"Cookery is become an art, a noble science; cooks are gentlemen."
Robert Burton, British author (1621).
One of the many neat features of studying at Cornell University is that, even if you're not enrolled in its famous School of Hotel Administration, you can attend one of the cooking and wine tasting classes organized especially for non-Hotel School students, and get at least a flavor of the five star culinary instruction provided by the chefs teaching at that school. (That is, you can do so if you're willing to get up an extra hour or two early on the morning of non-Hotel School student enrollment, and if you're lucky enough to beat the crowds or at least slip in as a substitute participant.) In addition to numerous recipes and pieces of valuable advice, information and memories – particularly of the last night, on which we had to put together a four-course meal, fine dining style, complete with menu, garnishments and perfectly laid table – Cornell's "cooking class" has enriched my kitchen by two items I have since found it very hard to do without: A professional grade chef's knife, and Sarah Labensky's and Alan Hause's "On Cooking, which we used as our textbook.
Much more than that, however, "On Cooking" is in fact a near-complete reference on everything related to the culinary arts, from the history of cooking to new foods developed in the 20th century, from sanitation and safety to nutritional values, from recipe writing to menu composition, from knifes and other pieces of equipment to edible kitchen staples, from the principles of cooking to various techniques and food presentation – and of course, on every conceivable kind of food, from coffee, tea, spices and condiments to dairy products, stocks, sauces, soups, red and white meats, charcuterie, fish and shellfish, eggs, vegetables, potatoes, grains, pasta, salads, fruits, sandwiches, hors d'oeuvres, canapes, breads, pies, pastries, cookies, cakes, custards, creams and frozen desserts. Along the way, numerous tables, diagrams and pictures illustrate and exemplify the given information, making it easy to digest and memorize. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography and recommendations for further reading, and a detailed glossary of essential culinary terms.
Recipes are chosen to match individual chapters, and provide both a practical application and a more profound understanding of the respective chapters' subject matter. They include everything from American and international classics to numerous more unusual dishes.
At 1100+ pages a veritable brick, despite its size "On Cooking" has become as much a key part of my kitchen as my chef's knife, my tea strainer and various other pieces of equipment. I don't harbor any intentions of becoming a professional chef (nor any aspirations to even remotely that level of culinary skills), but I love to cook, and this is one of the cookbooks I'd be least likely to part with – ever.
On the last night of the cooking class offered by Cornell Hotel School to non-Hotel School students, with my Argentinian friend and classmate Victoria (winter 1998).