Joy of Cooking
I was interviewing a few prospective chefs last week for the Cafe. One of the questions I wanted them to answer was what chef or cookbook they wrap their cooking philosophy around? Who's culinary wisdom do they respect? What cookbook do they always fall back on in a quandary?
Their answers were consistent to most young people which is that they scour the internet for their next inspiration. In other words the world is their inspiration. I had to close my eyes. That sounded way too difficult.
If you ever walk down into our tearoom, right outside the door to the wedding planning area, you will see a bookcase that is six feet tall. It is totally filled with the hundreds of cookbooks I have collected in my career. They have come from bakeries or restaurants that I visited on travels, others were purchased from the bargain section of the long gone bookstores that I frequented in town. More than a handful were gifts from inspired friends. I can’t part with any of them so they stand on their shelves waiting to be of service.
I am so aware of all the hours it takes to create one clearly written fantastic recipe. How can anyone create an entire volume of great recipes? People like Paula Peck, Bernard Clayton, James Beard have shown me more than a recipe, they demonstrated a philosophy for thinking about food. It wasn’t meant to be entertaining. It was meant to really show you how to understand how they cook and why what they make is unique and delicious. You can understand them like you understand a favorite musician or artist or clothes designer. You want to see where they may go next. The beautiful thing is you get to go along on the ride. They are giving us the opportunity to taste like they do, to know how they make their choices about ingredients and temperature and timing. I even like touching their cookbooks, knowing the size of the book, paper and type face all matter.
I have enjoyed the recipes of many of the New York Times Magazine Food writers in the same way. I like ripping recipes out of the magazine, writing in the margins throwing it away if it didn’t work. My good friend Kit, who lived in New York once sent me a recipe called a chocolate cherry torte that she had cut out of the New York Times magazine. That was before I even read the Times. I couldn’t wait to try it. I had never made a cake that used nuts in the place of flour. The cake was a delicate batter of melted chocolate, ground almonds, eggs, vanilla and sugar. After you gently spread it in the bottom a pan you pressed sour cherries into the top . You baked it, rolled out a layer of almond paste that you placed on the baked top, and then covered the entire thing with chocolate ganache. It was so very exotic. I offered to make it for my friend Laurel’s wedding cake. She accepted the idea and this beautiful chocolate cherry torte amazed the guests at this cold January night’s affair and put a perfect end to a beautiful wedding reception. It all started with an inspiration from my worldly friend and her joy in sharing a great recipe, or the potential thereof.
When I need to be centered, to be certain and simple and just good, however, I am always glad to reopen the tattered pages of The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. She never disappoints me. Even though there are often ten recipes on a page, you can be sure every recipe can be trusted.
I mention this because Karen, our head baker and I were discussing the addition of a chocolate chiffon or chocolate angel food cake to April’s menu, I immediately thought of JOY, as it is affectionately called in our house, because I knew the answer would be coming from a trusted and talented source. If there was ever just one cookbook I could keep in my kitchen, that would be it. You can taste Irma’s philosophy for yourself in April.