From the moment it opens to reveal a Table of Contents presented as a wheel of colorful kitchen funnels directing to book sections like “Music” and “Personality,” it’s evident that this isn’t your grandma’s cooking reference book. One could argue that it’s not a cooking reference at all.
Besides being the kind of book that’s as at home on your coffee table as in your kitchen library, this work by Jasper Udink ten Cate (who also is known as “the Creative Chef,” a designation that feels like a gross understatement) is written with a zealot’s fervor for his chosen subject. It’s less about searing and roasting than about experiencing food and dining to the fullest possible measure, in ways that engage all the senses. Its language at once conspiratorial and initiatory, the text receives the reader as both kindred spirit and unseasoned choir to whom to preach benevolent gospels of culinary lateral thinking.
From creating masterpiece-inspired dishes like a course of oysters, scallops, and champagne foam fashioned after Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” to imaginative food serving modes like paint trays and field hockey sticks, one might say that this book thinks outside the box. But it does a great deal more than that. This book drives a steamroller over the box, paints the broken shards with aioli and beetroot gel, and serves amuse-bouches on them as prelude to a meal whose invitations were made from old record album sleeves and whose courses are arranged like a rock concert set list.
Most telling about this book’s merits is that it manages to infuse notions that, devoid of context, might sound nonsensical, with a spark of feasibility that titillates, leaving the reader curious, amused, and encouraged to attempt what he just read. That result nurtures consideration for concepts like designating a “Scent DJ” booth at one’s next cocktail gathering to impart a roster of exotic, appetite-whetting aromatics, or distributing hand-written instructional notes among party guests with the intent of launching them on an interactive “mini adventure” to be completed between small plate courses. It touts the virtues of ingenuity, as when the author utilizes an aquarium pump to erect a table centerpiece of a pond filled with mussels, seaweed, edible flowers, and flavorful broth, from which guests are allowed to “fish” for their meal. The author puts forth convincing arguments that validate his unorthodoxy, scattering breadcrumbs of his personal philosophy amidst the book’s mix of vibrant photography, hand-drawn illustrations, stories, and engaging recipes. In this effort, he succeeds while making the process of wringing as much enjoyment as possible from every dining experience look easy and fun.
This book unlocks the imagination when it comes to food presentation, serving, and tasting. Its recipes and staging methods swing back and forth between simplicity and more involved undertakings, between light accents to enhance a single meal, and full-blown events that hosts will need to manage like theater productions or gallery exhibitions. The reader can choose any path he wishes. Fortunately, with the journey that this read sets before you, all roads lead to an elevated gustatory experience like no other. Eating has never been so entertaining.
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: BIS Publishers
Find it on Amazon.com.
This article first appeared on FlavorfulWorld.com.