In 1964 I received a magnificent farewell gift from the staff of the British Consulate General in Geneva. I was only a humble visa clerk so this was pretty overwhelming.
Note the size of the thing: It's about 8o mm thick, with covers maybe 230 mm by 290 mm. Hefty! I was crazy about French cooking and proceeded to cook my way through many of the 1300-odd pages. The editors stated sternly:
Larousse Gastronomique was not designed to help the lazy cook.
Sure, this was the first "American" edition of the classic food dictionary, meaning it was translated into English. But very few other concessions were made. A typical recipe was dense with terms that needed to be looked up, like this:
Open the spatchcock en crapaudine, stuff with duxelles of chanterelles and shallots and grill a point. Meanwhile blend a little mirepoix into a bearnaise sauce and heat in a bain marie. Finally drizzle with coulis of cassis and garnish with julienned carrots.
Every italicised word was the book equivalent of a link: it meant hunting through the book's fine pages for recipes and definitions essential to the repast. And yet I happily made this enormous book my friend. After about twenty years I passed it on to my sister Lesley, who still had crowds to cook for.
My old cookbooks all got grubby, because I actually cooked from them.
Today, cookbooks play a different role in my house, and I bet in your house too. A small handful of old books still get used, but most of them are just there to stimulate ideas. I'll browse through them, leap out of my chair in a blast of inspiration... and promptly cook something completely different. And that's a perfectly reasonable way to use a cookbook. You too?
The internet is the logical place to search when you have a couple of random ingredients in the fridge. Which is pretty common, right? Aubergine and shrimps? Soba and asparagus? Eggs and witloof? Beetroot and oranges? You can guarantee that none of your recipe books includes this particular combination, but on the internet, no problem. Kind people have already solved your problem, and it's just a case of picking a recipe that appeals. This is one of the great wonders of the internet. Never before has this been possible.
A new book, 4 Ingredients, is about as remote from the complexity of Larousse Gastronomique as it's possible to go. Yes! The recipes inspire me! I've already defaced the book with multiple yellow Post-its. Yes, it's true: the recipes really do only use 4 ingredients—yet they look scrumptious. Fried chicken with goats cheese. Wasabi mashed potatoes. Beans with lemon and sesame. Caramelized pear and rocket salad. Yum. That clever duo Kim McCosker and Rachael Bermingham wrote the book, Hay House published it and Deepak Chopra endorsed it.
4 Ingredients was probably intended for people who cannot cook, have never cooked. It's a cookbook for the internet age. But here I am, secretly intending to use it. How are the mighty fallen.