eating magazine, shares useful ways of growing, choosing, and pairing foods with other foods and, especially, wines. Based in Vermont and evidently well traveled in Italy and France, Behr is also a knowledgeable and experienced vegetable gardener himself. He champions a holistic approach; as he notes with regards to honey, “What is treated least is usually best” (a statement that could be his mantra). He seems to like strong, straightforward tastes, like anchovies, brown country bread, Camembert cheese, chestnuts, goose, and plums. He has some interesting biases, preferring green asparagus over white, including an entry for boletes but none for garlic, and favoring French thin young green beans from his garden that he prefers not to undercook. He also likes Tuscan olive oil above others, and his wine admonitions for each food are frankly not that helpful: “Plain eggs aren’t flattered by wine”; “Nearly everyone agrees that most cheeses taste much better with white wine than with red”; and “A simple roast chicken is a gift to many wines.” Behr takes an almost scientific approach to taste, with his use of Latin names and disinquisitions on starch, tannins, sugars, and fats, and, refreshingly, he’s not too snobby to include other expert’s views, such evaluating apple varieties or explaining the West Coast way to open an oyster (at the rounded edge) versus his way, at the hinge. The book is certainly a welcome resource for the home chef. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Behr, author of several cookbooks based on recipes from the Art of Eating magazine, of which he is both the editor and the publisher, here features 50 foods he knows and loves. While Behr admits that these foods may not be everyone's top choices, his aim is to help readers learn about each one and become, if not connoisseurs, at least educated consumers. Readers will learn how to purchase and store many common items, such as butter, cantaloupes, rice, and chicken. However, some of the items are rather gourmet, such as chestnuts, caviar, blue crab, and truffles, and might not interest the average eater. Wine notes are included with each entry. VERDICT If readers are interested in a food listed here, they will find a wealth of information, but because the number of entries is low, librarians will have to make purchasing decisions based on the needs and wants of their populations.—Jane Hebert, Glenside P.L. Dist., Glendale Heights, IL
Kirkus Reviews
A delicious compendium of food facts and practical advice showcasing 50 foods that everyday cooks, gardeners, foodies and the modern gourmet should include in their culinary repertoire. The Art of Eating founder Behr deftly makes the leap from magazine to book format in this delightful handbook. Rather than a cookbook, the collection succinctly provides details of the provenance for each food combined with practical aspects of buying, using, preparing, harvesting and storing them, including notes on wine pairings. Using the guideposts of aroma, appearance, flavor and texture, Behr hones in on what the slippery concept of "the best" means for each of the highlighted foods. Beginning with anchovies, the author moves alphabetically through foods that include cabbage, chestnuts, eggs, figs, honey, lemons, rice, plums sweetbreads and walnuts. Most are raw, but a few, such as a selection of cheeses, bread, and ham and bacon, have been "fermented or otherwise transformed." Behr proposes using the least amount of industrial processing possible, which results in foods closer to nature that yield more complex flavors. The author's harvesting, buying and storing tips will be useful to anyone confused when confronted with a pile of cantaloupes or the proper way to purchase a fresh goose. Though no recipes are included, Behr's advice on complementary foods goes a long way toward helping cooks head in the right direction tastewise: Components of a pear salad might include walnut oil, lemon juice, crunchy lettuce or Belgian endive. Ham has an affinity for cooked greens, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, a little garlic, onions or a few hot peppers. Don't dip blue crab in butter, or the "subtle flavor is lost." A treasure trove of culinary history, sound advice and easy enlightenment--though consuming the narrative in one sitting is not advised; try spreading the enjoyment by dipping in often for tasty bites.

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Product Details

Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Library - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Sean Runnette, a multiple AudioFile Earphones Award winner, has also produced several Audie Award—winning audiobooks. His film and television appearances include Two If by Sea, Copland, Sex and the City, Law & Order, Third Watch, and lots and lots of commercials.

Read an Excerpt


This is a book about taste — a guide to deliciousness. I’ve tried to tell the things that will turn the reader into an instant connoisseur, which is a contradiction in terms, of course. It can’t be done. But I hope to give a good head start.

My choices may provoke arguments over which are the top fifty foods, but I don’t claim that mine are the absolute best and most delicious. The world has too many great foods for anyone to settle on a mere fifty. I chose these partly because they provide a broad sensory range. Most are raw materials, but some have been fermented or otherwise transformed — into bread, ham, cheese. In fact, six of the fifty are cheeses, and you may wonder: why so many? The answer is that cheese is probably the best food, just as wine is the best drink, and even six doesn’t cover all the wonderful basic kinds.

I’ve tried to present clear, simple, practical information about buying, using, preparing, and enjoying. I focus on aroma, appearance, flavor, and texture. For each food, I tell what the “best” means, when that’s clear — often there’s more than “best.” I tell where the foods come from and the methods that make them. I give the signs of top quality — indications of freshness and ripeness, best season, top varieties, proper aging. I tell things to avoid and provide questions to ask. If the food can be stored, I tell how, even how to mature certain soft cheeses. This isn’t a cookbook, but if the way to prepare, serve, or eat something isn’t well-known, I explain it — how to open an oyster, why the best way to cook green beans is boiling, how to clean a whole salted anchovy, when to eat and when to discard the rind of a cheese. I name the complementary flavors.

50 Foods has plenty of advice and opinion, but most of my conclusions are dictated by facts. During the more than twenty-five years I’ve been writing about food, I’ve often made wrong assumptions, and I’ve learned to be skeptical of both received wisdom and my own notions. I try to be clear when I offer pure prejudice — in favor of tart apples over sweet, green asparagus over white, classic baguettes over modern sorts, young skinny French-style green beans over fatter kinds, dry-aged beef over meat sealed in plastic.

I strongly believe that food tastes more delicious when it’s closer to nature, something that after years of careful tasting seems to me obvious. By closer to nature, I mean made using simpler processes, generally lower technology, and without deceptive additions.

Yes, some MSG or a trace of artificial flavoring may possibly improve the taste of something in an absolute sense. But even if that’s true, how can we fully enjoy a food if we don’t know where the flavor comes from and understand just how good nature can be on its own?

Industrial processing tends to simplify flavor. Advanced technology creates vast quantities of low-cost food for a mass market, while its cost-cutting and controls eliminate the extremes of both bad and good. Skilled traditional methods are almost always superior. Generally they’re simpler and less powerful, and they leave more flavor intact. The catch, if there is one, is that low-technology food is more varied and seasonal and comes in wider range of quality from high to low. Traditions evolve, of course; sometimes we can improve them. With scientific insight, artisans can understand what really works, refine old methods, and achieve more consistent high quality.

I’ve included notes on wine because there’s no better drink with food. Wine provides counterpoint, refreshment, and relaxation. Almost any simple wine without defects will do that, assuming it’s somewhat light— light in body and flavor, low to moderate in alcohol, and low in tannin. It helps if the wine also has a pleasing acidity. Lighter wines tend to go with a wider range of foods, and with them it matters less whether the color is white, pink, or red. If you want, stick to light, simple everyday wines and ignore my sometimes expensive recommendations. They’re not essential, although their more particular flavors go better with the food in question, and a few combinations really soar.

You can’t always have the best food, but with the information in this book you will eat better every day. Knowing good food is part of a complete understanding of the world — part of a full enjoyment of nature, a full experience of the senses.

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