“This is probably more valuable than a regular cookbook,” he said while en route to his home town of Austin last week. “It’s about trying to understand a chef’s emotional and creative process. There was no reason to do another book with recipes.”
With that in mind, I suspect “Notes” will land with a thud on the coffee table. And stay there.
As sure as the gift-wrap table is in place at Barnes & Noble, large-format books about food are now being hoisted onto checkout counters. Because they are splashy, pricey odes to cuisines and restaurants, such books tend to bulk up holiday wish lists. To be fair, Scott is a documentary filmmaker who wanted to capture the sublime and visceral, not the step-by-step of victuals. But another big book, “Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook,” has not cracked a lot of top 10s for 2011 thus far. Shouldn’t such a stunner have been this year’s “Noma,” the 2010 plate-as-palate tome that celebrates the Copenhagen restaurant and its chef, Rene Redzepi?
“People like eye candy, of course,” says Rux Martin, senior executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “I think the pretty books that survive . . . the ones that are relevant 10 or 15 years down the line, are the ones you can cook from.”
“Eleven Madison” has pretty written all over it. Its dishes are composed like art on a pristine canvas — quite literally, because no platters, plates or bowls show up in any photographs. It takes 10 or 12 recipes to bring some creations together, even though the end result might encompass the surface area of a chicken cutlet. “Too pretty to eat” comes to mind, except the 84-seat, five-year-old Manhattan restaurant’s three Michelin stars suggest that flavor is on par with elegant execution.
Co-authors Daniel Humm, executive chef, and Will Guidara, general manager, address the issue of utility. “Will people actually be able to cook from this book?” they ask in its introduction.
Their answer: “Yes-ish.”
“Our goal was to make the book exactly what we do at the restaurant,” says Humm. (Full disclosure: The restaurant does use tableware.) “When we call for liquid nitrogen and sous-vide, we say also how to do the recipe without those things. We translated into ounces and tablespoons to make it more accessible.” You don’t need to do all parts of a multi-part dish, he says, recommending, for example, attempting just the starring ingredient and the vinaigrette of their Beets With Goat Cheese.