500 Foods

50 Foods : A Guide To Deliciousness by Edward Behr (Penguin) $25 from Good Egg

Less of a cookbook and more of a guidebook to getting the very best out of your food, Edward Behr’s 50 Foods makes for some enjoyable reading. It’s episodic nature, with 50 chapters on 50 different foods, makes for easy reading that doesn’t require the reader to work from front page to back cover. Dipping into Behr’s take on everything from anchovies to walnuts, and 48 delicious ingredients in-between, 50 Foods is a delicious compendium of discoveries he made whilst working on his acclaimed periodical/website The Art Of Eating.

Despite dispersing some connoisseur-like details, tips and tricks, Behr’s tone is decidedly opinionated, but both informative and warm, with nary a hint of snobbery. His writings are unashamedly personal and dotted with anecdotal points describing his experiences with certain breeds, varieties, and so on. The ten years he spent collating all of this sage wisdom was certainly time well spent.

When thinking of the overall feel of the book, it is the word care that comes to mind. You see, Behr really cares how you select, store, prepare, serve, and accompany these 50 ingredients. Even after a week with the roadmap that is 50 foods, upon a number of occasions I found myself in the kitchen or at the dinner table wondering “why on earth didn’t I do it this way previously?” Sure, if you spend much time in a kitchen you’ll find yourself nodding your head a lot, agreeing with this and that, but every few paragraphs you’ll come across something different, something unusual, or perhaps something truly revelatory. It’s that kind of book.

A perfect example of this would be his lengthy and detailed guide to choosing the perfect baguette had me thinking about the simplicity of my own process, and how desperately I needed to step up my game in that department. Never again shall I return home with a shitty baguette!

Also, I wasn’t aware that UDSA research had found that one could defrost a one inch steak in 11 minutes in water heated to 39 degrees centigrade with negligible deterioration of the meat compared to defrosting for 24 hours in the fridge. Thanks to this book I’ll be treating my frozen (sacred) cow a little differently next time around.

Wine pairings being something quite close to my heart, I found his suggestions absolutely spot-on, and I very much doubt that I could have done better myself. It was perhaps this facet of 50 Foods that truly won my heart, as Behr is undeniably an authority in more than just the expected areas.

If I were to fault 50 Foods for anything it would be for being a little too short for my personal preference for the long-form, as I often found myself craving even more detail… and I did feel that his exclusion of tartare in the Beef and Veal chapter to be an inexcusable oversight. These minor gripes aside, I feel that 50 Foods is an seriously essential purchase for anyone who enjoys preparing food, both the professional chef and the enthusiastic home cook.

(Four and an half apples out of a possible five)

Jamie Drummond

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he really, really enjoyed this book.