Monday, May 31, 2010

The Cook and the Book

In the Sunday Times Magazine, Pete Wells told everyone that he's moved into a rental apartment, where he'll live until his new house, and new kitchen, is ready. And the kitchen might not have bookshelves. Why? Because he hasn't unpacked his cookbooks and has found himself thus liberated from the tyranny of the book and the recipe. (Apparently when the books are out, he can't stop himself from cross referencing cooking times and being slavish in his devotion to detail. Why this would change with recipes from various cooking Web sites, I don't know.) Plus, there's an iPad or some kind of computer coming to the kitchen so who needs those old books anyway?

Well, I do. I like reading cookbooks. I like it when they evoke a world. I like it when they're very bossy. I like it when they refer to themselves internally and create their own web of rules and regulations you wouldn't think of breaking, at least while you're reading them. These books aren't simply biblical, they're Levitical. (If Leviticus can be an adjective.)

Maybe someday I'll read my cookbooks from an iPad; maybe someone will come up with some kind of protective case for hands-on kitchen use; but as long as people still create discrete worlds of food with their own rules and stories, I'll be happy. I don't dream of long lunches with multiple courses and wine in jelly jars after I enter a search term, but I do when I don't know what to read and pick up an old favorite. There are somethings databases just can't do, and for all of that, there are cookbooks.

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