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.
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.
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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