Not Another Cookbook

Another week, another cookbook hits the book stores. Whether it’s a celebrity chef’s latest invention, a renowned cook’s anthology of recipes or a Masterchef contestant capitalising on their momentary fame, publishing a cookbook has become a ubiquitous road to take turning us into a nation of cookbook hoarders.

Cookbooks
A tiny sample of my cookbook collection

Looking at my cookbook collection, it can be described as fairly modest, and that is because I have stopped buying them some time ago. And for good reason.

Up until the ripe age of 25, all I knew how to cook was eggs and hot potato chips, not withstanding the use of the microwave. Putting together a simple salad was an onerous task. Blame it on the lack of appetite in my younger years and the fact that my mother’s idea of teaching me how to cook was to be her slave. “Hand me this, wash and dry that, watch me do this” had the effect of turning me away from the kitchen.

My dad, who was a gourmand with a discerning palate, was not impressed with my lack of interest. When I was at high school, during summer school holidays, he bought me the entire series of the Cordon Bleu Monthly Cookery Course from a second hand bookshop, hoping my passion for all things French would lead me to the kitchen. He too lived in hope while the collection gathered dust in the garage for many years.

Cookbooks
Cordon Bleu Monthly Cookery Course – Women’s Weekly Basic Cookbook

It wasn’t until a certain Mr Gourmantic proposed, and his mother was mortified I couldn’t feed her son that I seriously considered taking to the pans. “While you’re both saving money to get married, instead of going out, why not cook something together once a week?” she said casually one afternoon as she handed me the Australian Women’s Weekly Basic Cookbook. Clever woman. She knew how to appeal to my sense of logic.

I used the trusted cookbook on five occasions before dusting off the Cordon Bleu series from my parents’ garage. Self-taught with complicated recipes that I had to convert from ounces and pounds to metric, I found it quite a challenge at first then suddenly discovered the joy of cooking.

Soon, dinner parties at home became the norm for many years, with conversations centred on travel, food, drink and the joie de vivre they bring – these were the early foundations of what eventually became Gourmantic. My cookbook collection grew. It was inspired by travel, yet it had a classic focus, from Mr Gourmantic’s well-thumbed tomes of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to Floyd on France, to famous chefs such as Bocuse and Tetsuya before the word celebrity became a prefix. Birthdays and Christmas ensured the collection grew until one day something struck me.

Innovation in cookbooks is rare. Change 5g of an ingredient and suddenly it becomes a new recipe instead of a personal adaptation. But is it worthy of another cookbook where recipes are regurgitated and refashioned with food styling and photography?

Much like travel articles, cookbooks make us dream and lure us with the premise that our efforts will yield what we see on the glossy pages of cookbooks. Recipes are often given glorified and bastardised names which don’t sit well with my purist ideals. Take pesto as an example. It is made with basil. Substitute coriander, and it’s no longer pesto. Invent a new name by all means but respect culinary traditions.

These days, I rarely cook and that is mainly due to attending several Sydney events. And when I do, I still refer to a recipe database I developed in the early years. Occasionally I leaf through new cookbooks looking for inspiration but I am left with the same sentiment. As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose/the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When it comes to cookbooks, have we reached saturation point? Not if you believe the hype created by media, be it traditional, social and new, and the plethora of recipe food bloggers. With every new release, publishers push the hard sell yet I see many cookbooks end up in the reduced pile mere months later.

As for me, I’m content with transitioning my old MS Access database of recipes to an iPhone app. I don’t need another cookbook to tell me how to make yet another variation of crème brulee, or replicate Rick Stein’s Fish Pie or how to make a delectable tarte tatin. For that one, I’ll stick to the pate brisée sucrée recipe from the Cordon Bleu at Home cookbook, the apple caramelisation instructions from Chateau Cuisine and make caramel the way my grandmother once showed me.

Maybe I should write a cookbook of my own after all.

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Are you a cookbook hoarder? Do you find innovation in the cookbooks you buy? How many recipes per cookbook do you really use on a regular basis? Share your views in the comments below.

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Not Another Cookbook was last modified: December 20th, 2015 by Corinne Mossati

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Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the founder and editor of Gourmantic. An avid scribe, she has taken pen to paper since the age of five. Her repertoire includes long works of fiction, short stories and travelogues. She is a winner of the GT travel writing competition, has judged the Australasian Whisky Awards and several cocktail competitions. She is also named in the Australian Bartender Most Influential List.

8 Comments:

  1. Good post! I used to hoard cookbooks and food magazines, now I get what I need from the internet! Cheaper and quicker to find.

    I’m not that surprised about finding discounted cookbooks that are newly released. People get bored of the same thing quickly.

    • Yes! Food magazines too – I tossed out a huge collection not too long ago. Too much advertising content…

  2. Thank Jeebus for the web. iPad recipes all the way!!

  3. It has to be an excellent cook book for me to buy one now and more often than not, travel is involved as well. I now use the internet to look up recipes and have a fabulous app for the iphone and ipad that stores the tried and trusted recipes that I can’t live without! I’m still going through the magazines to toss them out- I hate to say that I still have a few from the nineties and the same recipes are repeated year after year!!!

  4. Great read. I reckon I use a handful of recipes out if each book I own. Oftentimes, no more than one or two. Buying new cookbooks is banned in my household. Although I do have them sent to me through work. I agree, little innovation is to be found. But there is something irresistible about them!

  5. This article is spot on! I am now much more selective in the cookbooks I buy. I now have enough in my collection of books to do the basics and the staples. For new inspirations I go on the internet too (sorry bookstores) or borrow a book from someone and we share. It’s a great way to review something and save myself ~$40. If I like it then I’d go and buy it. I’d also buy one if it provides a deep section on tips and technique (eg bread making) because more often than not I’d be refering to it a lot until I am happy with result.

    Writing my own cookbook would be a real possibility and a dream come true. Watch out for my new creme brulee, a new flavour anyway… that someone has probably already one :)

  6. As a one-time foodwriter I don’t believe in throwing books or recipes away. The one time I did downsize, during a move, at my husband’s urging, I found that in the years to come I could not find some of my absolutely favourite recipes. Never again!

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