“Are chefs culinary artists? Certainly not all of them, no more than sidewalk trumpet players are fine musicians. But are some chefs culinary artists? We believe so. Having experienced extraordinary meals that have moved us–on a level one might expect of great art–we have no doubt of this.”
– Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry
For my wedding in November, a family friend who had recently completed culinary school gave me one of my most cherished gifts–3 books and 4 bags of spices. The books were ones that she had come across in school and which she values most for reference and inspiration. The spices were “unique” ones that she discovered in school: garam masala, cardomom, tumeric, and ancho chile powder.
One of the books, Culinary Artisty by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, has been a joy to read, and will be a valuable reference throughout my culinary life.
The book begins by laying out an argument for cooking as an art. By defining art, interviewing well-known chefs, and providing a brief history of professional cooking, the authors propose three categories of Chefs: Trade (“Burger-Flippers”), Craft (“Accomplished Chefs”), and Art (“Culinary Artists”).
“Non-cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment, but if cooking is evanescent, well, so is the ballet.”
After laying out their basic argument, the authors move into a discussion of the medium, which include sensory stimuli, emotions, and global variations. Next, they discuss Composing Flavors, Composing a Dish, and Composing a Menu. This section includes an incredibly detailed breakdown of “Food Matches Made in Heaven” complete with examples of dishes and menus from famous chefs.
Next, the authors discuss the idea of chefs developing “signature styles”, just as painters, writers, or musicians might. This section includes a fascinating discussion on the evolution of the cuisines of some of America’s leading chefs. The book concludes with a discussion of Culinary Art as Community–the meal itself as performance art.
“The art of the table goes beyond merely putting recipes into practice; it embraces good manners, the balance of the menu, the skills of being a host, and of best organizing that privileged moment when a meal is shared with guests or family.”
As someone who works in the Arts and considers my time in the kitchen to be crucial to my own creativity and improvisation, I have found this book to be truly wonderful. The writing is clear, well-argued, and interesting. Throughout the book, there are sidebar interviews with top American chefs, and at the back of the book there are extensive sample menus from some of the best restaurants in the country. Part cookbook, part reference guide, part academic thesis, this book has is one that will keep you coming back again and again.