THE BOOK AND THE AUTHOR: "Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food From a Master Teacher," by John Ash (Clarkson Potter, $37.50).
If you want to learn the right way to cut an onion or beat egg whites, these private cooking lessons are not for you. If you think simple food comes together quickly, almost thoughtlessly, find yourself another master teacher.
So what are these lessons are who are they for? "Read this introduction" screams the opening page of this book, the third from Ash, a chef, restaurateur and food and wine educator in Northern California. It "is not a kitchen primer and it's not 'the only cookbook you'll ever need.' It is my highly personal take on the very contemporary food that you already love, approached in the most unintimidating way possible." The education here comes in taking recipes that many of us use regularly (and perhaps too robotically) and perfecting them: blanching basil before making pesto, rethinking the balance of oil and vinegar in vinaigrette, providing tricks for converting good salsa into great salsa.
THE FORMAT: The book is divided into three kinds of lessons: flavor makers (salsas, marinades), techniques (such as oven drying, grilling) and main ingredients (an eclectic mix including beans, chicken, mushrooms, salmon and soy foods). Each chapter begins with a discussion of procedure or ingredient. Simple recipes, once accomplished, are woven into more complicated ones if the student is inclined to accept the challenge.
WHO WOULD READ IT: Most recipes are not difficult, but many take time and have recipes within recipes. Any cook with patience will benefit. Is the time and effort well spent? Oh, yes. There are other fine new cookbooks in the stores right now, but I can't stop cooking my way through this one.
-- Jeanne McManus