It is almost impossible to begin a review of this book. The mere mention of Stephanie Alexander's "The Cook's Companion" conjures so many delights - of food, food tips and tricks, of information and of history - that the literary mind becomes carried away with sudden urges to describe the specific delight of dishes Stephanie Alexander has used rigour, clarity and passion to present in this culinary masterpiece.
"The Cook's Companion" is a wonderful cookbook, that much is sure. Stephanie has taken the unsual step of collating her recipies ingredient-by-ingredient, in alphabetical order. Foods common and obscure receive a chapter of their own, from the puzzling jerusalem artichoke to the everyday pork to the rare delicacy of Stephanie's own beloved tripe. These chapters contain not only the recipies but invaluable information about the history of the ingredient on world tables, as well as their seasonal appearances, their variations, and Stephanie's own personal experiences eating or serving each ingredient on offer. One of Stephanie's most useful gifts to the domestic chef are the lists she provides of companion ingredients of her selected food. Anyone confronted with a meal to cook and a full, if confusing, larder need only heed Stephanie's advice to improvise a delicious, full-flavoured speciality dish.
The recipies themselves prove why memories of Stephanie Alexander's Melbourne restaurant are so passionately recalled by her former diners. She is a chef who approaches every ingredient in her kitchen with an encycopaedic knowledge and a passionate love of its unique properties. In addition to jaw-droppingly delicious formal main courses, side dishes, sauces, desserts, soups, salads and hors d'oevres, her recipies and margin notes proffer hearty suggestions for scrumptious snacks, breakfasts and little treats as well as the best modes of preparation for special occasion foods. Since the publication of this book in Stephanie's Australian home, there are not many Australian households left that do not now prepare a Christmas turkey the Stephanie way.
The greatest thing about "The Cook's Companion" is not, however, its wealth of information or the scale and variation of its recipies. What makes the book essential for any household is its accessibility - the fact, like a favourite work of fiction, it can be picked up and enjoyed as a dynamic work of literature, dropped open at any page. It is a book that transports the reader from their own domestic surroundings into its author's wonderful, sensual world of kitchens, restaurants, pinics and intimate personal memories of food and the rituals of food preparation. Anyone who's lost their faith in the magic and mystery of a kitchen need only dive into this book to refire their taste buds and reawaken their culinary soul.
The book makes a wonderful present, eternally-beloved of its every recipient. Anyone who needs food needs this book - and, let's face it, that's all of us.