Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Elements of Cooking

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.

10 comments:

fiat lux said...

I'm very much looking forward to its release. :)

The Foodist said...

damn damn damn... Another book to add to the list! You gotta stop doing this to me Bob.. Not enough hours in the day to spend behind a book!

Truth be told Im lagging behind in the Ruhlman Library.. I still have yet to read Reach... I know, slap me and call me a slacker.

Ill add it to the list and get to it eventually lol

realitybites said...

I was just thinking the same thing, Foodist. I have already bought three of Ruhlman's books in the last two months. I'm halfway through the third one now--The Reach of a Chef. I suppose I'll be ordering this one as well.

I also added the books that you mentioned to my list. I'm hoping for a nice Amazon gift certificate--for my upcoming birthday--from my parents. :)

tyronebcookin said...

"...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." HOW CAN THIS BE?!?! He never once referenced me for this book...incomplete!

(uh, its just a joke)

I am 'up' on my (Ruhlman)chef book reading...so I am not behind on that.

Although currently I am reading the book he blogged/posted about back in August 'United States of Arugula'...

Looking forward to reading his latest...any chance you can put me in for some advance reading from his writing?

Ok, I'll wait for the book...(but slip me yours since I know your done!!!)

Anonymous said...

I thought Ruhlman had long since crossed from food journalist to food authority/professional. Not only is he CIA-trained, but people have "gone to the well", to him, time and time again, for his theoretical knowledge, skill and now judging. I have always thought him as much more than "Jimmy Olsen in an apron". He doesn't have to have 30 years behind a passe to make him qualified. Besides, while Bourdain accurately depicted the kitchen as a tight, clannish posse of "them against us", Ruhlman's demystified the kitchen - and cooking - a lot for us "civilians", and made it more accessible by reporting on it not only as a journalist, but as a a man who donned the whites, went to school, and immersed himself in the whole world of professional cooking. He's much more than George Plimpton.

Claudia

Kovalic said...

Thanks for the heads-up! I'm looking forward to my own copy, now...

redman said...

yes, this book sounds sweet, think that we need something new like this right now too. Great theory to be found in pages of Pro Chef and Escoffier, but have a feeling Ruhlman will "write" it better than the others

Scotty said...

The problem is that it's not available yet. I need to get something to read for a trip to DC on Sunday.

Robert said...

thanks bob I am just about to finish "the reach of a chef" cant wait for it to come out so I can add it too my list.

Deborah Dowd said...

How cool to get an advance copy of such a much-anticipated book... but then again how cool is it to count Ruhlman as a friend and colleague!