The Flavor Bible (book review)


This article was originally published in my coffee column Tales of the Bean that appears in Parent News magazine each month…

Tales of the Bean- The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

It’s not that often that I’ll review a book instead of an actual food item for this column, but I felt that The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg was worth the departure. Seeing as how I’m a coffee guy, cookbooks just don’t really tickle my fancy. As an armchair chef, meaning I watch tons of cooking shows but don’t cook at all, my only foray into the kitchen is for coffee or the microwave. My wife tries to keep me out otherwise for fear I might break a dish or burn something down.

I first heard of this book in Food Arts magazine, where it received a positive review. Then I noticed that it was a James Beard Award winner. For those of you who don’t know, James Beard Awards are like the Nobel prizes of the food industry. It’s a really great honor for an author to win one.

The book is just the right size for the kitchen. Not too big to lift from the shelf but big enough that if you lay it out on the counter it’ll stay open without setting a huge can of refried beans on top of it. It is billed as “the essential guide to culinary creativity, based on the wisdom of America’s most imaginative chefs.” It’s absolutely true. If you’re a person who likes to experiment in the kitchen or would like to, this book is perfect for you.

For example, say you’d like to jazz up a lamb dish. You simply go to page 192 and there are four pages of things you can do with or add to lamb, including various spices, herbs, and seasonings. There are even flavor affinities listed that complement each other such as “lamb + cinnamon + prunes”. Or you could approach a dish from the opposite direction and start with the extra stuff. On page 214 I found marjoram and a long list of dishes that are enhanced by it. In addition to the encyclopedic style listings for each item, there are also a large number of entries by chefs all over the world on their particular uses and likes for particular items.

Now, I can talk a great deal about food and never handle it. I’ll be honest. I absolutely hate the look and feel of raw meat. Too much time in the autopsy lab on my previous career I guess. In case you’re wondering how I’m going to use the book,  I’m going to concentrate on coffee. I’m a coffee mixologist. I love experimenting with coffee and the different flavors I can achieve with various off-the-wall ingredients. I’m going work my way through the book discovering new additives to try out. What’s first…maybe I’ll try the Chinese Five-Spice Powder.

For the book… The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs"".

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