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Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Food* (*but were afraid to ask)

July 24, 2009

It doesn’t feel like so long ago that I compared two Italian restaurants, one in Albany, New York and one just over the Berkeley border in California.

The argument was that the Oliveto menu was a serious menu for a serious restaurant.  And I stand by that.

Taking another look at the menu, I realized there was something else to talk about.  How does one deal with esoterica that may fall outside of one’s comfort zone?  Yes, it is marvelous that Oliveto’s menu is challenging.  But what if you didn’t study up on Italian cuisine before sitting down for dinner?
When I ate there, now several years ago, I was amazed to see waiters lending copies of the Food Lover’s Companion to befuddled guests.

The Food Lover’s Companion is one of my favorite books.  Simply put, it is an encyclopedia of food.  Maybe it’s a bit closer to a food dictionary.  But you get the idea.  Almost anything you would want to know about food is in the book.

For example, Albany has a brand new Biergarten und Wurst Haus.  So people here maybe now know the difference between Bratwurst, Weiswurst and Knockwurst.  The Weiswurst is my favorite, by the way.  But if Matt ran a special on Bauerwurst, Bockwurst, Mettwurst and Zungenwurst, would you know which one was made out of blood and tongue versus the delicately flavored one that is ideal for springtime?

The book would tell you.

It also has the basics of wine and spirits, although there is an entirely separate wine version of the book.  The wine book too is a phenomenal resource as well, regardless of whether you are a wine novice or a winemaker.

I also swear that there are restaurants that use this book when writing their menus.  And home cooks can do the same thing to dress up their cooking.  What sounds better, a chef’s salad or a salmagundi [sal-muh-GUHN-dee]?  The FLC describes this dish as:

“A composed salad including greens, chopped cooked meats and vegetables (the latter sometimes pickled), anchovies, hard-cooked eggs and pickles.  The ingredients are artfully arranged on a platter and drizzled with dressing.”

It’s a gussied up chef’s salad.

Or let’s say you are watching Hell’s Kitchen and you hear Chef Ramsay holler, “You donkey!  The Dory is raw!”  You may eventually wonder what the hell is John Dory anyway, and why is it never on the menu at local restaurants?  My second edition of the book is over ten years old, and well loved.  But the entry on John Dory states:

“Found in European waters, this incredibly odd-looking fish has an oval, flat body and a large spiny head…It’s rarely exported to the United States, but Porgy may be substituted for any recipe calling for John Dory.”

The Food Lovers Companion can help you brush up a multitude of apple varieties, dozens of different pasta shapes, and cuts of meat from beef, pork and lamb.  It can help you decode esoteric restaurant menus.  And it can help you bring fancy restaurant-type dishes to your humble home cooking.

Plus, sometimes I just find myself using the book to quiz myself.  The best thing is that when I find a term I do not know, I have just learned something new.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. brownie permalink
    July 24, 2009 10:07 am

    You quiz yourself? You are such a food nerd.

    I, being a garden-variety nerd (car nerd, computer nerd) will add this book’s distinctiveness to my own. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Jennifer permalink
    July 28, 2009 10:41 am

    I love the Food Lover’s Companion. I take it to bed.

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