Here is an interesting story. As you know, the Bravado Cooking Society is an amateur organization and, as such, we get to make our own rules. The moniker “Bravado Chef”, for example, is given out at our discretion and usually at cocktail hour. One afternoon, a group of us, Bravado chefs each and every one, with a Napa valley cabernet in hand, chose three basic cookbooks, which we felt everyone should have. In true Bravado fashion, we deemed these books the “Best in the World”.
Our choices were (1) “The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan, (2) “The Joy of Cooking” by the Rombauer family, and (3) “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
After we selected Bravado’s Best, the Village Voice in New York published their selection of the top 50 cookbooks published since the dawn of history (http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2009/10/our_10_best_coo.php). We convened an emergency meeting of the Society to review the results. The first page of the article covered the rankings from 11 to 50 – the “runner ups”. There were none of our cookbooks in that group. We took a gulp of wine and looked at each other with some anxiety. Not to worry, we decided that we must be in the top 10. When we got to the second page, we breathed a sigh of relief. Not only were we in the top ten, but their top three books were exactly the same as ours. The whole event brought tears to our eyes, especially the selection of Marcella’s book, which is less well known. We may be amateurs, but we sure know how to pick cookbooks.
As a Bravado chef, we hope you will revere these giants, read their books and practice their recipes. This is a great opportunity to let everyone know that cooking is not a haphazard business with you, but rather something based on almost sacred texts. You should also show your loyalty. You may randomly look at other recipes, but, hopefully, you will only use Marcella for eggplant Parmesan, only “The Joy” for pancakes made from scratch, and only Julia for pastry crust. These are some of the best cookbooks known to the modern world – and that is not only our view, but also that of the Village Voice.
I really don’t know how the Bravado chef could survive without these books. Marcella and Julia are extremely entertaining and even make good bedtime reading. “The Joy of Cooking” is thorough and loaded with technical information – almost a course in food science. You need to own these books, so, if you don’t have them, go to your local bookstore or Amazon, buy them now and begin to read them.
There are some interesting stories behind these books. “The Joy of Cooking” is an incredible family affair. Irma Rombauer originally wrote the book in 1931, with illustrations by her daughter, Marion. The mother/daughter team did three revisions of the book through 1951. Irma had a stroke in the early 50’s, but Marion and her husband continued with two more revisions in 1963 and 1975. Marion’s son, Ethan (ergo Irma’s grandson) along with his wife and son decided to do a revised 75th anniversary edition in 2006. This last edition is a masterpiece – the format of the original “Joy” is maintained, but many of the recipes have been tweaked and new ones added, especially in the area of ethnic cuisine.
Julia Child has to be one of the most important people in the history of cooking. For those of you who want to better understand her, see the 2009 film entitled “Julie & Julia” with Meryl Streep doing an incredible job in the lead role.
Julia’s amazing career spanned 92 years. She originally wanted to be a writer, but found herself in Paris after WWII with her husband who was working with the U.S. Information Service. That’s when her almost religious zeal for French cooking began. She attended the Cordon Bleu school in Paris where she met students Beck and Bertholle, and that began their collaboration and their famous book, which was published in 1961. She was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame in 1993. She is probably best remembered for her television programs, which started in 1962 and continued almost until her death in 2004. You can still see many of her most famous moments on YouTube.
Marcella Hazan, born in 1924, is equally interesting although much less well known. In September of 2008, the New York Times published a brilliant story about Marcella and her husband, Victor. He was the son of Italian immigrants to New York. He met Marcella, a science teacher, in Italy when he was travelling in his 20’s. They married and moved to New York. She was taking a course in Chinese cooking when the instructor became ill and canceled the class. The students, who had gotten to know Marcella, asked her to teach them Italian cooking. The rest is history – she taught in New York and Italy for almost 50 years. Her husband was a writer and translated all of her recipes and writing, which were done in Italian. As Bravado chefs, we remember her fondly for her love of “Gentleman Jack” bourbon, which seems so right on so many levels.
Don’t be afraid to use your cookbooks. Have them out on the counter and get them dirty. A good way to do this is to put the book right next to the stovetop cooking area. You will get the spills and grease spots that you need. Tell your guests stories about the books, read short sections from them and make these books part of the Bravado experience.
Many of us want to experiment and be creative in the kitchen. However, as admirable as this urge is, in the early stages, we need to learn the basic moves from these great coaches before we get crazy. In the coming weeks, we will talk about some of the best recipes from these books.