The Caterer

Culinary Artistry

08 August 2003 by
Culinary Artistry

This book's a great quick reference for ideas on marrying flavours and combining ingredients - it really does give you a different aspect from the normal classical approach.

My own formula for creating a dish is quite simple: I pull together ingredients that match in terms of texture, flavour vehicles and colour, and consider portion size and balance of menu. But my formula is long and vast. What this book does is allow me to marry taste sensations that work, the vehicles to deliver that sensation in, and the vehicle which best enhances a particular flavour. The end result is a dish that not only works visually and conceptually, but has flavours that are at their peak when served to the diner. In essence, the book helps me get to the end result more quickly.

I came across the book about six years ago when I was on a gastronomic tour of New York (I covered numerous leading restaurants in a 10-day period). Due to either the amount of cholesterol or calories consumed, I felt my digestive system needed a day off, so I planted myself in one of New York's largest bookstores, in Columbus Street. The bookshops then were very different from those in the UK - they had coffee shops, sofas, etc. It really was a day's event. I bought a number of books that day, but the one that stood out was Culinary Artistry. It seemed to pull together everything that was missing in my ideology of food.

The book's format is methodical. It talks about "the chef", questions whether chefs are artists, and talks about different types of chef. It gets inside the head of some of the USA's leading chefs and uncovers why they are like they are. It talks about flavours and what affects them (temperature and texture, for instance). It summarises what makes a dish, how to control your approach to cooking, and knowing when to stop, and, crucially, questions why you put things on the plate. It has a fantastic 100-page reference to seasonality, flavour combinations and how best to cook each ingredient. Really, it is a myriad of endless flavour combinations.

One particular chapter fascinates me: "Meet your medium". This chapter encapsulates all that is important to cooking. Food is all too frequently mistaken as being only about taste, likewise the sense of taste is so much more than merely the stimulation of taste-buds on the tongue. This chapter explains that food is rich with sensory stimuli - taste, vision and smell, as well as memories, emotions, dining experiences - which all play an important part not only in the meal, but in the dish itself.

Although this book tends not to give you dishes, it does allow you to offer tried-and-tested and sometimes unusual combinations of ingredients, but deliver them in a different medium. For example, warm jellies, espumas, pur‚es, soubises, biscuits - the list is endless.

What I love about this book is the fact that it can give you a framework on which to build your own food style - and as a result it's permanently on loan to my entire brigade!

John Campbell is executive head chef of the Vineyard at Stockcross, Berkshire, and author of the book Formulas for Flavour

Culinary Artistry
Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
£19.50, John Wiley & Sons
ISBN 0-471-28785-7

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