The Flavor Bible: the Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg is exactly what it claims to be: a “bible” and “guide.” It’s mean to be used as a tool: a kitchen spiritual advisor in book form, if you will, that you can reference whenever you need some guidance. Unlike a cookbook, the focus is not on recipes and techniques, but rather on cooking as a concept, ideas about creativity in the kitchen, and an extensive catalogue of ingredients, types of cuisine, their flavor profiles, and traditional or innovative pairings. In fact, it’s really more of the latter—almost 350 pages of this book is nothing but lists!
The book has three chapters, but really two parts: the first part is about cooking and flavor concepts, featuring quotes from famous chefs, and the second part is a catalogue of ingredients and flavor pairings. The three chapters are about 1) flavor (what it is, how it’s broken down), 2) maximizing flavor (how different flavors work together, what a “balanced” taste is, and what impacts flavor), and 3) pairing flavors (a little bit of explanation about their charts and then lists of ingredients / types of cuisine). Though someone with professional training likely already knows the information contained in the first two chapters, for me (although I am pretty comfortable in the kitchen) it was new. It was helpful in providing a foundation for understanding flavors and how they work together in a conceptual way—with specific examples. The blurbs from famous chefs were added a taste of creative culinary ideas at their finest.
Now about the lists: if you’re someone like me, this is totally awesome. These lists are alphabetized, categorized, broken down, cross-referenced, and sub-listed. Lists on lists on lists. (The Type-A cook’s dream!) It’s probably not for a novice or beginning cook because it doesn’t explain ingredients or techniques in depth. Using The Flavor Bible requires some comfort in the kitchen and a familiarity with cooking techniques. If you have some basic cooking skills but are looking for inspiration or new pairings (and you’re not experienced enough to just know them), it’s a great reference.
Are you trying to branch out with an unusual food pairing? Did you find a new ingredient at the farmer’s market, but you’re not sure what to pair it with? Did an unusual dish at a restaurant inspire you to cook something like it but you can’t figure out what that one taste was? The Flavor Bible has you covered. Ingredients and types of cuisine are indexed in alphabetical order, followed by an explanation of their flavor profile, a list of suggested pairings, and flavor combination suggestions, both traditional and non-.
Although I have already devoured the first two chapters twice now, in the long-term, I may not find them as useful as the third chapter with the listed flavor pairings. This section is a wealth of information that I plan to reference when I need some inspiration with a dish, I’m stumped on how to pair a new ingredient, or I want to add an unexpected element to a classic. The Flavor Bible is definitely something I’ll keep on hand in the kitchen.