"This is what the food movement used to be all about -- honesty and integrity -- not hype." That's Alice Waters talking about Edward Behr's The Art of Eating, a quarterly food publication since 1986 and now a new cookbook subtitled "Essential Recipes From The First 25 Years."
Authenticity and simplicity inform the writing and recipes in this 279-pager. Behr shares knowledge gleaned from research and travels, each recipe prefaced with information about relevant history, origins, or perhaps a certain technique required for the preparation. There is no advertising in the magazine, and no silly filler in the cookbook. The author's standards are uncompromising, his attention to details meticulous, his attitude iconoclastic. He has been called "possibly the most food-obsessed individual in America and certainly one of the world's most knowledgeable and talented food writers."
This is, in fact, a damn good cookbook.
Edward Behr writes from a remote area in northeastern Vermont. His recognition and influence among chefs and professionals in the industry is far greater than among the Food Network foodie crowd. "Behr's article ... led directly to Chipotle buying more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant in the country," acknowledges Steve Ellis, the founder and CEO of the Mexican chain. David Chang of Momofuku says that The Art of Eating has been a source of culinary education for me for many years."
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The prose and recipes of the cookbook reflect Behr's culinary philosophy. "On the farm and in workshops and kitchens, what is treated least usually tastes best. Gentle, minimal treatment produces fullest flavor." He is "grounded in the cooking of France and Italy," and describes his approach thusly: "Often in my writing, I've focused on a traditional dish: tasting it at its place of origin, tracing it back through time, trying to understand the logic behind the place, the ingredients, and the method -- getting at the fundamental taste."
The recipes range from common to unusual, preparations from easy to intensive. It is, in Behr's words, "for eaters as much as cooks." The book is published by University of California Press and retails for $39.95; Amazon currently has new copies for $26.37. The quarterly is worth checking out as well. It is $52 per year (four issues); you can get subscription info here. Serious readers, eaters, and chefs -- home and professional -- who don't know about Edward Behr and The Art of Eating are sure to be very pleased with either magazine or cookbook.