Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why I Have a Crush on Ruhlman

Finally got the right combination of discounts to pick up "Ratio: Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking" by Michael Ruhlman. With a cover price of $27 for a barely-200 page book and only a handful of (quite lovely) black and white photographs, I made myself wait until I could get it for under $20, although I know I will treasure this book for a lifetime.

Ruhlman is a solid writer with a journalistic sense tuned to contemporary artisanal pursuits, in particular, the world of chefs and the Culinary Institute of America. His "Elements of Cooking" will never be placed on a shelf in my house -- I keep it on the bedside table or the kitchen counter for frequent reference. My sense from the first 61 pages of "Ratio" is that this book will not gather dust, either.

And why do I love Ruhlman (his books, anyway)? Because, alongside very specific, technical information about the differences between crepes, pancakes and popovers, you get a paragraph like this. As my Journalism 101 professor would say, it sings.

"And I think that people who are gifted pastry chefs have simple seen the crepe-cake continuum more clearly for longer, rather than seeing crepe equaling one set of instructions, cake another, and so have been able to improvise; they understand how small adjustments in fat, flour, egg and sugar can result in satisfying nuances of lightness and delicacy or richness in flavor and texture. It's all one thing.

"Which is why I love cooking. It's all one thing. Which is the ultimate comfort in a life fraught with uncertainty and questions. Which is why I don't fear dying. Which is what I'd put on my headstone if I thought being buried in ground mattered: "It's all one thing." Which is why I love batters."

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