Just recently, I’ve discovered a new genre, or at least a genre new to me. I call it the “narrative cookbook:” a book written by a well-known cook or cooking expert or cooking aficionado that includes both recipes and a narrative glimpse into the cooking process. It includes shopping lists, pairing tips, recipe options for different tastes, and it explains not only how the author functions inside his or her own kitchen but also how he or she thinks about cooking, what goes on inside a professional’s head. I’ve already reviewed My Kitchen Year for “Bookin’ with Sunny”, Ruth Reichl’s narrative cookbook to express her anguish following the demise of Gourmet Magazine and to tell her readers how she cooked her way back to peace of mind. Now I’ve just read My Pantry, another such verbal and culinary feat.
The author of My Pantry, Alice Waters, owns Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California, and is the founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project. The illustrator of her book is her daughter, Fanny Singer. Together, they have produced an inside look at what Waters stores on her pantry shelves, the staples that she makes herself and then adds to countless recipes. My Pantry’s subtitle describes the treats inside: “Homemade Ingredients That Make Simple Meals Your Own.”
“Simple” isn’t quite the word I would use to characterize many of Waters’ endeavors in this charming book but certainly she offers usable tips and titillating suggestions about food. Some of her chapters, like “Spice Mixtures and Condiments,” contain ideas I’ve already put to good use. Other chapters, like “Sweet Preserves,” must wait for summer and fresh fruit. And some, like “Preserved Fish and Meat,” are more fun to read about than to imagine ever putting into practice. I enjoyed thinking abstractly about marinated anchovies and salted fish, but I’m much more inclined to put my hand to brandied cherries.
Waters’ tone is lighthearted, and her descriptions are delicious. Reading her words, I wish I lived nearer to Berkeley. An evening at Chez Pannise would be a treat. But since that’s too far to drive for a dinner out, particularly in winter snow, I must be content with reading My Pantry. What fun, to follow Waters’ tastes and triumphs. What fun, too, to imagine her pantry. It must be enormous to house all the ingredients she concocts and relishes. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Alice Waters: The Art of Simple Food; The Art of Simple Food II; Chez Panisse Cookbook; Chez Panisse Vegetables; In the Green Kitchen, Techniques to Learn by Heart; Chez Panisse Fruit; Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook; Chez Panisse Cooking; Slow Food: The Case for Taste; A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes; Fanny at Chez Panisse; Recipes and Lessons from a Delicious Cooking Revolution; Pasta, Pizza & Calzone; Anyone Can Be Recycled; Chez Panisse Fruit Notecards; The Kindness of Strangers.