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Set Thoughts to Simmer, Stirring Frequently

November 28, 2009

Adam Gopnick “distills” the relationship between a cook and his cookbook into a New Yorker article.  Being examined in a New Yorker article usually means profuse expansion (usually too long by a few pages) without really going anywhere analytically, but it is a pleasant journey all the while.  You get some great quotes like:

Handed-down wisdom and worked-up information remain the double piers of a cook’s life. The recipe book always contains two things: news of how something is made, and assurance that there’s a way to make it, with the implicit belief that if I know how it is done I can show you how to do it. The premise of the recipe book is that these two things are naturally balanced; the secret of the recipe book is that they’re not.

And yet, you never feel alienated by having to eventually take a stance either for or against the author’s thesis because usually there is none to be found other than generally a facile form of “isn’t this topic interesting??”  Indeed, through this article, the New Yorker as a project is clarified (like the butter preparation that Gopnick laments is now obsolete).  The New Yorker rarely attempts argument or persuasion like a newsweekly, it doesn’t attempt to analyze and expose some unreported practice with important worldly ramifications; instead it showcases grandiloquent rhetoric and curious modes of inquiry into topics that might not have ever otherwise received more than a passing thought.  I quite like it.

For example, quotes like this don’t exactly excoriate current cookbook authors, but they do give the self-assuredly sophisticated New Yorker reader a nice, knowing chuckle:

Once-familiar things depart from their pages silently, like Minerva’s owls. “Yield,” for instance, a word that appeared at the top of every recipe in every cookbook that my mother owned—“Yield: six portions,” or twelve, or twenty—is gone. Maybe it seemed too cold, too technical. In any case, the recipe no longer yields; it merely serves. “Makes six servings” or “Serves four to six as part of an appetizer” is all you get.

Now, the only problem is earmarking enough time to enjoy the various leisurely gambols it offers on a weekly basis.

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