Have you ever had one of those books that you try & try to get into, yet can’t? You can pick it up, force a few pages down like over-cooked okra (or broccoli) only to put it down in frustrated disgust? Wait a lil bit, then repeat & rise, starting the cycle over and over and over…..
I don’t really have it happen that often, but go figure it’s happened on my second book from the list. I have struggled and coerced and force-fed myself “The French Lieutenants Woman” by John Fowles since Monday and I am still less than 50 pages in. The frustrating part about it is that I’ve read decent reviews on it, I know the intrigue & unusual plot structure which it promises. Yet with every page I feel as though I’m trying to swallow a mouthful of dry, dense bread. Belch!
I actually can’t even really put a finger on why this book doesn’t agree with me. After the first 10 pages the prose seemed to flow easier, less constrictive but I still find my eyes roaming listlessly across the page. Reading just to read.
It was a bit fitting then that last night I finally got the cookbook I’ve been pining for a month. Being a classically trained chef I have an asinine amount of cookbooks. Not little Home & Gardens, Williams & Sonoma books either, oh no, these are exhausting, heavy tomes dedicated to the finesse and passion of culinary escapades. I am a bit picky about what to include in my collection and last month while wandering around Seattle I stumbled upon Magnus Nilsson’s book on Faviken.
That probably doesn’t mean much to many people but it is a beautiful labor that unfolds within. Faviken is Nilsson’s restaurant in Sweden, one of the few quickly climbing the charts vying for best restaurant in the world (which since El Bulli is sadly closing its doors, leaves big shoes to fill for restaurants like Faviken or Noma, Mugaritz or Aliena.)
So last night I threw aside dry, hard to swallow literature and cuddled up with culinary delights. I’ll say it’s not a book for everyone, it’s not a straight forward, go cook this from book to table instructional. However, it is a necessity that everyone who has any interest in cooking and food should read. Even old kitchen dogs such as myself.
Recent years have shown a huge upwards trend in “modernist” cooking. In bare bones essence this division of culinary explorations is the backbones of what cooking is. Understanding and applying the scientific methods that alter particles, molecules into edible food. All of cooking is science; Modernist cuisine amplifies scientific principle to new levels. This is how Ferran Adriàs El Bulli managed to stay best restaurant in the world for almost 10 years. He pushed the boundaries of science and food into the ultimate sensory experience for diners. Light airy mousse that sings of oysters. Brilliant hued Pantone rainbows of contradictory flavors. Frozen bubbles spring pea essence, the list goes on and on.
Modernist cuisine is something fascinating that demands a certain appreciation. But it’s become annoying and jaded as it hit its momentum among “trend-setters.” I equate it now to the cupcake trend- While great at first, everyone has jumped on the wagon and now cupcake shops are about as common as Starbucks. This is where places like Noma & Faviken step in.
They don’t glorify and push the boundaries that food presents. It’s a return to art of embracing ingredients for what they are. No hydrogen bottles or centrifuges here. Just an appreciation of what one can find outside their doors, using what they have on hand. It’s (re)learning how to appreciate and accentuate the simple and the over-looked. Mastery of the basics which will always trump the fanciest executions of method a chef could ever dream of. Eating with the seasons, utilizing all parts of products. Capturing not only the flavor of the food but paying homage to it culinary history.
I have been so engrossed with devouring every morsel of Faviken that I forgot how much I loathed attempting to read “The French Lieutenants Woman” until I picked it up again earlier today. Nope nothing has changed, we still have a strained relationship. I think perhaps it is best to put it down, start on something else and come back to it later. That is if I don’t get sidetracked by the allure of food again.