Hey, look! I still do reviews!
When I first heard about Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg's The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs, I was incredibly excited. I had dreamed of a book like this for some time, and in fact considered, briefly, creating one. I had a vision of what such a book would entail, and I am therefor pretty biased, and somewhat disappointed.
My perfect vision (ha!): ingredients listed in alphabetical order, with basic cooking instructions, storage information, and "traditional" flavor affiliations. The idea would be to aim the book at home cooks, or people who go to the store and say "Wow! Those artichokes are a hell of a lot cheaper today than they were last week. I wonder what I could do with them?" This would allow the amateur to become acquainted with traditional food pairings and allow the professionals to avoid them.
The Flavor Bible has different goals, and aims to a higher level of sophisitication. The book is designed for the professional, and I have heard rumblings in the at-home-cook blogging sphere that the book is all but useless to them. The charts of flavor affiliations were created by polling chefs and accumulating their answers, loosely ranked by how many chefs responded with each answer*. Accompanying these charts are brief sidebars on various ingredients as well as menu items including each ingredient from famous restaurants.
It is an ambitious undertaking, and an invaluable resource in many ways. However, the book proposes to be a thesaurus for the culinary world, and it falls short by failing to be comprehensive. For example, ingredients are not cross referenced. If I find an rare flavor affiliation listed under a common ingredient, that ingredient does not necessarily have its own entry. This makes it somewhat difficult to build a dish beyond a single flavor affiliation. The entire book could have used better data compilation; hiring an intern to index the whole thing properly would've done wonders for its usability.
The entries themselves are somewhat limited in terms of scope; the entry on "whiskey" only includes sweet flavor affiliations. I wonder what good a book that proposes to be a resource for professionals and advanced home chefs is if the majority of the entries are predictable? Shouldn't they go above and beyond what the cook in question can come up with on their own? I suppose it would do in a pinch, if one were terribly stuck, but by and large the entries are too pedestrian to jump start one's creativity.
The book succeeds in the essays and sidebars, particularly in the second chapter, entitled "Great Cooking = Maximizing Flavor & Pleasure by Tapping Body & Heart & Mind & Spirit: Communicating Via the Language of Food." (Did Dr. Bronner edit this book or what?) The comments on the seemingly-basic steps to creating a dish or menu are invaluable, and by spelling them out, they force the reader to step back and contemplate what they are doing. This functions much in the way that learning prosody forces the poet to be conscious of his or her word choice, regardless of whether or not the poem in question employs meter.
All in all, pretty cool in theory, but doesn't really hold up to use in the kitchen. I want to see a revised, expanded edition.
*Responses submitted by multiple chefs are in bold, by several chefs in BOLD AND CAPS, and by the most chefs *STARRED AND BOLDED AND IN CAPS.