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Cookbooks That Were High Expectation Disappointments

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I feel ya on the Bakewise disappointment. My latest disappointment: My Bread by Jim Lahey. I wanted to like it, I made pretty good pizza bianca out of it, but it shouldn't win an IACP award any time soon. At least one recipe had an ingredient missing from the instructions section (no small matter in recipes as simple as Lahey's), the tone was way too conversational, and it lacked the sort of depth I look for in a cookbook. Is it too much to ask for a book to be well written? I don't want off-the-cuff, bloggy informality from a book!

I tried to check this out of my small town library, but they dont have it. I then requested it from Toronto and they dont have it either. I guess I'll have to look at it in Barnes and Noble before deciding if I want to buy it.

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Just broke my cardinal purchase of books rule: never sight unseen, and bought Peter Greweling's new as-yet-unreleased Chocolates and Confections at Home and hope it doesn't end up on this list!! :wacko: Canadian prices & Canadian shipping and handling too!!! :hmmm:

It looks great to me...but since it's coming out too late to be of use in creating holiday treats, I decided to wait and see it before I order it.

I have recieved two Jamie Oliver cookbooks that I find completely useless. The food is attractive, but I just don't make fish pie or bangers all that often.

Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

Scott Stratten

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Hm, I don't think it counts because you had to have had high expectations of the book ;) (But to be fair, I quite liked Jamie's Italy and Cook With Jamie, and I've cooked from the latter one quite a bit.)

mkayahara and TimmDavis, shinboners has a review of Alinea to be found here. I know gfron1 has already stated he hasn't had a very high percentage of success with it (I think he said 60%, right?), but he's still happy with the inspiration it's given him. :)

Edit: I meant gfron1, not Tri2cook. Sorry!

Edited by jumanggy (log)


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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Grant Achatz's Alinea book was a disappointment for me.


Grant Achatz's Alinea book was a disappointment for me.

Would love to know why..

Click onto jummangy's post above for a link to a review of Alinea that I wrote.

For cooking professionals, I think Alinea is an outstanding book. But for keen amateurs, I was disappointed that there was little from Achatz about how he developed the dishes and what inspired him. For me, Blumenthal's "Big Fat Duck" is a superior book because you were given an insight into the mind of Blumenthal, and he wrote about what inspired him to create each dish.

Daniel Chan aka "Shinboners"
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interesting thread! Really shows you how different everybody is and views things. I love all of Keller's books! Those intimidated by the FL book or even Bouchon (why? It's a great book with relatively easy to make things) might want to check out the new Ad Hoc at Home, a great book with much simpler recipes. Of course, the French Laundry book will not have simple to make recipes. I think there are a whole of 71 or so restaurants with 3 Michelin stars on the planet. Reading the FL book opened my eyes to why. The work and effort they put into each dish is simply amazing. I've eaten there once and while the check almost made me laugh out loud for the silly amount we spent, but wow, every single dish was way past sublime. There really isn't a word in the English language to describe it. I've not made much from his books, I simply don't have the time, and the recipes are supposed to be one of 12 or 15 courses, I don't usually cook that way :laugh: I never found his tone patronizing though, I really like reading his books. Of course, most of that might be Ruhlman, who knows, but still, I find them interesting, entertaining and very educational. As they say, your mileage might vary.

But I've learned a lot and gained a lot of respect to what these people do. The least useful - to me - Keller book is Under Pressure, but I knew that when I bought it. I doubt I'll ever get an immersion cooker or commercial vacuum packer, no matter how good things might come out. I'm plenty happy with food cooked the normal ways. But, you can still use the recipes, you don't HAVE to cook sou vide. Won't be the same, but I hardly ever follow recipes to the word, so it doesn't really matter.

Alinea is a wonderful book, but almost more on the art level. I probably never will cook from it, but I will eat there some day and it's simply amazing what they do with "food".

I'm surprised some don't like the flavor bible, I find it very useful and page through it often. It's not really a "cook book" but a collection of ideas that bring inspiration. Some of the listed combinations are things I'd never think of, and for that alone I love the book.

Oddly enough, to me one of the least useful books has been McGee, as it tends to get more into detail than I care for. I love to know the science and whys and whats, but in that case I'd probably go for the cliff notes. I actually prefer How to Read a French Fry.

But I don't own any books that I was disappointed with, I research them, follow eG recommendations, Amazon reviews, or look at them in the store. I haven't set foot in a library since I left colledge, but the screams of my wallet can attest to my presence in (used) bookstores loudly :cool:

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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Sally Schneider's "A New Way to Cook" was another supreme disappointment. I just couldn't wrap myself around that one.

Put mine in the recycle bin. Didn't even bother to bring it to the used book store....

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I was suprised to see Tropp's China Moon Cookbook and any of Keller's listed as disappointments. I've made so many winning recipes from both that I find this pretty bewildering. My copy of China Moon opens automatically to "Plum Wine Chicken Salad with Sweet Mustard Sauce". This recipe requires an investment of time making the foundations for the dish. These include the delicious Chile Orange Oil (which I have made as Christmas gifts for years by universal demand and redemand) and the Five Flavor Oil as well as the Pickled Ginger (the juice of which is an absolute staple in my house for salad dressing and sauces). The foundations need only be made very infrequently and have long shelf lifes. The Plum Wine Chicken Salad frequently morphs into a non-salad version served over rice that benefits from some textural additions of water chestnuts, toasted pine nuts or whatever. My SO would be bereft if he didn't get the non-salad version on a regular basis and has joked (or half-joked) that it's the reason he can never leave me.

Keller's books are fussy to be sure but the results have been pretty uniformly spectacular. Notwithstanding the previously mentioned and amazing quiche from "Bouchon" have you not tried his heavenly pate a choix gnocchi? I make them at least three times per year and freeze and dole them out like perfect gifts at various dinners. This post would be too long to list the number of recipes I have made from Bouchon and TFL that have received anything but unfettered accolades.

I can see faulting these books because they involve too much work or too many steps to build the complexity of flavors but on sheer merit? In my mind not a chance!


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Definitely a highly subjective topic. I think the Alinea book is absolutely amazing and I can't even imagine being disappointed with the French Laundry book. Sorry Mark, but I also have a different view on Dessert Fourplay. I love that one too. I've had some disappointing cookbooks but they were usually well-intentioned gifts that I had no hand in choosing. I can't think of any that I had high expectations for going in that disappointed me. I guess I've either been careful or lucky.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Shirley Corriher. Oy.

It's not as if I doubt her wisdom and experience, but her cookbooks are just plain terrible. I blame her editor.

Filled with gems, I'm sure, but unreadable and unusable. A shame. Seems Rose Levy Berenbaum is her BFF, and she got things right in her cookbooks. I wish a higher power had made Shirley's books what they might have been.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel


A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites


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There haven't been many, but my biggest disappointment, (by weight and cost, as well as by expectation shortfall), has to be Advanced Bread and Pastry by Suas et al.

I've probably said enough about it previously.

However, for the avoidance of doubt, my opinion of it hasn't improved with the passing of time.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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For me also Claire Clarkes book ( ex. Thomas Keller pastry cook ) was way, way over-rated...

I bought it on the back of the publishers claiming her to be one of the top 3 pastrychefs in the world...wrong...very, very wrong..

Its alright but she is nowhere near in the same class as Herme, Bau, Morato,Wybauw, or Siefert etc etc.

Edited by confiseur (log)
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I wonder if disappointment is sometimes just because we came to a cookbook at the wrong time in our cooking careers...."Nourishing Traditions" disappointed me extremely, but if I'd found it when I was 20 rather than 50, it would have had much more to offer me, I know.

On the other hand, I get a lot out of the George Lang Hungarian book somebody else mentioned - I find the soupy dishes particularly good. The baking recipes were sometimes disappointing, but flour is so different from country to country that I hardly expect baking to work straight out of the book.

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>I wonder if disappointment is sometimes just because we came to a cookbook at the wrong time in our cooking careers

This surely is true. I've looked at a number of books that other people raved about, and been able to recognize that yes, this looks like an excellent book, but doesn't offer anything I don't already have on my shelves in other books. So if it were my first ever bread/italian/chinese book I would have gotten a lot out of it. But now, it was too late for it to find a home on my shelves. Unfortunately, a couple of those were purchased on someone else's recommendations before I had a good chance to look at them.

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Just wanted to chime in to say, I've had mixed results with recipes from Alinea, but I still love the book for the photography and wealth of ideas.

I'm also a huge fan of Claire Clark's book. It wasn't what I expected when I bought it, as I was envisioning something more focused on restaurant-style, plated desserts - but I've tried many recipes from it and the results have always been solid. The red wine chocolate cake for example.

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Another major disappointment was Lord Krishna's Cuisine by Yamuna Devi.

I must admit that this is my most disappointing book, also--it was a gift from a dear friend, and i truly wanted to love the recipes--but the lack of onion and garlic really does result in bland, tasteless food. I think I guiltily sold it at half.com.

And the point about reading a book at the wrong time is so true--probably the only cookbooks I still consult from The Early Years are for reference--Mastering & Joy.

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I have been disappointed in the King Arthur Whole Grain cookbook

It came out with a lot of fanfare, but as a dedicated wholemeal crank, I was disappointed by the lack of conviction--the 1/2 or 1/3 whole grain flours, and they with access to the best quality fresh milled stuff. But I thought the recipes looked tasty and functional, and that they would easily adapt to 100% whole grain. But they were not very different from what I already had in standard cookbooks, so I didn't buy it.

Just wondering what was disappointing about it to you--the same issues I had, or recipes that didn't work, or something else?

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I would agree about The Flavor Bible. I was particularly interested because I thought Culinary Artistry was brilliant and inspiring. I was disappointed because I thought The Flavor Bible was just a rehash - not as much of an expansion as I had hoped. I still turn to Culinary Artistry frequently.

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Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's The Chinese Kitchen disappointed me. I leafed through it in the store thinking it'd be a great book for some Chinese fundamentals, but when I got it home the recipes seemed a little too fussy or something. Looking at it now, I think maybe the problem is the all purple text and the woozy italics that the ingredient lists are written in. It's been rescued from the "to sell" pile once, I don't know if it will get another chance, though. I will at least say it introduced me to some basic Chinese ingredients that have become staples in the pantry.

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Right now I can't think of a specific disappointment - I'm sure there are a few, but they're buried on a bookshelf and forgotten. I am glad that I looked through "The Flavor Bible" rather than just ordering it online.

I'm also glad that I unwrapped a copy of "Under Pressure" at the bookstore and looked through it. I now have an immersion circulator, but a lot of the non-meat dishes I'm interested in require a serious chamber vacuum machine for the ironically named "compressions". Very interesting, but technically not feasible for me.

I can totally see how actually most home cooks wouldn't like the Alinea book. (Actually, I can see how a lot of professional cooks also wouldn't care for it.) It's full tilt and an unfamiliar approach to food. (That said, I think almost everyone would enjoy the cheese filled crackers, but that's one preparation out of the whole book...) Being here in Chicago, I can get obscure ingredients from the same sources ChefG does, like The Spice House. Also, without blogs like Alineaphile and AlineaAtHome, I wouldn't be as successful as I have been at working from the simplest dishes up the complexity ladder. But there are a few "dishes" I'm sure I will never attempt, because they really need a full team of 4 to 6 people to prepare and plate.

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Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's The Chinese Kitchen disappointed me.

I agree. There was little in there worth returning to, and the ingredient lists are often wildly skewed toward Western tastes and products (I'm talking to you, hoisin sauce).

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I've become quite wary of the restaurant cookbook - though there are some fine examples of the form out there, and as was mentioned before in this thread, they're not for everyone; certainly not for home cooks who want something fairly straightforward and reliable. I also have a suspicion that some of them are rushed out, that sometimes preparation steps are omitted or recipe testing is not given as high a priority as it is with more 'regular' cookbooks.

I was a big fan of Lumiere restaurant in Vancouver a number of years back and happily picked up Rob Feenie's "Lumiere" when it came out, but was quite disappointed in the lack of success I had with several of the recipes, and the sheer complexity of some of them. Conversely, around about the same time, I found that John Bishop's "Bishop's: the Restaurant" was an excellent example of the form. Yes, the recipes were often complex, but they were very clearly explained and just seemed more well-tested and reliable for a home cook with aspirations...

www.cookbooker.com - Rate and review your cookbook recipes.

Cookbooker Challenge: July/Aug 2010 - collaboratively baking & reviewing Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home.

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