The Flavor Bible

The essential guide to culinary creativity, based on the wisdom of America's most imaginative chefs (2008)
The Flavor Bible

One night I was preparing dinner from a recipe and, tasting it, realized it needed something. I added an ingredient to a small portion of it – an ingredient I didn’t particularly like – and found it was the perfect flavor foil. This was a particularly favorable feat because I did not even consult my copy of The Flavor Bible but, instead, mentally retrieved its explanation of balancing flavors and considered how I could emphasize or ‘push’ the existing taste to a brighter level. My friend Anne can, amazingly, throw things together off the top of her head and it always tastes fantastic. After a particularly simple but yummy lunch with Anne, I decided I wanted to be able to cook like she -- something she said she’d learned from her mother. However, I wanted guidance to avoid making horrible concoctions and wasting food.

The Flavor Bible is a somewhat strange book to review and recommend. Aside from the first 2 chapters that are comprised of only 33 pages, you don’t read it straight through; the text is most useful in browsing fashion. The first two chapters explain the chef’s mindset. Chapter 1, Flavor = Taste + Mouthfeel + Aroma + ‘The X Factor’ : Learning to Recognize the Language of Food, deals with balancing flavors and understanding how various senses come into play to affect flavor. The first chapter also includes chefs’ personal strategies that not only give specific tips, but also show, in action, what they are considering and pursuing when creating new recipes.  Chapter 2, Great Cooking = Maximizing Flavor + Pleasure by Tapping  (Body + Heart + Mind + Spirit): Communicating via the Language of Food, discusses the importance of thinking about the occasion, weather, seasonality, weight (heavy or light), volume, and function. While the second chapter was not quite as practical as the first, it was interesting to learn that things I would have considered peripheral to a meal actually had an impact on – or could even aid in – planning, preparation, and the overall experience.

Chapter 3, pages 35 – 374, provide flavor-matching lists. For example, I can look up fennel and find a list of ingredients/flavors that go well with it. If something is listed in bold, it is a pairing frequently recommended by expert chefs; BOLD CAPS means it’s highly recommended; BOLD CAPS* (with an asterisk) means it’s stellar. That’s it. Lists of ingredients. Some entries include classic Flavor Affinities (e.g., fennel + lemon + mint + olive oil + olives + orange; plums + cinnamon + orange; plums + bay leaf + vanilla). Often there are Tips such as “Use to finish a dish” (fennel pollen) or “Gets firmer with longer cooking” (mushrooms -- Portobello). There might also be Techniques such as “Add early in cooking” (cloves), “Add at the end of the cooking process” (tarragon), or “Dry-heat cooking” (pork -- chops). 

This is absolutely a time-intensive book, so if you are looking for quick meal ideas, this is definitely not it. If you enjoy spending a lot of time paging through cookbooks and would like to venture into creating some of your own recipes, this is a perfect resource.

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