There might be a number of reasons why people buy cookbooks, but I’d like to simplify them to just a few. First, you might buy them to learn about the recipes, to cook through the book, to prepare dinner for the family. Second, you like the personality or the chef behind the recipes and want to know the recipes associated with the restaurant or general food concept or cuisine. Lastly, you like to own cookbooks to look at and use as glorified coffee table books. They’re something you like to have on your shelf so that you can pull it out and occasionally cook a recipe or get some inspiration. Or really, you’re just obsessed with the personality and you like to carry the cookbook as a sort of badge of allegiance. You know who you are. A real “Giada” fan is going to have all of her cookbooks (I used to have three of them, but lost one of them along the way).
I’m probably mostly the last kind of cookbook buyer, because I just don’t have the time (and mouths, like family or friends) to cook every day, or even on a normal basis. But I still buy cookbooks because I enjoy learning about food and cuisine from them. I’m the kind of cook that uses recipes as a bit of a guide to incorporate ingredients and techniques that I’m not as familiar with, but most of the time, I don’t use exact recipes when I prepare dishes. I feel like I have a decent understanding of how food cooks and changes in the kitchen, from experience and from what I learned growing up from my dad (the cook of the house).
I’m hoping to get a look at how cookbooks are viewed by a good number of people that buy them, instead of the hardcore user. I think someone like my buddy Noah Galuten of The Cookbook Blog is going to be better for the person who wants to know the true value of an entire cookbook based on the quality of its recipes. You might also want to look at the excellent cookbook reviews of Jenn Garbee in Squid Ink, LA Weekly’s food blog. Garbee does a great job of summarizing the cookbook and the personalities or businesses that went into creating them.
My longer format reviews are for those of you who dream of delicious food and might even venture to whip something up in the kitchen, but mostly like to have cookbooks as tokens of inspiration. Collecting cookbooks is as much as avocation as baseball cards, vintage cars, records, and Pokemon cards, except for adults (and those with wide bookshelves). Take a peek at one of the more desirable cookbooks that came out late last year, The Mozza Cookbook.
Layout and Design of the Mozza Cookbook
Silverton’s latest cookbook runs a similar size and layout to her previous full-length cookbook, A Twist of the Wrist. The publication by Knopf features a nice thick cover with bright stripes and a lay-flat seam that opens flat on the table. The pages are thick, soft matte and uses a Meridien type, resulting in clean, legible recipes that aid the immense amount of copy involved with each recipe. Silverton knows that in a simple cuisine that involves superior ingredients, even the smallest detail of the recipe is essential. Most recipes feature a short italicized introduction and then goes right into the preparation. Ingredients are lined up simply to the right of the recipe, and plenty of white space lines the pages, better for note takers (and doodlers like me). The whole book feels timeless and clean, with no overt promotion of Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, or even chefs Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreño.
Photography and Content
The photography by Sara Remington is timeless and beautiful, with terrific bokehs and tasteful styling. Sadly not every recipe has a photo attached to it, something that buyers like us prefer to have (so that we know what our food looks like after we cook it…right?), but the pictures we get are worth it. They jump off the page with their simplicity and vibrancy, making your mouth water. I’ve shown my copy to countless friends and they’re usually flipping through for at least five minutes.
Recipes are intensely detailed, in huge paragraphs that often span multiple pages. To the average cookbook fan, this is a bit of a drag. If you need to focus on certain steps, this layout will dissuade you. Most casual cookbooks have numbered steps that make it easier to follow, but Silverton is pretty intentional about going into detail with each recipe. She quotes Julia Child’s recipes and their length, saying that a good cookbook writer is going to equip the reader with as much information as is helpful for them to complete the recipe successfully. When I go through a recipe, I like to read the instructions two to three times, drilling the steps in my head so that when I hit the counter and stove, I know generally what to do. Initially this format is a little difficult to deal with, but in the long run it makes you a better cook. The longer, prose-like recipes let you see the whole process of cooking, from the mise en place (the ingredient preparation) to the final construction.
The recipes themselves are almost always something you can accomplish if you can get the right ingredients. If you live within access to farmers markets and seasonal ingredients, most of the hard work is already done for you. If you’re within spitting distance of the Mozza restaurants (meaning Los Angeles, Newport Beach, or Singapore), then it might even behoove you to try the actual dish before going to home to attempt it.
Those of us who enjoy good wine will be pleased to see some very sensible wine pairings offered with each recipe. It would have been nice to see some sort of explanation or understanding of why the particular wines are paired, but it’s still a nice touch. The ingredients are listed in standard American measurements, perfect for the serious home cook. It also goes against the grain of many new cookbooks that offer a more scientific approach, using metric measurements and weight-based measurements. The Mozza Cookbook is for the lusty kitchen dweller who values craftsmanship and terrific artisanal ingredients over uber precision and gadgetry.
Should You Buy This Cookbook?
The best things in life stand the test of time. Nancy Silverton’s influence starts with her involvement with Campanile and La Brea Bakery, whose products now line grocery store shelves and even the aisles of Costco. Silverton rebooted with Mozza, a casual pizzeria and more formal Osteria, that celebrates great cooking, ingredients, and service. You could easily see both restaurants surviving well into this century. Having this cookbook is a gateway to the second empire that Silverton built, a celebration of all things Italian, with her modern, Californian twist. I have no doubt that her third empire, based on the burger joint Short Order and bakery Short Cake, will no doubt result in another cookbook within a few years time.