Your Coffee Table Needs to Meet this Cookbook

Posted: October 29th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry | 1 Comment »

I’d just like to say that I’m prouder than the mother of an honor roll student. Proud of my husband Mark, that is.

Back when Kate was a few months old, she and I tagged along with him on a work trip to Chicago. Maybe I have some Nordic blood I’m not aware of. Something that drove me to bring my wee tender infant to Chicago on a winter weekend that served up record cold. As if thrusting this defenseless small thing out into blasting bitter winds and inhuman sub-zero temps was some cultural rite of passage that if she managed to survive would result in her being given a secret name from a tribe elder.

But really I think it was just me wanting to get out of the house.

Yeah, so anyway, we went there and it was chilly. And we stayed in a schmancy hotel. And the first night Kate arcanely (and cruelly) managed to wake up every hour at the same exact time (3:14AM, 4:14AM, 5:14AM) forcing me to stick a boob in her mouth to quiet her down because Mark had to wake up the next day with some hopes of having slept enough to be an intelligent functional journalist. Those few nights comprised perhaps the most miserable ones of my infant mothering.

But all that aside, Mark and I did go out one night to an amazing restaurant called Alinea to eat the most decadent, fascinating, and theatrical meal of our lives. All 25 or so courses. Not to mention the 15 wine pairings. (But really, after the eleventh glass of wine, who can keep count?)

In fact, the business behind Mark’s trip to Chi-town was that he was interviewing that restaruant’s chef, a guy in his early thirties named Grant Achatz who’s a disciple of His Holiness Thomas Keller, and a frontiersman in the realm of molecular gastronomy. That scientifically-alchemized and post-modernistically presented haute gourmet food utterly unlike anything your mom used to make. And food that many moms–from my mother’s generation at least–might never appreciate the staggering artistic and experiential merits of. (I can hear my mother now: “You’ve got to be kidding me! For the price of that coo coo meal you could’ve put a down payment on a perfectly good house!”)

So, after that trip Mark wrote a story for Wired about Grant. They stayed in touch. Gourmet named Alinea the best Restaurant in America. Grant was named the Best Chef in the U.S. by The James Beard Foundation. Grant got cancer. He started work on a cookbook. He asked Mark to write an essay for the book. Grant also asked Geoffrey Steingarten and Michael Ruhlman to contribute. (This, by the way, is like being invited to play golf with Tiger Woods and, well, some other really amazingly super good and well-known golfer.) Grant’s cancer, blessedly, went into remission. The book, Alinea, went on sale over a week ago and I believe is now in its fourth printing. I’ll resist the cookbook/selling/hotcakes metaphor-pun.

I can’t imagine people are snatching it up because they’re in a rut about what they’ve been serving for dinner and want to mix things up a bit and wow the kids with some Surf Clam with Nasturtium Leaf and Flower with Shallot Marmelade. Or maybe have the neighbors over for Sunday football and some Foie Gras with Spice Cinnamon Puff and Apple Candy.

The book has a “How To Use this Book” intro, and it actually says that they do want you to venture to produce some of its recipes. But it’s unlikely that any non-professionals (aside from one blogger with a lot of time, patience, and ambition) would do so. Hence the brilliant term “coffee table cookbook.” Aside from the complexity of the number of components and steps and even the staggering grocery gathering that’d be required, you’d also need a kitchen stocked with a madman’s array of chemicals plus state of the art hi-tech equipment that can do things like turn fresh parsley into powder or make Gob Stopper shaped spheres filled with unexpected innards, like say, curry sauce. Or Concord grape. Or, heck, both.

Not that that’s a recipe mind you, but this book is packed with similarly mind blowing match-ups that you could never in your most drug-induced Suessian dreams conjure. And if you ever have the very very good fortune to eat at Alinea–something you really should try to do before you take all your foods up through a straw–you won’t believe you’re actually eating these sublime things all together or that you love how they taste.

And for God’s sake if you do eat there, be sure not to go with your mother or your brother-in-law or whoever it is who’ll be too freaked out by the food’s novelty or who’s an unadventurous eater or is even just an old school party pooper. Or maybe on the other hand, bring them along! Require them to just shut up and eat, and watch as the kitchen and the front-of-the-house staff knock their damn socks off! I promise you the next day they’ll quit their 17-year run at the accounting firm, hop a flight to Fiji and take up kite surfing.

But oh, where was I? The book. The book. I’m telling you, it’s like that. It’s not just like flipping through the utterly comprehensive and practical yet curveball-less Joy of Cooking. It takes you places. This is not a cookbook that you buy for your friend who likes to cook, although he certainly will love it. Buy it for someone whose culinary specialty is a toasted bagel and know there will be something that will floor and amaze even her–not to mention the people who come across it on her coffee table.

There’s science! There’s art! There’s technology! There’s food! There’s stunning photography! And there’s my husband’s name. Right there on the cover page.

So recently I suggested you make a contribution to help fund breast cancer research. Today I’m advising you to go out or go online and buy this book. Not because I want to help sales for Grant or for Mark, though they are nice guys and God knows Grant is a fascinating and crazy hard-working genius. But because this book could boost your cool quotient exponentially. Not to mention the effect it could have on many of the folks on your holiday shopping list.

Help cure cancer, save your soul, then impress your friends. You can thank me later.

1 Comment »

One Comment on “Your Coffee Table Needs to Meet this Cookbook”

  1. 1 Anonymous said at 7:57 am on October 31st, 2008:

    You wax so poetically this morning. One of your best, I believe.

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