Recently, I received several "Advanced Reader's" copies of food books, which is a delightful side benefit of writing a blog, a not-for-profit enterprise- in my case, anyhow. It makes me feel puffed up and important, giant geek that I am. But even better, I get to see lots of interesting new stuff and add to the strain on the inadequate shelf space in my apartment. Life is good.
When invited to preview, I tell publishers' representatives that while I promise to read their book, I cannot promise to review it. I don't review books often, and may well find I have nothing much to say about a new cookbook. If a book is wonderful, or fun, or incredibly awful, I will talk about it, or just let you know it's out there-in case you didn't. Know, that is.
It is a good thing that I am not a reviewer of food books by trade. While I read cookbooks like novels, and have bought far too many of them myself, I am wordless after a preview of most. If you see a book featured here, there is probably a fair amount of enthusiastic babbling or, well, the opposite. I do favor the former, and generally only go after a bad book if I believe the author both influential and egregiously lazy. This is an unusual case, though, because I think something good is in danger of going under.
Warning: In a few minutes I am going to be ungracious.
Food 2.0 presents food by Charlie Ayers, the original, and former long-time head chef guy at Google. Google, in its role as employer, is famous for the wonderful food served to its high tech workers, so good that it keeps them hanging around working, instead of, say, going home.
The book is published by DK publishing, heretofore associated in my mind with cleverly designed, modern travel books, loaded with attractive and helpful illustrations. Food 2.0 is, however, excessively and ineffectually tarted up design-wise. As a result, one might well fail to notice the really excellent recipes, which are delicious, healthy, and mostly very simple to prepare. This guy is clearly a terrific cook- one of those people with a major flair for combining flavor and texture in sometimes new, but not bizarre ways- original, but not weird. His recipes do not require odd ingredients, and can all be made, without excessive fuss, at home.
Ayers has a distinct, neat personality and some very good ideas to impart, but they are not organized in an accessible way for a person who is used to, say, reading books. Perhaps this is an attempt to convey some sort of techie, info-in-bytes kind of feeling, but it is distracting and unattractive, and also, it doesn't work. This is a book, for crying out loud- you can't click on a word for more information. And what is more, there is no index. Even a food magazine, if decent, has an index.
The type-faces and cover photo (of what looks like an dull, ordinary burger-though it is not)- just plain, well, suck. I have no problem with the all-black-and-white interior concept as an idea-it could have been good. But these are boring photos; they are badly composed, as is the type and layout. They make the book look junky, and this guy is not junky- his food is great. It's really too bad. [note: Farmgirl Susan has pointed out (she got an advance copy too) that the final edition will have full color photos. There's a note on the back to that effect, which I didn't notice. I hope that will improve the look of the thing, and maybe that there are some design changes in the offing, too. Couldn't hurt.]
I hope there will be sufficient mass media reviewer interest in the quality of the food, so that it doesn't get lost in the shuffle. This is emphatically not a book I would have picked off the rack to have a look at. I may be a bit of a nut about type design, layout, and the book as a physical object, but I think it is not eccentric to call this one plain ol' ugly.
I am a little surprised at how much I apparently care about this sort of thing. I mean, for example, I am very fond of a number of cookbooks of the spiral-bound, standard production variety, and am not at all offended by their design. They are what they are, and likeable for it. But this one- it's pretentious, in its own casual way, and the design detracts from the text. End of cranky rant.
Anyhow, I'm glad to have the book for the interesting ideas and recipes, and here is one I made for a simple stir fry. I used my last frozen duck breast on this , but chicken breast is specified, and of course, would be good, too. This recipe serves one.
1 tsp veg oil
1 cup mixed vegs (diced onion, green beans or sliced sugar snap peas, and carrots in small pieces)
1/2 tsp finely chopped lemongrass
duck breast or chicken breast , cut in thin strips
1 cup raw peeled shrimp
1/2 tsp minced garlic
3 tbsps dark soy sauce
2 tsps rice vinegar
1 tsp light brown or palm sugar
1/2 tsp. asian style dark sesame oil
freshly ground black pepper
2 handsful shredded lettuce
In a wok, heat the oil and stir fry the veg for a couple of minutes. Add the lemongrass and duck, and stir fry until the duck has lost almost all pinkness. Add the shrimp, and fry until pink. Add everything else- except the lettuce, cook for a minute or two, and pour over lettuce. Eat this right away! If you want a heartier meal, add a cup of cooked rice noodles along with the soy and flavorings.
I love the lemongrass flavor. I had some cute yellow carrots- so I used both the yellow and orange for prettiness. This is an especially good casual stir fry, though I'm not sure why it works so well. Clever fellow.