The Flavor Bible

I love a good cookbook—I’ve got a shelf full of some of the best—but how I use them probably isn’t quite what the culinary authors had in mind. Cookbooks are good for inspiration, and for preparing shopping lists; but when the blade hits the board, it’s free-style time in the Howe house (have you guessed yet that I don’t do much baking?).

The hubby and I received gift-cards for Christmas from his grandparents, and we quickly put them to good use. I bought Mandy Aftel’s Essence and Alchemy (which hasn’t arrived yet), and a cookbook called The Flavor Bible. The purpose of this book embodies the spirit behind my theory of cooking: it’s not a collection of recipes, instead, it serves to “inspire the creation of new ones based on imaginative and harmonious flavor combinations.”

The book is lovely, as you can see, and is essentially a book of lists (I love lists!). It’s set up in an alphabetically fashion, for example, “Lemons” is followed by “Lemons, Meyer” which is followed by “Lemons, Preserved.” For example:

Lemons, Meyer
Season: autumn—spring
Taste: sour—sweet
Weight: light
Volume: moderate—loud


When you are using different kinds of lemons, you need to treat them as different things. A Meyer lemon is different from a regular lemon. If you are using a Meyer lemon, you may want the perfume, aroma, and subtlety of it. Yet when you taste it, you may want to add a touch of regular lemon to give it a little more acidity and a little kick.
—Emily Luchetti, Farallon (San Francisco)

This weekend I’ll be curled up with The Flavor Bible, and a cup of coffee.
(Just to horrify you, I’ll add that it’s decaf instant coffee **wicked grin**)

12 thoughts on “The Flavor Bible

  1. Oooh! Good cookbooks should not be underestimated! I’m completely with you on the improv school of cooking – I’ll follow a recipe once, and then I’ll start to mess with it…All cooking, regardless of origin, is much like learning a foreign language – once you have the vocabulary down, you can say whatever you please! Then again, I trained as a pastry chef, so I do know how to bake…and improvise!

    That coffee remark reminds me of one encounter I had at a café in Copenhagen. An American walked up to the bar and requested a cappuccino. “Oh, and make it a decaf!” he added. The barista gave him a strange look. “I’m afraid we don’t make those!” he said. The American, outraged, yelled “Why the Hell not?” Ten dedicated coffeeholics turned to him and said in unison and in English:

    “What would be the point??!”

    Culture, in a coffee cup…;-)

    1. LOL, I made that coffee reference because I was thinking of you and your single-estate Ethiopian… I really do appreciate fine coffee, but good coffee is a solemn event for me (the hubby is a bean snob), and it’s either all or nothing. So usually it’s nothing 😉

      Goodness, I’m so addicted to flavor, even just thinking about flavors makes me happy. That’s so rad that you have professional training… and in pastry! Ooooh, pastry. I love pastry more than anything, which I suppose is why I don’t bake (too tempting).

      American’s abroad are not helping our image back here across the pond. 😦

  2. Well, pastry, desserts, custard, cake etc…I never did learn the High Art of Frozen Nitrogen, but I think I can manage…and in general – take it from me! – life IS too short to make puff pastry from scratch…

    I love pastry, too. It’s why I run. Denial, so far as I’m concerned, really is a river in Egypt…;-) And I’d rather make something fabulous from scratch once in a blue moon than eat factory-made whatever containing who knows what.

    Being a pastry chef, though – it gets to the point where it’s just..working implements. If it didn’t, I would have been in serious trouble with nothing to wear…

    So long as I stay away from cities like Vienna (one of my favorite cities anywhere!). Vienna – and Paris, for that matter – is a cakeaholic’s paradise. You have been warned…

    1. It just so happens that I recently bought a treadmill—so as soon as it arrives, I think I’ll have a little more freedom to indulge occasionally!

      Vienna, the city of cakes. Sounds like paradise: horses and cakes. Aaaahhhhh…

  3. I bought that book for my BIL for Christmas. He loves it! I wouldn’t mind having a long sit-down gander through it myself…

    Keep us posted on your flavourful adventures in the kitchen!

    PS I usually take tea, but I drink decaf coffee on ocassion. Regular coffee is way too powerful for me, makes me feel I like I’m going into cardiac arrest.

    1. What a coincidence! I had never seen or heard of this book before, and it was the cover that caught my eye…

      It’s the perfect gifting cookbook, and I’ll probably gift copies of it in the future.

      Mmmm tea. 🙂 Skip that cardiac arrest!

  4. Oh, I want one of those! It’s exactly the thing I’ve been looking for without actually knowing it was what I was looking for. 🙂
    I mean I want for quite some time a book that would give me an overview of flavours and what they smell like and why are some used in certain dishes and some aren’t.

    1. Ines, as soon as I saw it, I had the very same feeling! Like, “where have you been all my life?”

      Did you know that before 1918, with Fannie Farmer’s book from the Boston cooking school, cookbooks didn’t contain specific measurements? I think that, in a way, this forces you to be more intimately involved with the cuisine.

      Let us know what you think if you pick one up!

  5. I am also a great improv cook, just don’t ask me to cook something that requires a real recipe.
    This book sounds like an ideal gift for my husband.
    I just bought Mandy Aftels book too, now I just need more hours in the day…
    As for Tarleisio being a pastry chef, this woman is full of surprises, Renaissance Woman indeed! 🙂

    1. Real recipes can be a challenge for a free-spirit 🙂

      My hubby was thrilled when it arrived, and he’s just as excited as I am about learning from it. He’s recently (just this year) begun to embrace cooking for the pleasure of it, and turns out he’s got the knack—I think that using this as a reference will give him more confidence in the kitchen.

      You just bought Mandy’s book too? LOL, we must be on the same circle of the levels of perfumista-dom 🙂

      Re: Tarleisio— I have a lot of admiration for this woman!


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