To some, preparing and consuming food is a necessary task critical to fueling one’s body. To others, cooking and eating are unique, fulfilling and seemingly spiritual experiences intended to be savored and enjoyed. Renowned chef Ludovic Lefebvre and author of Crave: The Feast of Five Senses undoubtedly falls into the latter category, viewing cooking as one of the more pleasurable experiences life has to offer---and a process that necessitates tapping into each of the five senses.
Lefebvre begins his cookbook not with recipes but with a brief and compelling explanation of how he ended up working from some of Los Angeles’ most well-known kitchens. In an honest portrayal, he reveals his early flirtations with juvenile delinquency and his father’s reluctant acceptance of his hobby only to distract his son from a more troublesome way of life. Six-day workweeks packed with scrubbing dishes and shadowing established chefs offered just the motivation Lefebvre needed to succeed in the kitchen and to create culinary masterpieces of his own.
Crave focuses on the five senses, examining each and exploring the link between it and the creation of a savory dish. Sight is the first sense explored as Lefebvre explains we eat with our eyes well before any food enters our mouths. From the sight of the brightly-colored vegetables in the market to the steam emanating from a pan of slow-cooking vegetables, our sense of sight is critical to the enjoyment of food. The recipes in this section range from a basic cream of broccoli soup, illustrative of the importance of preserving the vegetable’s vibrant green color, to the more extravagant vegetable-crusted turbot filets with minted couscous, olive puree and lemon confit which, according to the author, “could have been painted by Monet.”
The importance of touch seems irrelevant to cooking until one is treated to Lefebvre’s explanation of the way your teeth feel as you bite through a crisp layer of skin on a chicken leg, and the process of chewing - which he describes as the “most intimate physical contact” with food. He explains that the sense of touch can be used to determine cooking time. For example, a brief contact with halibut leads to the realization that it is quite firm, cooks quickly, and needs to handled with care, while sea bass is usually much softer and requires a longer cooking time. Recipes connected to this sense vary greatly, from the ice-cold broth with shellfish and ginger, relying on the crunchiness of the vegetables to contrast the softer shellfish, to the apple beignets with green apple and calvados granite, relying on the hot and cold sensations of this dish.
The discussion of smell is triggered at a time well in advance of the actual food preparation. It becomes relevant once the ingredients are purchased and remains so as the food is served and its aromas pervade the dining area. Lefebvre offers tips to enhance certain aromas, such as sealing in the vapors while something is cooking, only to release an explosion of smell once the dish is served. Recipes geared to this sense are also wide-ranging, from the classic brioche to the more extravagant lost bread with sautéed pears and vanilla and caramel sauces.
Lefebvre reminisces a bit when discussing the sense of hearing, as he recalls his mentor urging him to listen to the fish yelling that he is suffering due to poor preparation techniques. Although as a young chef this seemed absurd to Lefebvre, he eventually came to recognize the appropriate role for hearing in his kitchen. In the earliest stages of preparation, he explains the joy of hearing farmers working to convince consumers that their produce are the freshest. And, as the food is prepared, he explains the importance of hearing the “immediate and intense” sizzling of the foie grae as it is dropped onto the skillet. Similarly, he advises that a cook should be confident that the prime rib crust is perfect only after hearing the fierceness of the sound as it cooks. The role of hearing become more apparent as Lefebvre explains, within the context of his recipe for whole lobster booked in salt and tarragon, that it is nothing less than a “moment of glory” when he hears the “sharp, percussive sound of the salt shell cracking beneath the blow of the knife handle.”
And, of course, there is no need to even mention the importance of taste in the cooking experience, as Lefebvre warns against trying to capture a particular taste, pointing out that “flavor is like emotion; it is better experienced than described” In this section, the recipes range from a fresh green bean salad with coconut, apple, horseradish mousse, and lemongrass oil which offers a sweet, spicy and tangy spice all at once, to “My Mom’s Chocolate Cake” which, put simply, is “for people who really like chocolate.”
In a most clever way, Lefebvre presents delightful selection of recipes that are diverse in ingredients, flavors and difficulty level with respect to preparation. His artful presentation - of both food and explanation of how he has broken into the culinary world - result in the creation of a cookbook that is likely to be a welcome addition to anyone’s five senses, as well as their kitchens.