There are some collections of recipes that are impractical, useless and downright ridiculous. There also exists cookbooks that are redundant they state the obvious and merely reiterate the works of predecessors, often written just for the sake of being written, to fulfill the authors' desire to pen a cookbook. There are also cookbooks that are a pleasure to own yet for one reason or another, we just do not frequently call on them. And then, of course, there are cookbooks that we rely on, time and time again they remain static in our collections.
Luckily, we live in an age of vast information resources that allows us, with some exception, to avoid books that are wasteful with our time either they are inaccurate, uninteresting or merely novice in their approach as to how we should handle food. The internet, mega-book stores, local bookshops and various publications are all outlets to explain why we should or should not buy a particular cookbook. Of course that information is subjective of the views of one particular reviewer and must be treated as such. Considering the source of information is, to one degree or another, more important than what is being reviewed. This cook has come to relish reading about food, its history, colorful characters and various approaches, then forming one cook's opinion and sharing. Often, though, I am stumped. Yes, be it unconscionable as it may, there are food-related works that pose particular turmoil. What ever do I mean about being "stumped" in reading a (gasp) cookbook? Are they not merely works of preparing food in one way or another? Just a couple of pages, usually some dialog, some technical stuff and an assemblage of recipes, what's to baffle?
A collection of recipes becomes more than cookbook when there is a degree of complexity and involvement that rivals the most accomplished on the kitchen front. Granted, we all have varying degrees of proficiencies in different aspects of the kitchen. However, if there is a book in front of you that requires an abundance of culinary knowledge, it may be worth skipping. It may be that it is geared to the professional or the much more learned. It could be the work of a madman, devilish in his need to show off and flaunt his fare acumen. What would you do with dishes like "Steamed Pheasant Breast with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, and Alba White Truffles" or "Venison with Mole and Cashew Vinaigrette"? What if accompanying pictures of their finished product, in such glorious detail, could be merely ripped from their binding, run over to New Castle Arts and framed for hanging? What if the author ran a restaurant so well acclaimed that it could take weeks to land a table on the weekends? What if volumes of the same culinary firepower preceded that book?
Would Charlie Trotter's Meat & Game become a resident next to Joy of Cooking? Or would it sit proudly on a shelf or table that is sure to be seen by guests, to be impressed by your culinary prowess? Certainly it would not be dismissed. It is pride in ownership to have one of Charlie Trotter's books in your house, let alone, in your kitchen. Either way, Meat & Game is gold. It undoubtedly requires knowing your way around the kitchen. But, if, in fact you are not certain about Caper-Cornichon Egg White Vinaigrette, it's reassuring to know that somebody who does, has shared with you his masterful collection of exemplary taste.