Reviews have been positive overall — and kind of funny, according to New York food writer Regina Schrambling. “They write the same thing: ‘It’s not as hard as you think.’ But then they run the same simple granola recipe [from the book] . . . . For 20-something years, part of the thing chefs have had to do is put out a cookbook to make themselves legit in the world. They want to impress their peers.”
For Schrambling, a self-described crank, a coffee-table-quality cookbook can be worth its cover price if it imparts even one technique or recipe with a touch of genius, such as the house vinaigrette in Thomas Keller’s 2004 “Bouchon.” (My bar for the money’s worth is set slightly higher, at three.)
Chef-brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio said they felt it was important to make a statement about who they were in “Volt Ink,” their meticulous large-format book released in October. That translated into dishes whose equipment requirements alone represent a challenge for even advanced home cooks: a masticating vegetable juicer, thermal immersion circulator, smoking gun, deli meat slicer. It’s no surprise that the Cinnamon Coffee Cake was quickly sussed as one of the most accessible (akin to Eleven Madison Park’s granola recipe); Volt chef-owner Bryan reports perfect execution at every Williams-Sonoma book signing event.
Yet just as significant as the personal statement, he says, was their goal to include educational elements that would be useful for professional cooks and student chefs, such as detailing the relationships of the “food families” that organize the book.
In the end, it’s useful to remember that people experience cookbooks in remarkably different ways, says Matt Sartwell, manager of Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York, which carries some 13,000 new titles and 5,000 to 6,000 used books. “People don’t read Anais Nin the same way they read Toni Morrison,” he says. “They buy cookbooks with recipes even though they have no intention of cooking any of it. Calling ‘Notes From a Kitchen’ a cookbook is missing the point.”
Which might be why “Notes” could in fact turn out to be a true departure for chef’s books. Several publishers passed on it, Scott says, which is why he and co-author/chef Blake Beshore decided to form a company to publish it themselves. When the next crop of chef superstars surpass their commercial dreams — a TV show, restaurants, a line of kitchenware — will beautifully styled graphic novels depicting their heroic feats be the next big thing?