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Cookbook Review - The Flavor Bible - Cooking Index

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The Flavor Bible

Author: Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

Review

Sometimes a food book comes along that I think “I wish I had written that”. It doesn't happen as often as I would like but The Flavor Bible is one of those volumes.

Written by respected food authors Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, The Flavor Bible is all about what flavor pairings work well together.

The book starts with a short chapter on what factors affect our perception of flavor. As the authors term it Flavor = Taste + Mouthfeel + Aroma + ‘The X Factor’. This slightly irritating formula is the worst thing about the chapter; it goes on to describe how our taste buds taste sweetness, saltiness, sourness and bitterness, plus Umami. They then look at mouthfeel (another irritating word) in terms of temperate, texture (which is an especially trendy subject among trendy chefs), piquancy and astringency. Aroma is considered in terms of pungency and chemesthesis (sensations that tickle – for example from carbonated drinks – or trick – for example, the ‘heat’ from a chilli pepper). The ‘X Factor’ is all about visual, emotional , mental and spiritual dimensions of food; this is all about the theatre of food and the circumstances in which you enjoy your food. For many restaurant-goers this is actually the most important thing, however much they might claim they are there for the other three factors.

There then follows interviews with a wide variety of restauranters about their perception of flavors. This is interesting, although some of the restauranters do seem a little too caught up in their own ‘concept’.

There is then a chapter on Communicating via the Language of Food, which is all about understanding the circumstances in which your food will be eaten (the event, the weather, the season etc) and how seasonality, taste, volume, function, regionalty, weight and flavour affinities of your ingredients affect this.

And then comes the real meat of the book. Pages 35 to 375 consist of charts of what flavor pairings work together. 38 experts are listed in the acknowledgements of who has been consulted on these flavor pairings and their opinions and dishes are scattered through the pages of ingredients. But it is the actual pairings that are the stars of this book and that will be of great interest both to the professional chef and the home cook at pretty much every level.

The best way to illustrate how the book works is to pick an ingredient and show how they handle it. Take Ginger:

Ginger
Season: year round
Taste: sour, hot
Weight: light-medium
Volume: loud
Techniques: bake, stir fry

There is then a list of flavors/ingredients that go well with ginger. The best are in capitalized bold type, the next best are in bold lower case type and the remainder are in normal type. So, for ginger:

CHINESE CUISINE
CREAM AND ICE CREAM
CURRIES
FISH
HONEY
JAPANESE CUISINE
LIME JUICE
SCALLIONS
SOY SAUCE
SUGAR
VINEGAR
Basil
Chicken
Chile peppers
Chocolate
Cilantro
Cinnamon
Cumin
Garlic
Lemon
Lemongrass
Mint
Molasses
Passion fruit
Pears
Rum
Sesame oil
Shrimp
Soups
Turmeric

(just a sample of the non bold ingredients)
Allspice
Almonds
Celery
Coriander
Crab
Fennel
Nutmeg
Pineapple
Plums
Rhubarb
Rice
Star anise
Verbena
Yuzu

There is then a small section of suggested multiple flavor affinities:

Ginger+carrot+celery+garlic
Ginger+chilli peppers+garlic
Ginger+chocolate+cream+rum
Ginger+cider vinegar+sugar
Ginger+cilantro+garlic+scallions
Ginger+cream+honey
Ginger+lemon+mint
Ginger+lemon+pepper+salt+sugar

I found this book extremely useful in terms of finding ingredients in the farmers market or in my store cupboards and then using The Flavor Bible for suggestions about what I should be cooking. It really is excellent at sparking ideas in the mind of the more experienced cook and making them think of new combinations or ideas that will add a bit of extra zip to a recipe.
 
The Flavor Bible would be useful to any cook but for anyone who is serious about their food – either as an enthusiast or as someone who makes a living from cooking – then I think this will become one of the indispensable books in their kitchen library. As such, it is one of my favourite cookbooks of this century.

About The Authors

The authors have previously tackled similar subjects in What To Drink with What You Eat, which looks at food and drink pairings, and Culinary Artist, which is about classic food pairings. They are also the authors of Becoming A Chef, Dining Out and The New American Chef, all of which appeal to the professional chef as well as the keen amateur cook.

The couple, who live in New York, write a weekly wine column for the Washington Post. Page is a graduate of Harvard Business School while Dornenburg studied at the School for American chefs and has cooked professionally in restaurants in New York and Boston.