When I first came across The Gourmet Cookbook, it was lying face down with the words
“[o]ur goal was to give you a book with every recipe you would ever want,” perfectly and elegantly centered on the back cover. As I perused this encyclopedia of recipes, it became immediately apparent that, if nothing else, you have to give the editors credit for making a valiant attempt to reach this goal.
One thing is certain: this book contains a lot of recipes. The categories are all-encompassing and include basic food types (hors d’oeuvres, sandwiches and pizzas, poultry, grains and breads) as well as numerous chapters on desserts ranging from the classic cookies, cakes and pies to more specialized treats such as puddings, custards, mousses, soufflés and frozen desserts. Also, there is an extensive collection of recipes for sauces, salsas and relishes, chutneys, and pickles and preserves that can quite effortlessly spice up even the most mundane meal.
The problem however, is not the lack of recipes but the lack of organization that is critical for an extensive collection such as this. The index does span more than fifty pages and it, along with the chapter headings, will help you navigate this volume. However, it is the absence of any internal organization within each chapter that is its downfall. There is little explanation as to why a particular recipe is found at a certain part of the chapter, and the difficulty level fluctuates from recipe to recipe. This makes it a challenge for a novice such as myself to decide which recipe to start with and which to place on hold until I become ready to tackle more challenging concoctions. Along these same lines, I found that many of these recipes are advanced not only with respect to the tools needed in your kitchen but also with respect to the ingredient lists and techniques needed to prepare them. I did have high hopes for a chapter at the end of the book entitled basics, but it just explains how to make some staples such as chicken and veal stocks and did little to appease my concerns.
In addition, although it is true that every cookbook cannot provide everything, I was a bit disappointed in this one’s overall presentation. I decide to add a cookbook to my collection not only for the recipes it contains but also for its visual appeal. I admire the glossy, vibrant pictures of what the completed creation should look like—despite the fact that my final product is rarely a close match to what is pictured. This artistic component is virtually absent from this book, which is comprised of a simple font, little color, and only a few illustrations other than some sparse pencil-type drawings of a garnish or vegetable.
While is it true that you will likely find whatever recipe you are looking for in this book, whether you enjoy it will depend upon what you look for in a cookbook. If you want to see how your hard work will look once it arrives on your dinner plate, or if you think a “roux” is something you do while on a boat, then this book might not be for you. However, if you have a clear vision of what you want to serve and possess a solid knowledge of cooking, a kitchen stocked with appliances, and access to fine groceries stores, then, to you, this book may be the chef’s special of the day.