15 Aug 2012

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit

With this book, I feel like Hermione Granger in the Hogwarts library, taking down a huge dusty book from the topmost shelf of the loneliest corner of the library and discovering what a well kept secret it was.  I feel like it’s a magical book – that each time I open its pages, I will come across some new information, something I didn’t spot the last time I read it.
Ever since I gifted myself this book last year on my birthday, I have wanted to write a review.  I was really scared to do so as I did not feel that I could ever do justice to it.

 The ‘Mighty’ Flavor Thesaurus, as I call it, is a compendium of 99 flavors and their pairings and seeks to give ‘recipes, pairings and ideas to the creative cook.’ It is divided into 16 categories like roasted, cheesy, earthy, brine and salt, woodland, citrusy and fresh fruity. Each category has a number of flavors and their pairings range from the traditional (apple and cinnamon) and contemporary (chocolate and chilli) to the bizarre (strawberry and avocado).  
Each pairing is also accompanied by a short description regarding why the pairing works and how to use the flavors together. Apart from that there are numerous recipes, personal anecdotes, tips from chefs all over the world, scientific facts,  and even restaurant reviews! At no point of time does the book get boring. It is a heady, imaginative, creative, inspiring and an extremely informative mix of history and culture (for example, did you know that in 1993, the Clinton’s pastry chef made gingerbread White House and no fewer than 21 marzipan likenesses of Socks, the cat?).  

This book makes you travel the world through its pages. You can visit Thailand to learn how to mix coconut and bananas, understand chocolate and chilli in Mexico or even stop over for a meal at El Bulli in Spain.
The anecdotes are hilarious and the observations are particularly witty. ‘Chocolate and Almond: is that what parental guilt tastes like?’ ‘People get superstitious about asparagus. Otherwise sane cooks will insist on cooking it in special pans, or turning the spears three times anti clockwise but never under the light of a full moon.’ ‘By reputation parsely is the Hail Mary to the sin of garlic breath.’ Other such gems dot each and every essay.
When I was not awed by the ceaseless imagination of the author, the food geek in me (or some would say the OCD part of me) thrilled at the neatness of the index, the alphabetical order, and the fact that I could find any pairing at any point of time just by referring to the flavor wheel.
This book is a must buy not necessarily only for the culinary geek but for anyone who enjoys food.

Buy it: US / UK / India  

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