gourmet cooking for dummies - book review

Hello, friends! We guess you could call us longtime foodies. We’re not sure exactly what that term means, but we think it means that we like the intricacies of food – cooking, preparation, serving, eating. We travel in search of unique food, different food experiences, special restaurants and recipes. We enjoy watching food-related shows, reading cookbooks and cooking magazines.

We have generally thought of ourselves as a pretty good cooks. But, certainly not “chefs” or “gourmets,” though truth be told, we would like to. How many times have we sat watching cooking shows on television and thought, boy, if only we had a trademark exclamation like Emeril’s “Bam!” or amazing focused talent like Rick Bayless or Mario Batali. If only we were experts in kitchen technique like Jacques Pepin, or aces in the art of baking like Duff Goldman. If only we were “gourmet chefs” like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, we could wow our friends and make every plate look gorgeous and taste great.

Well, we don’t know about you, but in our lives we’ve probably made as many sub-par meals as we have extraordinarily good ones. And our plates look more like sleep away camp specials than 3 Michelin star winners. But never let it be said that our goals are set too low. And the word “gourmet” holds such allure, such mystique. We want it on our self-proclaimed list of we-are-isms.

Enter, Gourmet Cooking for Dummies, one of those large-sized paperbacks with the yellow cover and chalkboard title. Yep, the series that proclaims itself “A reference for the rest of us!” Well, that would certainly include us. As we stood in the Half-Price Books store mulling our next purchase, that bright yellow cover called out to us, “Gourmet…Gourmet…” But what sealed the deal was the fact that Gourmet Cooking for Dummies was written by none other than a name synonymous with gourmet, Charlie Trotter. Seriously? Charlie Trotter? Five Star Mobil Travel Guide, Five Diamond AAA, America’s Best Chef James Beard winner Charlie Trotter? Oh, yeah.

If Charlie Trotter is willing to teach us gourmet cooking, then who are we to refuse? We may not have patience, but we're no dummies (pun intended). If Charlie Trotter is going to take us through the paces and lead us toward adding “gourmet” to our list of lifetime accomplishments, or help us wow our guests at a dinner party, then we're all in.

The book, co-authored with Judi Carle, who has edited several of Charlie's cookbooks, and Sari Zernich, responsible for the book's recipe development and testing, is divided into 6 “Parts” with each part containing multiple chapters under headings such as Building your Way to a Well-Stocked Kitchen, So You Know How to Boil Water and Fry an Egg, and Bumping it up a Notch and Taking it to the Next Level. The last part is a fun way to wrap things up with “The Part of Tens,” where Charlie takes us through ten classic food and wine pairings, ten dining cities and their recommended gourmet restaurants, ten Charlie-endorsed vendors and ten food and wine books to stock in your library.

The most appealing and important aspect of this fun and accessible guide, is just that – it is fun and accessible. For all the hoity-toity “don't try this at home, kids” that we experience associated with gourmet cooking, the fact is it really shouldn't be that intimidating. As Charlie points out (we love calling him Charlie) in the book, “ To me, gourmet cooking simply means taking the extra time to find the freshest products, taking a little more care in the preparation, and taking the time to put the food on the plate in an appealing manner.” Well, we think that sounds just wonderful, and not intimidating at all.

And that approach to explanation, along with all the wonderful techniques, tips and guidelines included makes this a really fun and useful guide to spiff up your kitchen skills. The “Dummy” format includes easy to grasp graphics for “FYI,” “Tip” and Charlie Says” items, and the centerfold contains several pages of colorful photos of various dishes.

Despite the accessibility of the text, there is A LOT of information there, and information from one of the best gourmet chefs in the business today. And, of course, magnificent recipes, from stocks and sauces to desserts, including architectural elements and dishes and luxury foods, you can learn to souffle, brulee, and saute with panache.

We loved being introduced to new concepts like “ Creating a Superstructure with Tuiles.” Don't know what a Tuile is? Neither did we when we picked up the book. We now can proclaim loudly that a tuile (the the French word for “tile”) is a paper-thin, crisp wafer that is used between layers of food (imagine the layers of a napoleon pastry) or simply as a garnish. They can be made in any size or shape, or even a cup or basket. Recipes in the book are given for various types of potato tuiles, herbed tuile baskets and carrot tuiles.

There's also other great information just provided in its simplest form, such as a list of 11 different types of rice with their characteristics as well as complete dinners with planning notes, such as the “getting yourself out of the doghouse dinner” the “cook dinner one day ahead so that you can enjoy the party dinner” and the “what do you mean one of them is a vegetarian dinner.”

Because we are devoted to the libations part of entertaining as well, we appreciated the chapter on ten classic food and wine pairings. General descriptions of wine characteristics that match well with food qualities as well as some illustrative examples helps to really gain an understanding of what will pair well, and more importantly, give the fundamentals as to why. Once you see the brief specifics in this chapter, you will feel illuminated and empowered. It's truly simple once you know, but to have such clear and easy explanations really adds value to the whole experience.

There's a wealth of insight, information, and practical tips about gourmet cooking in this deceptively simple presentation. The book, which was published back in 1997, is still readily available through Amazon.