13 September 2010

cookbooks as status symbols?

Cookbooks do seem like an odd thing to view as status symbols, but that seems to me to be the only way to explain the exorbitantly high price of so many of them these days -- and in a recession! -- and with the entire publishing industry in a major decline and book sales decreasing daily!

Yes, you read that right. SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS FOR A COOKBOOK. By an author who is not even dead yet, and it most certainly does not include a meal at any of his fancy pants restaurants. (Note: I'm not disparaging Keller, whom I adore, but just questioning how any cookbook could be worth that much. I blame his publisher.)

Also, did I mention that no one reading this post is likely to cook a recipe from this book at any time in your life, because it's not real cooking. It's elite gastronomic scientific chefery, and it's pure, simple food porn. We might as well call it a coffee table book, not a cookbook, because that's what it is.

So. If cookbooks are just decoration, and not really directives on how to prepare culinary dishes, then what does our choice of decorative cookbooks say about us? And what cookbooks do you choose to put out?

Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a splendid, if dense, cookbook, but displaying it now just smacks of trendiness, thanks to that darn Julie and Julia movie.

In the similarly retro vein, the new English translation of Ginette Mathiot's I Know How to Cook is a kitschy nod to Francophilia. 

Joel Robuchon, heralded as the best chef from France to be cooking in America, has his own fancy cookbook too, and it telegraphs the hautest of haute cuisine. Don't be fooled by its "home cooking" line. This book should have a "don't try this at home" warning on it, marking its owner as a foodie of the first order.

Maybe you're into that more of-the-moment food. David Chang made his Momofuku cookbook just for you.

Then there's the classic. The not-to-be-outdone guide on cooking almost anything you can think of. Leaving the Joy of Cooking laying around communicates a certain reasoned practicality, and a respect for the past.

Or perhaps you're more a friend of the animals. Displaying this bad boy would certainly communicate something, well, different about your priorities.

I have a whole cupboard full of cookbooks, of course (since I love both books and cooking, I can't help myself). But most I would never put out. A few lucky ones have made the cut, and they hold a special place in the living room.

My choices: the newest Gourmet cookbook, Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. I keep the former out because I love flipping through it randomly to get ideas, and -- I'll be totally honest -- that green spine is a perfect accent color for the living room. Both the Goin and Keller cookbooks were gifts from Jenn, so having them out makes me think of her, which makes me happy. Plus, Lucques is one of my favorite restaurants in LA, and I love everything Keller does. (Plus, in the opposite point to the one I made about his Under Pressure cookbook above, Ad Hoc is his most casual cookbook, and is actually filled with recipes a mere mortal could make at home. Not that I've actually made any of them yet.)

Do you keep cookbooks out around your home? Which ones, and what do you think they say about you?

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  1. Tanja -

    Love this post. While I do love cookbooks, I definitely have my limit as to how much I am willing to pay! Thankfully there are some great, reasonably-priced cookbooks. I'm a big fan of all Southern Living cookbooks, as well as anything by Ina Garten, and I always adore vintage cookbook shopping.


  2. I never even think about that -- vintage cookbooks! Genius!


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