The Barnes & Noble Review
Look past recipes and you'll find taste: a sensual, living language that few truly understand. "Following a recipe requires little more than an ability to fill a measuring cup and read your watch," New York magazine food critic Peter Kaminsky contends. "The accomplished chef understands how taste works, what its components are, how it can be layered, how it must be balanced." Teaming up with former Lespinasse chef Gray Kunz, Kaminsky introduces us to the true art of cooking by defining the subtle connotations of flavor.
Meals should not be understood as recipe-book stacks of ingredients, claim Kunz and Kaminsky; instead, we should learn to read meals as complex, meaningful narratives that unfold over time. To parse flavors in this way requires some effort, but the process enables us to shift from imitating dishes to creating them. "This book is...a step toward a new way of understanding cuisine," Kaminsky insists. "It is a method and a vocabulary of taste."
The authors introduce us to the wordless world of taste by analyzing its 14 basic elements through a simple yet complete system that identifies all flavors. "We have devised [this system]," Kaminsky explains, "for the simple reason that there isn't another one to be had." And the system makes sense: as Kaminsky's manifesto progresses, he shows us how to use this system to understand the properties, traditional uses and possibilities of each taste. For example, in his discussion of aromatic spices like cinnamon and star anise, Kaminsky explains: "Spiced aromatics...bring to mind trumpets and flutes: they rise over the rest of the ensemble." Such spices must be used differently than others: "Their function is not so much mouth taste as it is the aroma that pulls up taste." Kaminsky's descriptions are both accessible and lyrical; reading them deepens our feeling for various ingredients.
Though Kaminsky and Kunz are focused on defining tastes -- giving the reader his or her own tools with which to create explosive new dishes -- they also include a good selection of recipes. Like illustrations of a larger narrative, these classic dishes help us to see the complex flavor relationships that the authors describe. Kaminsky and Kunz open horizons of taste and then let us explore.
Kunz (former four-star chef of New York's Lespinasse restaurant) and Kaminsky (New York Times food writer and author of The Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass) team up for a cookbook variation. Instead of arranging food by course or primary ingredient, they identify 14 basic tastes (salty, sweet, floral herbal, "funky," meaty, etc.) then groups them into four categories: Tastes That Push, Tastes That Pull, Tastes That Punctuate and Taste Platforms. The resulting recipes are, understandably, high-concept chef food. Explaining how they layer and balance tastes, the authors conclude each recipe with Our Taste Notes, which take an oenophile's approach to flavor description. Sweet Scallops in a Pink Lentil Crust with a Hot-and-Sweet Bell Pepper Reduction ends thusly: "The taste comes through first as crunch, then salt, and then heat. Next you get sweetness from the scallops.... The celery leaves provide a final garden note with some bitterness to close down the taste." Components are combined fearlessly. Green Onion Fondue includes scallions, tomatoes, dates, cornichons, mint and ajowan. Lady Apples with Gruyere Celery Pork Pockets are stuffed pork chops tweaked with cumin, mustard, prosciutto, turnips and quartered lady apples. As complicated and as multi-ingrediented as many recipes are, the directions are admirably clear, and some recipes, such as Oysters and Cabbage and Two-Tomato Coulis with Three Basils, are quite simple. While some readers may initially find the concept to be contrived, most will welcome this unusual means of creating and characterizing food. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kunz, who earned four stars as the chef of Lespinasse in New York City, and Kaminsky, a food writer, have written an unusual cookbook. Kunz is known for his innovative recipes; having trained in Europe and worked in Singapore, he was one of the first young chefs to combine Asian and French flavors and cooking styles. He and Kaminsky have come up with a vocabulary of taste, comparable to the vocabulary of winespeak, based on 14 basic tastes they identified, from "Tastes That Push," or heighten the other flavors in a dish salty, sweet, and picante to "Tastes That Punctuate" sharp, bitter tastes like that of horseradish. They have grouped their 130 recipes according to these tastes, e.g., Seafood Casserole with Floral A oli falls under "Spiced Aromatic" and Gratin of Sweet Peas, Tarragon, and Pistachios is under "Garden," one of the "Taste Platforms." Each recipe is followed by Taste Notes, descriptions similar to wine notes; many of the headnotes describe the ideas and experimentation that led to the recipe. This is certainly an interesting approach, though some readers will find it unbearably esoteric. In any case, their book is full of delicious, imaginative recipes and gorgeous photographs of the sophisticated presentations. Highly recommended. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.