If you’re like me, and by ‘like me’ I don’t mean Asian (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but I mean living in an industrialised first world country with democracy and proper GDP per capita earning more than weekly minimum wage (and by weekly I mean enough to feed a village in rural China for a month) with proper 2 day weekend to cook and shop in markets, you probably, at this point, own a bookshelf full of cookbooks.
Or, at least know someone with a bookshelf full of cookbooks.
Cookbooks aren’t what they used to be. My memory of a cookbook looks like my mum’s giant red spiral bounded 'thing’ with her handwritings, and notes, and magazine rip-offs and hand drawn pictures.
Nowadays it’s Phaidon, Murdoch Books, Taschen, Penguin. It’s Jamie’s consistent branding of the Naked Chefs, published with beautiful photos and proper set typefaces of a happy family weekend meal. It’s professional chefs dumbing down their menus so we can cook faster, easier, simpler, lighter.
And if you indeed regularly purchase these cookbooks, you’d understand the frustration. You know, the guilt-bearing of wanting to buy another cookbook while you only cooked 3 recipes out of the last one.
It is plain lust, plain marketing, and we know it. We never wanted to cook all of the meals, we just wanted to feel like we could own those lifestyles in the book. And those who did cook all the recipes in a book became a star and Hollywood makes it into a movie (Hint: Julia & Julia). Those ingredients, shot from aerial view on a dark rustic background next to perfectly arranged cutlery, free from children’s throw up or your partner’s dirty fingerprints or your in-law’s high expectation, is our ideal life. We want to read about a place where eggplants aren’t eggplants, but aubergines. We want to see recipes that require 4 avocados (That’s $15 right there) with a dash of kamquat juice.
Am I the only one that feels this way? That the more cookbooks you buy, the bigger hack you feel, as a person? Not becoming a better cook; just a more gullible consumer. And then to feed that emptiness, you buy more cookbooks.
Enter The Profesional Chef.
Simply put, it’s the textbook (and I’m not using marketing jargon here, no, it is an actual textbook)used by the Culinary Institue of America.
It is the mother of all cookbooks. It covers menu preparation,ingredient cost per customer, how to scale a recipe, all meat type and the cut (and cooking temperature). It explains the maillard reaction, why carrot, celery and onion is the base of all cooking, the difference between stock, broth and consomme. Vegetables. Dessert. Heck, it has a proper recipe for Char Siu (BBQ Pork). I’ve spend hours on this book so far and haven’t scratched 10% of the book. But what I can tell you, is that all generic cookbooks you see are diluted versions of The Professional Chef.
The book explains what you need to do to feel less like a hack in the kitchen.
I’m not sure if it was just natural progression, that I had to go through all the shitty cookbooks to find this. But if you’re thinking of buying that new bestseller cookbook in the bookstore or website, thinking that it will make you a better cook, put it down, step away (or close the tab), and just search for The Professional Chef.