FOOD, by Waverly Root (Simon and Schuster, $24.95). Waverly Root is a writer's writer, an eater's writer and a cook's writer. His new book, Food, is a delicious, literate dictionary of -- what else -- food, consisting of a couple of hundred in-depth essays of exceptional grace and erudition, countless witty one-to-three-liners and brilliantly chosen pictures. These are all enclosed in a volume that has the class one would expect of the man who wrote The Food of France, The Food of ITALY and countless articles. An American who moved to France many years ago, Root knows enough to include varieties of American apples, or whatever, along with the European. And he covers his subject thoroughly. The Conrans' The Cook Book (reviewed below) claims that "nobody knows why angelica is associated with angels"; a fast cross check with Waverly Root discloses that angelica "acquired its name when the Archangel Raphael revealed to a pious hermit that it was a remedy against plague." Nor do I want to be without a book that starts an essay with "The turnip is a capricious vegetable, which seems reluctant to show itself at its best." ELIZABETH DAVID CLASSICS: Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, Summer Cooking, by Elizabeth David with an introduction by James Beard (Knopf, $15.95). After years of being available only in paperback, three of Elizabeth David's wonderful cookbooks are now available in a hardback volume. Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking and Summer Cooking, first published in 1950, 1951 and 1955 respectively, are as fresh today as the nouvelle cuisine was five years ago. I never make a dish without checking first with David because her taste is impeccable, her ideas are sound and she writes elegantly. And while her format is, well, informal, a person familiar with the ways of a kitchen can learn not to be intimidated by her lack of specific instructions. I hope this new edition will encourage more Americans to acquaint themselves with David's writing, and then I hope the book's success will encourage the publishers to issue a second volume with the other three books that still sit on my shelf, dog-eared in their paperback shabbiness. ROGER VERGE'S CUISINE OF THE SOUTH OF FRANCE, (Morrow, $14.95). Those of us who cook for families should not be put off by the three-star chefdom of Roger Verge. This superb book is made up of uncomplicated, unintimidating, classic recipes that are wonderful because of the talents of a man who loves and understands the food of the Midi, and not because of such refinements as pounds of fresh foie gras, kilos of truffles and gallons of heavy cream. Verge's book is much enhanced by a pleasing, unfussy layout and typography as well as the intelligent translation and light-handed editing by Roberta Wolfe Smoler. Smoler clearly cooked every dish and suggests with simplicity and clarity substitutions, revisions and alternate techniques. I was particularly drawn to the vegetable dishes, but I did not find one recipe that I would not want to make or which a less experienced cook should feel nervous about attempting. CLASSIC INDIAN COOKING, by Julie Sahni (Morrow, $15.95). Julie Sahni's definitive Classic Indian Cooking is exactly what a cookbook on an exotic cuisine should be. This impeccable book contains the best explanations I have yet seen of the ingredients and techniques that make the food of North India wonderfully subtle and full flavored. Since Sahni understands Western cooking, she draws analogies with more familiar techniques and thus makes Indian cooking a less fearful prospect. The recipes are clear, the caveats are sensible and the approach is to give the reader a comfortable idea of the results of any effort. I urge Classic Indian Cooking on anyone who has had even the remotest desire to cook Indian food or who is already an aficionado of this elegant cuisine. It will also be a revelation to anyone who thinks that curries equal Indian food. THE FOUR SEASONS by Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi, recipes created by Chef Josef (Seppi) Renggli (Simon and Schuster, $29.95). The new Four Seasons cookbook is outclassed by this great restaurant's first and excellent cookbook (still available at a nice remaindered price), with its wide range of recipes. The new volume, at a hefty cost, is marred by vulgar Madison Avenue hype. Electric blue autographs of the famous along with inane autograph book scratchings litter the pages and force the eye away from the recipes. The typography is unbeautiful, and the too-frequent stroking of chef Renggli, who is good enough not to need this, is almost insulting. The 250 knock-'em-dead recipes are for the very accomplished or, but mostly and, the very well-heeled.
Having said all this, I myself would buy this book if only for the recipe for trout mousse wrapped in leek leaves. But this is not a cookbook to dip into for a recipe to jazz up a cozy family dinner without, for example, first checking your supply of marrow of the spinal column of the great sturgeon. THE COOK BOOK, by Terence and Caroline Conran (Crown, $30). Terence and Caroline Conran's big, pricey, flossy The Cook Book calls itself "The [there's that definite article again] complete guide to selecting, preparing, cooking and presenting good food." It did not weather the trip from England very successfully, not because it includes such delicacies as herring in oatmeal, and whitebait, but because the recipes for more universal dishes are boring and old hat as opposed to classic and simple, as the Conrans claim. The section on presentation is too cozy and too, too patronizing. The section on equipment is an uncritical and incomplete catalogue. The section on food, the best of the lot, is flawed by tiny type, omissions (the Idaho potato and Great Northern beans are among foods that don't rate a mention) and scholarly pretensions. But the how-to-pictures are among the best I have seen for techniques many cooks would want to master.