Customer Review

626 of 643 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compulsive reading for all foodies, and the perfect present for keen cooks, 25 Jun 2010
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This review is from: The Flavour Thesaurus (Hardcover)
This book has had stunning reviews in the national newspapers, and I decided to buy it as a present for my husband, the chef in our household. On the tube home, I had a quick flick through it out of curiosity...and I haven't been able to part with it since.

The concept of `The Flavour Thesaurus' is utterly, utterly genius. Segnit has taken 99 basic flavours (mint, coriander, basil, strawberry etc) and researched 980 pairings of them. The result is part recipe-book, part food memoir, part flavour compendium. (The English Language geek in me feels compelled to point out that `thesaurus' is a misnomer - even similar flavours are NOT synonyms, jeez, though the book retains Roget's format).

Some of these pairings are familiar, such as Bacon & Egg, whilst others (Avocado & Mango, anyone?) are not. Now and then, Segnit provides a recipe; many of these sound incredible, and despite being the most amateur of cooks, I reckon even I could manage many of them. Under Melon & Rose, for example, she merely tells you to drown a cantaloupe melon in rosewater syrup, so that it tastes like "a fruity take on gulab jamun". Can you even read that sentence without wanting to dash to the supermarket for the ingredients?

Segnit also peppers the book with restaurant and dish recommendations - not in an insufferable shiny London lifestyle way, but in an enthusiastic, unpretentious, eating-out-with-your-mates "you really have to try this" way. If only she had supplied phone numbers so we could immediately make reservations.

The real revelation, though, is Segnit's language. It is, quite simply, superb. Modern cookery writing seems to fall into three distinct camps: venomous snob, obsessed with tablecloths and ambience rather than the food itself; faux-geezer dahn the faux-pub; and flirty girl breathlessly enthusing over cake. With `The Flavour Thesaurus', Segnit may well have ended the careers of many of these over-hyped morons.

For a start, her prose is endlessly entertaining. Breezy erudition sits alongside hilarious similes. She is a whizz with description: when she tells you that cloves on their own taste the same as sucking on a rusty nail, you half suspect she conducted a comparative taste test just to be sure. She incorporates references so wide-ranging that both Sybil Kapoor and Velma from Scooby Doo rate a mention. Then there are her unmissable riffs: p 148 instructs us on that "essentially unitary quantity, fishandchips", and insists they must be served in "newsless newspaper" (never polystyrene boxes) and always eaten at a bus stop or "on the wall outside the petrol station". Read about Instinctos and you will be snorting with laughter (and visiting Pizza Hut at the first excuse). I have now read `The Flavour Thesaurus' from cover to cover, and still I have not finished.

I must temper my enthusiasm with a few tiny criticisms just to prove this is a genuine review. At nigh on 20 full price, it's expensive for a book without illustrations or photographs (though note Amazon has since discounted it). It assumes a certain level of prior culinary knowledge, which was sometimes frustrating to a novice like me, though it won't bother those with lots of cookbooks and greater competence in the kitchen. The integration of the recipes into the text - Elizabeth David and Simon Hopkinson style - can be irksome until you've got busy with post-it notes. The index needs further sub-division: `crab', for example, offers 11 entries in the index, but the recipe for crab cakes is easily missed under Butternut Squash & Bacon.

But these are such minor complaints given the enormous appeal of this book. My husband hovers over it constantly, anxious for his promised present. My brother and my best friend have already asked to borrow it. `The Flavour Thesaurus' is truly a classic in the making, and no foodie's bookshelf is going to be complete without it.

EDITED TO ADD, the husband (Latin geek) points out that 'thesaurus' means treasury. Well, whatever language you're using, this book is ACE.

UPDATE - JANUARY 2011 Recently, the aforementioned husband, brother and I went to a "book dinner" organised by a local restaurant with recipes inspired by 'The Flavour Thesaurus', at which the author read from her book. Niki Segnit was lovely and exactly as she comes across in the text - funny, clever, and passionate about food in a very down-to-earth way. There was much discussion and disagreement about which flavour combinations worked, but most options on the menu were utterly delicious. If you get the chance to do this, I highly recommend the experience.

UPDATE - FEBRUARY 2011 In response to comments below, my husband and I were both wrong - 'thesaurus' is Greek! Also, a fellow customer reviewer has expressed scepticism about the number of positive votes I've had for this review. I don't know why I've had so many votes (though I'm very grateful for the ones I've received), but I haven't been voting for myself, and I don't have 200 friends to vote on my behalf. In response to his/her insinuations, I also want to make clear I'm not related to this or any other author, nor paid by anyone - including Amazon - to submit reviews (more's the pity). Please also click on the link which leads to my other reviews so you can see that I regularly leave critical reviews as well as "effusive" ones. Of course other readers may disagree with my opinion of this book; but it has been a bestseller, and the author now writes for The Times, so I'm definitely not her only fan. As always, your mileage may vary.
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Comments

Tracked by 6 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 28 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Sep 2010 17:28:33 BDT
Great review - ordering the book now on your recommendation! Small and boastful niggle: I think the word thesaurus was originally Greek ....

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Sep 2010 14:08:57 BDT
Last edited by the author on 9 Sep 2010 14:11:22 BDT
Amazon's a gathering place for pedants, no ;-) Thank you for the very nice comment about my (very long!) review. I love this book, it makes eating so much fun. Just last week, we tried Avocado+Mango (in a lobster salad, delicious) and Banana+Cherry (banana bread with cherry ice cream, also scrummy) combinations. One word of warning, the Flavour Thesaurus seems to be a magnet for light-fingered friends and relations, we're now on our 3rd copy...

Posted on 16 Oct 2010 20:17:35 BDT
A superbly written review - entertaining in and of itself. We will buy this book. What else do you recommend?

Posted on 17 Nov 2010 11:53:39 GMT
Excellent review - a joy to read in itself, and did its job by giving me everything I needed in order to decide whether to buy it or not. I shall!

Posted on 27 Nov 2010 14:25:38 GMT
What a really excellent review. Witty and clear, not pretentious, and giving us all the info we need to decide whether or not to buy the book. Thanks loads and yes I will now buy it; maybe three copies actually!

Posted on 1 Jan 2011 13:56:42 GMT
A. Person says:
The etymology of thesaurus is irrelevant - only the modern-day English meaning is - so your husband's comment doesn't hold water. So your comment about the title is an accurate one.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2011 10:10:59 GMT
ALWAYS nice to prove a man wrong! Thank you for taking the time to comment :-)

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2011 10:13:29 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jan 2011 10:32:16 GMT
In reply to comments from Geraldine, William, JR: Wow, how kind! Thank you so much [grins from ear to ear].

This was my book of the year, I think, but Geraldine I also really enjoyed Bill Bryson's 'At Home', Nora Ephron's 'I Feel Bad About My Neck', and (blast from the past) the Barbara Pym novels. BTW, I'm very flattered you asked for my opinion, now I feel just like Melvyn Bragg ;-)

Posted on 8 Jan 2011 10:33:58 GMT
Hekate says:
Lovely review and couldn't agree more - though I have to point out that thesaurus is not Latin but Greek, and does, indeed mean treasure.

Posted on 18 Feb 2011 11:06:07 GMT
Last edited by the author on 18 Feb 2011 17:14:11 GMT
A. Person says:
I do feel it's worth noting that this review was posted only 4 days after the official release date of the book. It's also worth bearing in mind that the number of votes cast on whether the review is helpful or not is far higher than you would expect when compared to the number of votes on other reviews (positive or otherwise) from shortly after the release date (i.e. ones that have been up for a similar period of time). Far, far higher in fact (outnumbering some of the others by 10-1). Of course, it may be sheer coincidence that an exceptionally high number of people have read and voted on this review and this review alone. Furthermore, it's quite unusual for a UK-based reviewer to post her review on not only Amazon.co.uk but also Amazon.com and even Amazon.ca. Obviously very keen to get her message across to the whole of the English-speaking world. The reviewer even admits she has met Segnit. I think it's enough to merit the suggestion that one should keep these facts in the back of one's mind when reading these exceedingly encomiastic effusions.
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