I read cookbooks in bed. Like novels. Or travel writing. Or maybe poetry. Good cookbooks seem to have the qualities of all of the above. The best ones are also beautiful to hold, look at, and use. Nourishing in all senses of the word.
One of my favorite cookbooks is The Balthazar Cookbook. First of all, it’s gorgeous. No dust jacket (I‘m not a fan of the dust jacket, especially in a cookbook. It’s so clumsy). Really beautiful cloth binding with a glossy middle where the print resides (I don’t think I’ve ever seen this hybrid used before!). The Foreward is by Robert Hughes (Robert Hughes!) and is on special matte paper as to be distinct from the rest of the glossy-paged book. Such pleasing graphic design managing to be charmingly vintage yet modern all at once. The introduction, by the founder Keith McNally, is a lesson in how to build a unique concept and space (did you know he did Nell’s back in the day? I LOVED Nell’s!) There are not only beautiful photos of the food, but of the restaurant. You feel the elegant but dynamic – not stuffy – atmosphere. The bustle. You can even hear the buzz of happy conversations and the clinking of silverware if you try.
…and the recipes! Make no bones about it (har!) this is not your Easy Cooking in 20 Minutes or Less kind of book. This is food made artfully and with care. The recipes are scaled down and slightly simplified from the what the restaurant does, but not dumbed-down. The chefs are frank about the time it takes to make cassoulet (and have convinced me that the time it takes is worth it). The last chapter includes all the little extras like stock, mayonnaise, aioli, etc. A treasure.
I love the little story-introductions that preface each recipe – some as brief as: ”Waiter, theres a snail on my plate.” for the Escargots with Garlic Butter. The tone is another thing I love about this book. How many cookbooks are this funny and amusing? Did Oscar Wilde ghost (ghost!) write this book? These story-introductions paired with the photographs (some in black and white. I’m telling you, gorgeous work) is what makes it true curl up in bed and get transported material.
I found a few of the recipes contained in the book on the internet – you’re missing the charm of the physical book, but you can get an idea of the food (notice the feverish worship of the dishes made!! This is not some beautiful book with clunker recipes – it’s the real deal).