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. (Jesse Gale)