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Celebrity chefs - can they write recipes?


the_nomad
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Just wondering - of the "celebrity chef" crowd, are there any that people actually really rate here?

We've shot a short series over at Kamikaze Cookery where we get "normal people" to test celebrity chef recipes - we did one with Jamie Oliver's Pici Con Ragu (which is available now at http://www.kamikazecookery.com/films/5 ), one with a Gordon Ramsey souffle, and one with a Delia Smith pie.

(If you're wondering, one came out great, one was ok-ish, and one failed utterly and spectacularly. You'll have to watch to see which one is which!).

But the thing we found was that there was virtually no relation between the expectations we had of the cook and the quality of the recipe. Some of them were really badly written from a technical standpoint - it was fascinating to watch people who aren't as foodie as us trying to follow what we suddenly realised were jargon-filled, poorly-worded recipes.

So - are there any "celebrity" chef cookbooks that you think avoid this? There are certainly some great, well-written cookbooks around, but I can't think of any that combine that feature with the "give it to your Gran and she'll have heard of the guy cooking" nature of someone like Jamie or Delia.

Of course, we're UK-centric - is it better or worse in the US? Alton Brown's shows are pretty good - does he give good cookbook too?

Kamikaze Cookery: Three geeks cook. With Science. And occasionally, explosions.

http://www.kamikazecookery.com

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Alton Brown's cookbooks are pretty straight forward in its directions. I find that some people have really great techniques and ideas but have a hard time transferring those ideas onto paper. It might just be a communication problem where the chefs thought some techniques are a given in certain situations. Some people say recipes are guidelines and I guess the cook has to interpret it whichever way depending on their skill level.. even if it's a cookbook for the general public.

( Does this add to the topic at all? )

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That's very interesting, yeah.

It's been one of the things I've learned from the series, actually - as you mention, there are two skills in writing a cookbook, and just because you can cook doesn't imply you can also tell someone else how to do so. I wonder if there needs to be a guide to technical writing for recipe writers out there?

On the other hand, there are also examples of the problem the other way around - with Jamie Oliver's recipe, we found it fairly easy to follow, but it just wasn't that good - the ragu was distinctly unsophisticated (no celery, no carrots, no star anise, no milk, nothing but meat, tomatoes, onions and garlic), for example.

I'm going to add my favourite celeb chef - Heston Blumenthal can not only cook, he also writes great cookbooks. There's a reason that his recipes are six pages long, and that reason is that he actually explains all the steps!

Alton Brown's cookbooks are pretty straight forward in its directions.  I find that some people have really great techniques and ideas but have a hard time transferring those ideas onto paper.  It might just be a communication problem where the chefs thought some techniques are a given in certain situations.  Some people say recipes are guidelines and I guess the cook has to interpret it whichever way depending on their skill level.. even if it's a cookbook for the general public. 

( Does this add to the topic at all? )

Kamikaze Cookery: Three geeks cook. With Science. And occasionally, explosions.

http://www.kamikazecookery.com

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Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook is very workable. (And one of his better pieces of writing IMO.) Although maybe he is not considered a celebrity chef exactly?

If you are really a non-cook there is Rocco's recent book, Rocco Gets Real or similar. I picked the book up at a cooking demo he did. It's incredibly simple, sometimes needlessly so. (Precooked rice? Seriously?)

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I'd certainly say that Bourdain had hit "sleb chef" status at this point, yeah. Interesting - I'd kinda assumed his book might be great fun, but wouldn't be very cookable.

At risk of being horribly ignorant, who's Rocco? I fear I don't know of him, and I rapidly discovered that Googling his name was not likely to lead me to culinary marvels in the most literal sense (very, very NSFW if you do it).

(And I had to look up Jaques Pepin. I had no idea that the list of celebrity chefs was so different in the US. Do you guys get our lot? I mean, I believe you get Ramsey and Oliver, but Nigella, for example? Ken Hom?)

Actually, thinking about it. Ken Hom's pretty darn good.

Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook is very workable. (And one of his better pieces of writing IMO.) Although maybe he is not considered a celebrity chef exactly?

If you are really a non-cook there is Rocco's recent book, Rocco Gets Real or similar. I picked the book up at a cooking demo he did. It's incredibly simple, sometimes needlessly so. (Precooked rice? Seriously?)

Edited by the_nomad (log)

Kamikaze Cookery: Three geeks cook. With Science. And occasionally, explosions.

http://www.kamikazecookery.com

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At risk of being horribly ignorant, who's Rocco? I fear I don't know of him, and I rapidly discovered that Googling his name was not likely to lead me to culinary marvels in the most literal sense (very, very NSFW if you do it).

:biggrin: Sorry. Rocco Dispirito. The book is actually called Real Life Recipes. I don't really recommend it unless you can't cook at all. Bourdain's book-- well, you have to be able to cook somewhat, and some cuts of meat, etc., are hard to track down in the Chicago suburbs, but the directions are extremely clear.

Yes, in the US we get the people you mention; their cookbooks are on display in every bookstore. Nigella's books are great. The New York Times used to run her recipes every other week; don't know why they stopped. A lot of my friends use the books. I use them more for tips than for whole recipes; for that they are extremely useful. (I don't bake so I can't speak to her baking book.)

I went to a signing Nigella did for Feast in Chicago and there were tons of people there.

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I think it's important to note that most of the recipes in Jamie's Italy, which includes the Pici con Ragu, came from learning from the locals; it's not really a good reflection of his personal recipes (i.e., the Cook With Jamie book).

I don't have a lot of non-pastry cookbooks. I hesitate to name the pastry chefs I think are celebrities because they're all pretty much celebrities to me. Limiting it to those who appear regularly on television, maybe with their own show, there aren't a lot (Gale Gand, Jacques Torres, Warren Brown, Anna Olson, James Martin). Browsing through their cookbooks (except Olson's) they all seem harmless enough. But I would think twice before purchasing a book from the Hairy Bakers, for instance. It's not really a fair assessment but I feel like the show/characters they put on are compensating for some lack of ability or taste. Maybe I have just enjoyed the books of leaders in the field who maybe don't have the time (or personality? hmmm) to appear on television regularly (Pierre Herme, Francois Payard, among others) too much.

Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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Since you are UK-based, you really have to do something with a Marco Pierre White recipe. He is THE original UK celebrity (and bad boy) chef. Personally I don't have problems cooking stuff from White Heat or Wild Food but I am pretty experienced in the kitchen.

Something that would probably make good TV is having a team of people cooking from the new Fat Duck Cookbook. Heston Blumenthal is of course also a big UK celebrity. Take two teams of smart, organized but cooking wise inexperienced people and have them try to recreate one of the signature dishes. Give them a day or so to practise and then end the day with a cook off competition. I would watch that! (Or participate :biggrin: )

Edited by TheSwede (log)
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I must admit, I avoid Mark Peter White books just because his personal style makes me want to - well, suffice it to say I'd be extremely and proactively unhappy if anyone threw a knife at me, under any circumstances. I may overcome that and check out one of his cookbooks.

Heston Blumenthal, on the other hand, kicks ass. I'm actually intending to try and recreate the tasting meal I had at the Fat Duck some time later this year, once the courier actually manages to deliver the Big Fat Duck Cookbook. And yes, it will probably be on film.

I've cooked his chilli, his low-temperature chicken and his spag bol in the past, all of which were stunning, and the techniques we used on Kamikaze Cookery Episode 1 (The Perfect Steak) were heavily inspired by his Perfect Steak (which, frankly, was almost certainly better).

Nigella - we actually test a Nigella recipe under similar circumstances later on in the series. I'll be sure to post about it! Interestingly, Nigella is getting rave reviews on our discussion thread about the Jamie episode from all sorts of people - I'd never realised she was that highly thought of.

Jamie's Italy - interesting. I thought he'd heavily adapted a lot of them. We may have to shoot a Return To Jamie episode in the next series, then...

Since you are UK-based, you really have to do something with a Marco Pierre White recipe. He is THE original UK celebrity (and bad boy) chef.  Personally I don't have problems cooking stuff from White Heat or Wild Food but I am pretty experienced in the kitchen.

Something that would probably make good TV is having a team of people cooking from the new Fat Duck Cookbook. Heston Blumenthal is of course also a big UK celebrity. Take two teams of smart, organized but cooking wise inexperienced people and have them try to recreate one of the signature dishes. Give them a day or so to practise and then end the day with a cook off competition. I would watch that! (Or participate  :biggrin: )

Kamikaze Cookery: Three geeks cook. With Science. And occasionally, explosions.

http://www.kamikazecookery.com

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Hey there guys, I have worked for a few "celebrity" chefs who have written books, in my time. The reason that some or most recipes in a cookbook don't work, is to protect their personal recipes from everyday use.....

Edited by piromanyac (log)
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Now that's *very* interesting indeed. Hmm. Don't suppose you'd be willing to name names? :)

I shall mention that on the Kamikaze Cookery blog. Thanks.

Hey there guys, I have worked for a few "celebrity" chefs who have written books, in my time. The reason that some or most recipes in a cookbook don't work, is to protect their personal recipes from everyday use.....

Kamikaze Cookery: Three geeks cook. With Science. And occasionally, explosions.

http://www.kamikazecookery.com

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From an Australian perspective, I'd recommend books by the likes of Bill Granger, Donna Hay, and the Marie Claire collections for beginners. They're all well written recipes and you don't need any ingredients that you need to spend time tracking down. The dishes are quick to prepare and they work.

Picking a cookbook really comes down to understanding your own abilities and knowing what level the cookbook writer is aiming for. You would not hand a copy of Gordon Ramsay's "Three Star Chef" to a non-cook and expect them to execute the recipe properly. And you have to understand people's time constraints and what they want out of cooking. As with the Jamie Oliver episode of kamikaze cooks, there's no point in doing his recipe if you want a quick meal (after all, you can easily whip up a bolognese sauce in half an hour and use dried pasta). But if you're someone who enjoys the process of making your own pasta and doing a really slowly cooked sauce to go with it, and you're happy to spend an afternoon doing it, then there is value in Oliver's recipe.

Incidentally, my missus has just gotten into baking, and she finds the Nigella Lawson book, "How To Eat" to have been a fantastic starting point in learning baking skills.

Daniel Chan aka "Shinboners"
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