Top critical review
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More coffee-table-book than cookbook
on 4 August 2009
Firstly, this is one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen. It is beautifully presented with a black box-thingy to live inside and it is beautifully illustrated with amazing photographs and drawings. It will never be allowed near my kitchen - it is far too precious - it lives on the coffee-table.
The recipes within are a combination of two basic types. There are the ones that everyone can do (though you might have to hunt around for some of the ingredients and practice the techniques lots and lots) and the ones that only a scientist (like me!) can do, because you need to get your hands on things like a rotary evaporator or liquid nitrogen (that said, I don't think I trust my lab's rotary evaporator for food-use, never mind what the HSE would say!). With that in mind, again, it's not so much a recipe book for people to cook things from but a series of things to marvel at and to understand Blumenthal's ethos and methods. I don't think Blumenthal wrote this even remotely considering that anyone would try and make anything from it - it is very clearly a work of art/labour of love and not a recipe book. Even hardened foodies like myself wouldn't consider making half of the recipes in this book, let alone have the equipment required to make them. I don't see that as a bad thing, though.
The main downside for me is that the book is far longer than it needs to be. A lot of the recipes are drawn out into various sections for absolutely no reason at all. For example, in the recipe for violet tartlets, he includes a section on how to make a violet syrup then a section on how to make the violet jelly for the tartlets. This is completely unnecessary since 100% of the syrup is used to make the jelly so why not just do what every other cook on the planet would do and have just one section on how to make the jelly, combining the two sections and saving about half a page? Unfortunately, much of the book is inflated in this way and far more space is taken up than needs to be, which means that, considering this book weighs in at 532 pages, there is a lot of dead space. I don't mind page after page of photographs, in fact, I like that. I think it's a very beautiful book, but I do mind Blumenthal bulking out recipes to fill the space when he could have just included some more recipes. This way of bulking-out the recipes struck me as rather self-indulgent and it actually makes some of the recipes seem more complicated than they actually are. I wondered if this was his intention?