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Cookbook Censorship


Cookbooks should be classified like films; 12A (for idiot proof) would cover the likes of Home Cooking Made Easy and anything by Delia Smith. Whilst the warning 18 (for professional chefs and coffee tables only) should emblazon the covers of Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine and-surprise, surprise -A Day at elBulli: An insight into the ideas, methods and creativity of Ferran Adria.


As I mentioned last month, they are both published by the art imprint Phaidon, and that is what they are-art books, beautiful to look at but highly impractical. The Noma book has over 200 gorgeous full-page pictures, not to mention individual pictures of staff, and a mere ninety-four recipes. The elBulli book effortlessly trumps this; there are 444 pages of assorted documentary and art photos and a scant thirty-one recipes, again, it is a thing of beauty. Indeed, some of the ingredients in both sound like they would look beautiful too, but you'll have to trust to your imagination as you are never likely to have any of them in your kitchen cupboards.


From Noma's, typically Scandinavian, charcoal-etched pages comes trimoline, thuja cones, freeze dried vinegar powder, stonecrop, goosefoot stem, pickled Rugosa rose petals, red onion flowers, Icelandic dulse (helpfully, here an alternative is offered...Cladonia lichen!), bleak roe from Kalix, eight complete chicken skins, kamut grains and emmer grains. The list reads more like a Viking saga poem than recipe ingredients. One dish alone, intriguingly called 'snowman', consists of thirty-seven ingredients. The good news is there is one ingredient between Noma's covers that we have an abundance of: heather.


Meanwhile, the elBulli book is suitably decked out in citrus colours, as befits its Catalan location. Here, the house style is grainy reportage-style photography and more enigmatic ingredients: preserved cat's claw shoots, white yoghurt powder, Kataifa skeins, purple glasswort, amaranth grains and Metil. More of a haiku this time then but there are slim pickings to choose from. Perplexingly, one recipe that takes up two pages, Yoghurt and Raspberry Mochi, comes with this disclaimer regarding its main ingredient: We cannot reveal the mochi dough recipe due to a confidentiality agreement with Mr Sakai!


Both books are heavier than the Japanese translation of War and Peace and are undoubtedly worth your time, maybe even money but, be warned, the nearest you'll get to eating from them is when you rest your TV dinner on their capacious covers. 


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