I've had an advance copy of Michael Ruhlman's newest book "The Elements of Cooking" for a few weeks. As odd as this will sound to many of who are familiar with his other writing, I think "Elements" -due to be published in early November- is the first piece from Ruhlman where he firmly and clearly identifies himself as an authority on the language, techniques and ideas that inform the contemporary American cooking scene.
Other books such as "The Making of a Chef" and even "Charcuterie" took a more and less journalistic or reportorial approach to their subjects. By comparison, "Elements" is more of a thesis and very clearly the work of someone who has spent many years cooking, thinking about cooking and synthesizing what he experienced into a coherent philosophical outlook.
I've known for years that Ruhlman can think and cook, and that he knows his brunoise from his dice. So I'm not at all surprised by the authoritative tone of Elements. But I'm guessing that some who do not know him as well as I do, might raise an eyebrow when they discover that the guy they been told by defenders of professional cookery like Anthony Bourdain to think of as a Jimmy Olsen in an apron, actually knows what he's talking about. Ruhlman is not reporting here, he's telling.
The book begins with a series of eight essays on what we francophilic culinarians often refer to as fonds de cuisine or fundamental preparations and ingredients such as stock and sauce and eggs and salt, followed by what Ruhlman described to me personally as an "opinionated glossary" of elemental concepts. I've read every entry and I'm completely comfortable in saying that I think that professional cooks, home cooks and people who just like to eat at the table of modern American cuisine are going to find these very useful and in many places, entertaining. And I'll bet it becomes a standard quick reference for culinary students.
It kind of ticks me off that I didn't write it, but what the heck.
Disclosure: I helped clarify some of the cooking and science-related concepts in "Elements," and I consider Michael Ruhlman to be a friend and colleague.