Saturday, June 18, 2016

2016 #3: Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste

Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of TasteAtelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste by Dominique Crenn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a gorgeous book from start to finish. Part cookbook, part autobiography, Dominique Crenn's Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste is a feast for the eyes, with photography by Ed Anderson, and poetry for the soul (and here we must recognize also the work of Crenn's co-author Karen Leibowitz, whose Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant (co-authored with her husband, chef Anthony Myint), is probably my favorite cookbook that I've ever "read."))

This is not a book of practical or convenient recipes. It is a book about art. One might classify Crenn's work as "molecular gastronomy" but that flattens the poetry of what Crenn achieves with her creations. Indeed, "poetry" isn't just a fancy overwrought description--Crenn actually offers a poem to accompany her Chef's Grand Tasting Menu at her restaurant, Atelier Crenn. She describes the meal --and the poem changes seasonally with the menu--with lines such as: "Here, the earth proffers its juicy, vermilion gifts/and above the half moon floats, silky and smoky/In summer's green dappled light/the forest radiant with possibility." Having food communicate on the deeper level where poetry can also touch us is what Crenn calls "poetic culinaria."

While the average kitchen may not be fully equipped to prepare the recipes in the book, they will serve as a fount of inspiration for flavor combinations, textures, and plating. Behind her dishes, there is a respect for sustainability and nature as well. She's a fully committed omnivore, but offers, "We must eat less meat, we must eat it more thoughtfully, and we must make it so delicious that our cooking becomes a way of showing respect for the animal that has given up its life for us." This last part echoes the thread that runs through the book--that of cooking as ritual. The compelling description of a day in the life of Atelier Crenn seems almost monastic--the cooks arrive beginning at 9:00 am and follow a liturgy of preparation, cleaning, and sharing a meal together.

The photography alone might make this a "coffee table" book, but it is well worth spending some time with the prose. Crenn and Leibowitz offer us an understanding of symbiosis between food and art. And maybe, just as the amateur painter might be inspired by a visit to the Louvre, a home chef who reads this book might venture into dehydrating quinoa, bringing different cultural flavors together, or simply arranging food in a way that honors both its origins and its possibilities.