Anyone with a hankering for hash of snails or powdered duck or a host of other centuries-old British cookery should be plenty pleased with this year's James Beard Foundation cookbook of the year.
But for the rest of us — by which I mean, virtually every last one of us — the selection of Heston Blumenthal's "Historic Heston," a $200, 431-page epic exploration of mostly antiquated recipes, will be a head-scratcher. It's one of those books so fabulously out of touch with any cook who doesn't have an army of sous chefs at his side, one has to ask for whom this book was written.
Actually, the answer is obvious. It was written by and for Blumenthal, a talented writer and brilliant chef with a host of restaurants in England. And in that regard, it is a masterpiece. Blumenthal has a knack for ferreting out the genealogy of a dish, a skill he's put to fascinating use in previous books, including his 2006 "In Search of Perfection."
But the selection of his latest tome as cookbook of the year — announced Friday evening during a ceremony in New York — is puzzling. Blumenthal takes recipes already made obtuse by history (salmagundy, anyone?), and instead of translating them into terms contemporary readers could appreciate or at least learn from, he filters them through an equally inaccessible lens of modernist (think whiz-bang science-driven cooking) techniques.
What's more, the book got two awards, also beating out David Kinch's "Manresa: An Edible Reflection" and Rene Redzepi's "Rene Redzepi: A Work in Progress" in the cooking from a professional point of view category.
Of greater interest to most home cooks will be the foundation's naming of Diana Kennedy to its Cookbook Hall of Fame. Kennedy has spent much of her life learning and preserving the traditional cooking and ingredients of Mexico, a mission that sends her across the country in search of elusive recipes.