I choose my cookbooks solely based on what they say about me, much the way other Angelenos pick their cars and children’s private schools. My coffee table displays a rotation of Daniel: My French Cuisine, The French Laundry Cookbook, The Fat Duck Cookbook, The Blackberry Farm Cookbook, and A Day at elBulli. Guests know where I’ve eaten, where I want to eat, and more important, where I want them to think I’ve eaten. A cookbook is the concert shirt of foodies.
Guests who don’t flip through my cookbooks or start a conversation demonstrating their familiarity with these chefs don’t get the good wine. That would be like offering a house tour to blind people.
I would never take these books into my kitchen. Not because I’m afraid of getting them dirty, but because only an idiot would try to make any of their impossible recipes. Cooking is not what a cookbook is for. Heston Blumenthal’s latest is 432 pages, $200, and contains recipes I neither want to cook nor eat (meat fruit, a medieval dish with orange jelly encasing chicken liver). And I can’t wait to own it. René Redzepi’s A Work in Progress is divided into three books: recipes, a journal, and snapshots, the first of which I will discard.
Other people, I know, adorably pull down their Joy of Cooking to figure out how to make coq au vin, unaware that there’s an Internet that allows you to quickly read and synthesize five versions of the dish. These are people who use the Kama Sutra to find out about new sex positions.
My cookbooks are inspirations, not manuals. Their instructions are like a Beckett play, there simply to impress via their length and complexity, not to make sense. They waste few pages on recipes anyway, instead using space for famous food writers to discuss what it’s like to cook in these chefs’ famous kitchens. And for chefs to tell tales of their fascinating lives and for famous photographers to astonish with the plating of their dishes. A cookbook, when done perfectly, can make you cry, laugh, and order out for dinner.