June 29, 2005
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Food Writing

Fannie Farmer (and, I think, Escoffier) are essentially about geography and motion. You know how to cook -- you learned in the kitchen -- but you're now called on to cook things that they didn't teach you to make back home. They're manuals for people who started on the farm, or in the old country.

Rombauer (The Joy of Cooking -- also, maybe, Julia Child) is essentially about technological and class mobility. Perhaps you don't know how to cook: you grew up in an urban boardinghouse. Or you grew up with servants. Or you only know how to make porridge and rice. Everything is explained, from etiquette to technique. These monuments of tech writing are, above all, about what to eat.

Alice Waters and Moosewood and the ethnic cuisine classics and the celebrity chef books are about ingredients and their use. You know how to look things up in the standard cookbooks; they're about teaching you the stuff that middle-class America has forgotten. It's a tradition that reaches back to MFK Fisher and really isn't about cooking, so much, as it is about the emotional life of food. These art books explore why you'd want to eat, especially since eating is bad for you.

I think there's something new in the air. Sally Schneider (A New Way To Cook) is new: it pretends to be a lot like Joy of Cooking or New Basics, but it isn't: it's not about recipes, it's about the ideas behind them. The Michael Ruhlman books (especially Making of a Chef) are about the ideas, too. I think Clotilde is really writing about ideas, too -- exploring the design space of food. I'm not sure what the new movement is yet or who is writing about it.

But I'd like to be.

Last night's barbeque for Linda's photo gang:

Update: Ed Blachman persuades me that I'm wrong about Julia Child, who probably belongs with Moosewood and MFK. The role of Cooks' in The New Thing is interesting, too.